I have just come back from Cuba where I went for the first time. I spent a week there, especially to take a break from the harsh Canadian winter and to enjoy the warmth. But as Cuba is not limited to its all-inclusive resorts and its beaches, I especially took the opportunity to explore some of the country’s colonial cities, especially Trinidad, which I have been dreaming to see for a long time.
Trinidad is located on the south shore of Cuba, 300 kilometres east of Havana. With the Caribbean Sea and the mountains of the Sierra del Escambrey as its backdrop, Trinidad has it all, although it is not the lush nature of the area that makes it famous. Trinidad is best known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, which gives it the air of an open-air museum.
The city of Trinidad was founded by the Spaniards in 1514, but it was really in the 17th and 18th century that it prospered. Its particular geographical location (near the Caribbean Sea and far from the colonial authorities in Havana) made it an important haven for the illegal slave market, and a hub for the sugar industry. In the early 19th century, Trinidad was producing one-third of Cuba’s sugar.
Then in 1850, the boom abruptly ended. The sugar plantations were devastated during the Independence Wars and the wealthy owners moved to other cities. And as Trinidad was relatively isolated from the rest of the country, the city fell into a long lethargy.
In Trinidad, it almost feels as if clocks stopped ticking 150 years ago. The city has preserved its sumptuous colonial homes, its cobblestone streets and its colorful buildings. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, Trinidad today lives mainly from tourism.
If, like me, you only have one day to explore the city, here are some must-sees.
Any visit to Trinidad must begin at Plaza Mayor, this old public square located in the heart of the historic quarter. Around the Plaza Mayor, there are several colonial mansions and the church of Santissima Trinidad.
What struck me most was the fact that this beautiful public square was relatively empty the day we were there. Although it is a popular tourist destination, Trinidad can also be really quiet sometimes, which I liked very much.
Museo de Arquitectura Trinitaria
If architecture interests you, this small museum located in Plaza Mayor is worth a visit. Established in the former home of one of Trinidad’s wealthy families, the museum provides insight into the architecture and decorative elements used in the construction of the city’s colonial buildings. You can even see the first shower to be installed in Cuba (which proved how wealthy the owners of the house were!).
The interpretation signs are almost all in Spanish, but it is possible to ask if a guide on site speaks English. Also note that if you intend to take pictures, you will have to pay an extra 5 CUC.
Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos
Housed in the former convent of San Francisco de Asis, this museum is dedicated to the struggle against the counterrevolutionary bands. In its quiet garden, which was formerly home to nuns, you can now find armored vehicles and machine guns.
But it must be said, most tourists do not visit this museum to learn more about the revolutionary history of Cuba. Instead, they come to go up all the steps leading to the summit of the famous yellow bell tower, which offers a superb view of Trinidad and the mountains of Sierra del Escambray.
Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá
Santería is a religion born at the time of slavery in Cuba. Based on certain beliefs from West Africa to which elements of Catholicism have been added, Santería is still practiced in the coutnry. This small temple in Trinidad is dedicated to Yemayá, goddess of the sea.
We came across this building a bit by chance and although we stopped to take a picture, I admit that we were a little too intimidated to enter.
Museo Histórico Municipal
If you had only one place to visit in Trinidad, it should be this museum. Main museum of the city, the Museo Histórico Municipal is housed in a mansion that once belonged to a wealthy German owner of sugar plantations. Several rooms give a glimpse of the sumptuous decoration of the past.
Other rooms present a heterogeneous mixture of objects illustrating different parts of the history of Trinidad, from the era of slavery to the revolution of the 1950s. The majority of explanations are in Spanish, although there are here and there signs in an approximate English.
But the highlight is the view from the top of the museum’s three-story tower. It is accessed by narrow and rickety stairs (I’m a bit claustrophobic so I did not appreciate the climb) and you are rewarded by what is the classic postcard view of Trinidad.
There is more to see and do in Trinidad than the few places I listed above. South of the city there is Playa Ancón, which is, it seems, the most beautiful beach on the south coast of Cuba. From Trinidad, it is also easy to access the mountains of the Sierra del Escambray, which have some good hiking trails. But for us, these will be places to explore another time!