Trinidad, a vivid postcard of Cuba’s colonial heritage – World Meanderings (n°62)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
During the first days of May the FIT CUBA 2018 event (Cuban International Travel Fair) gave to a strict selection of international journalists the opportunity to meet all Cuban companies working in the tourism sector. And later on to visit some beautiful tourism places throughout Cuba. Invited by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism to cover this event Frederic was there and tell us how Trinidad, this Cuban jewel, is moving forward.
Pink, yellow, blue, ochre… colours are the first and lasting impressions when you get to Trinidad, the best-preserved colonial town in Cuba. In the 18th and 19th centuries wealthy settlers who had made a fortune growing sugar cane and selling sugar to all Europe, built colourful and beautiful houses that still are today Trinidad’s main interest. It undoubtedly is an absolute must when touring through Cuba.
Trinidad was created in 1514 when Diego Velazquez and his conquistadors found gold and started operating gold mines in the area. But by the end of the 16th century there was no more gold and the sugar industry began, thanks to greedy settlers and tens of thousands slaves working in the cane fields. Today you can still visit the remains of these long gone times in the Los Ingenios Valley 12 km away from Trinidad, where no less tan 75 sugar refineries were built next to beautiful mansions. A high tower, the Torre Manaca Ignaza, still overlooks the whole area. It was used as a watchtower to keep the slaves under surveillance and bells set at its top rang at the beginning and at the end of the working days. Most of these edifices have been preserved the way they were and visiting Los Ingenios Valley is a true time travel.
Amazingly Trinidad has little changed since the 19th century. It’s a harmonious blend of 18th century Andalusian style and 19th century neoclassical houses. As you walk through the small cobbled streets you will see many of these colourful houses with their doors open. Don’t hesitate to knock on the door and walk in. The people living here will willingly show you around and proudly show you antique furniture and art objects left by their previous owners fleeing from the Cuban revolution. Recently lot of the first floors of these houses were transformed to shelter a cosy bar, a nice restaurant or an attractive Cuban contemporary art-gallery. Their number seems to have more than doubled within three years.
The Plazza Mayor is the heart of the city with some of the most remarkable buildings of the city. The Santissima Trinidad Church houses a moving 18th century wooden statue of Christ still worshipped today. Next to the church an impressive stairway will take you to the Casa de la Musica a beautiful colonial house of the 18th century painted in bright green. It now is a museum dedicated to local musicians and also houses a restaurant, “La Parrillada”(the BBQ), serving typical Creole cuisine. Several other mansions of the Plazza Mayor have been turned into museums depicting the traditional colonial way of life: the “Casa de los Conspiradores”, the “Palacio Brunet”, the Iznaga, Béquer, Cantero and Borrell palaces…
A little further away from the Plazza Mayor don’t miss to visit the Casa Ortiz, a two-story house surrounded by a balcony sheltering beautiful wall paintings imitating French Louis XIV king’s style. Close-by a restaurant, branch of the famous Havana Bodeguita del Medio will allow you to enjoy one “mojito” (sugar, lemon juice, fresh mint leaves and rum) or two, before having lunch or diner in his unique decor. All day long local musical groups are playing there. Don’t forget to do as everyone does, leave a message on the wall. Waiters will be happy to help, providing you a black marker, or a blue or red one.
Next door to Boguedita del Medio, ” Canchanchara”, is another well-known musical bar serving in special unglazed terra cotta cups their famous and delicious homemade drink with a secret recipe including local honey, lemon juice and Cuban aguardiente (a local brandy).
Ask anyone to get to the “Palacio Cantero”, a few steps away, and take the time to visit its vast Renaissance patio. And if you climb up the Palacio Cantero tower you will get an impressive view over all Trinidad, the surrounding cane fields, the nearby mountains on one side and even the sea on the opposite one.
Although Trinidad is not on the seaside, some of the most beautiful of Cuba’s beaches are just a few miles away. Don’t miss to go swimming and sunbath at Playa Ancon, and dive into its crystal clear waters. It is 3 miles long and also has amazing coral reefs, a paradise for divers.
While in Trinidad you can stay at “Las Cuevas” hotel ideally located at 400 metres from Plazza Mayor. Built on top of a nearby hill it offers great views over Trinidad and the Caribbean Sea. It’s comfortable enough with air conditioning in all rooms and a nice swimming pool with a view.
All info (Visa, documentation) at: http://www.travel2cuba.co.uk/
Text & Photos ©Frederic de Poligny