Cuba: Technicolour Trinidad

It was time to bid farewell to buzzing Santiago de Cuba and head west across the country to the beautifully preserved colonial town of Trinidad in central Cuba. This involved an eventful 14 hour overnight Viazul trip. I say eventful because it was supposed to be 12 hours but a couple of hours after setting off, the driver announced we would have to stop in the town of Bayamo as the bus suddenly needed urgent repairs. We all got off, the bus disappeared and then we waited… and waited… and waited. The bus returned over 2 hours later, apparently fixed. I don’t know what was wrong. Other than that, I slept pretty well, or as well as you can do on a bus. The journey cost 33 CUC and soon I was at Trinidad’s central bus terminal. I was immediately mobbed by dozens of casa owners as I attempted to leave, so if you haven’t booked accommodation in advance, you’ll probably be alright.

Oh look, a classic car. Haven’t taken a photo of one of those in at least 2 minutes.

As it happened, I had so I walked 20 minutes or so to my casa in the south of the town, Hostal El Olam. Oddly, the accommodation name wasn’t posted on the AirBnB listing and on the street where it was, there were two number 21s so I first went to the wrong house (judging by the woman’s reaction, it wasn’t the first time that had happened). The owner of my casa, Tania, then came out onto the street to find me but, tired from my long journey, I thought she was another casa owner trying to get me to go her place instead. It was only when she spookily told me information about myself that I realised she was my host. That was the only hiccup in an otherwise fantastic stay.

Tania was a perfect host. She speaks a little English which was helpful for practical information, otherwise she was happy to let me practise my Spanish with her. Breakfast (5 CUC) on the terrace was heavenly. It was so huge that often I could pack some away for lunch as well. Bread, fruit, sandwiches, cake, tea, fruit juice… it was just the perfect way to start the day. I also got a free dinner while I was there too. Tania recommended the fish, cooked by her husband Roberto, and that was equally delicious and huge. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Tania. The place was about a 20 minute walk from the centre but this was no problem and made for a nice walk each morning, watching local life pass by.

Trinidad itself is pretty compact but packs a big punch. The vibrant, colonial buildings are beautiful and although the town was packed with tourists in November, it retained a chilled, laid back atmosphere. The central square, Plaza Mejor is remarkably tranquil (I think because the square itself isn’t a Wi-Fi hotspot) and sits under a lovely photogenic church. Just metres away though are a host of bars and the town’s iconic steps from where music blasts seemingly every hour of the day. This is where the Wi-Fi point is so, particularly in the evening, hordes of tourists gather here to update InstaFaceChatTube. Not far from the square is the city’s also iconic bell tower which you can go up (though then the famous bell tower won’t be in your pictures). The tower works best as a backdrop though, visible from many places around the centre.

One tower which is definitely worth climbing is the one attached to the Museum of History of Trinidad, also just a few minutes from the square. The museum (2 CUC entry) is pretty lacklustre though contains a little of Trinidad’s history amongst all the ornate furniture. Its main asset though is its tower which gives a wonderful panoramic view of the whole town. If you go when it’s busy, you might have to queue to climb up the narrow, rickety staircase but it’s definitely worth it. It becomes apparent from this great height just how colourful Trinidad is.

And the colour isn’t just reserved to the buildings either. It seems you can’t walk for more than a minute without hearing live music humming somewhere in Trinidad. That’s of course true of most of Cuba but in such a small, relatively dense town such as Trinidad, you really feel as if you’re being hit by music at all sides. In many bars or restaurants I sat in, live music was either already playing or arrived soon after I did. In the evening, the main haunts are on those iconic steps in the main square (1 CUC entry in the evening) where a string of bars surround a buzzing stage filled with live music and dancing well into the night. Service was pretty shabby but if you can bag yourself a table with a good view of the stage you’re set. Things really kick off from around 9pm but definitely get there earlier to get a good spot. Just down the street, Cuba’s ubiquitous Casa de la Trova (1 CUC entry) is always a safe bet for some fantastic live music and has a bit more of an intimate feel coupled with spontaneous dancing. Otherwise, just wander the streets. It’s impossible not to stumble across some sort of live band, something which is definitely Trinidad’s, and probably Cuba’s, greatest asset.

Trinidad is also a great place to shop – there are tons of souvenir shops, galleries and market stalls scattered around the centre. I’m not normally much of souvenir person but Cuba’s selection is very varied and different to most other places. And yes, I did invest in some Cuban maracas I’ll probably never use. Food-wise, Trinidad delivers as well. I’m still not getting this reputation Cuba has for bad food. Among the top budget choices are Tavern Ochun Yemaya which had live music, a chilled atmosphere and delicious food/drink for less than 8 CUC. It’s definitely worth a look. For a lunch time stop, Cafe Don Pedro, slap bang in the centre, mainly serves drinks but also serves up tasty ham and cheese toasties. Nestled within a small garden, it’s a lovely place to relax and, because of the small size, it’s easy to meet other travellers here. Further out of town, El Ranchon was lacking in atmosphere but gave me so much food, about 4 courses with a drink, for around 8 CUC. Slightly more expensive was San Jose Paladar, but with huge portion sizes and delicious food, it’s definitely worth it. It’s mentioned in Lonely Planet so gets pretty busy – I had to wait at the bar for a table. It was so good though, a meal and a couple of drinks coming to 13 CUC. There are tons of fast food places in the town too, though some look better than others.

If Trinidad’s laid back atmosphere all becomes a bit too much and you need to chill even more, don’t despair! Around 10km from the town sits Playa Ancon, regarded as southern Cuba’s best beach. It’s not the best beach in the world and probably isn’t a patch on the likes of Varadero and Guardalavaca in the North but is close by, easy to get to and has beautiful clear blue water. Some people opt to cycle there (bike hire for a day is usually around 10 CUC) or alternatively, Trinidad has a tourist bus which heads to the beach 4 times a day (5 CUC return) It’s done out like a hop on, hop off service but since it only really has two stops and doesn’t run very frequently, it’s more just like a regular service. Still, it’s open top.

The bus leaves from the intersection of Antonio Maceo street and General Lino Perez street or, if you’re following landmarks, follow the road west from the south west corner of Parque Cespedes (the same road as the ECTESA office) and you’ll see the bus waiting on the corner after two blocks. You buy your ticket on the bus – keep hold of it for your return journey. The bus leaves Trinidad at 9am, 11am, 2pm and 5pm and returns from Playa Ancon at 10am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm and 6pm, just about giving you enough time to stay for sunset on the beach if you wish. The beach is flanked by a couple of resorts but a thin slither of sand runs for a kilometre or so away from all the resorts which makes for a nice, quiet beach stroll. The sand isn’t really the main draw but the water is beautiful. Just by where the bus drops you off is a small shack where you can get an ice cold beer for 2 CUC. Otherwise there aren’t too many facilities other than those attached to the resorts.

If you’re heading to Cuba, Trinidad is most likely a place you’ll visit so I don’t need to convince you to go. I do always think it’s a testament to a town, especially once as small as this, that it can be filled with tourists and yet still retain its authenticity, its chilled atmosphere and the style that has brought so many to its doorstep. Few popular destinations around the world can say the same. Trinidad is a true gem.

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