Editor’s note: with changing rules, I have not found time to make it to Cuba, although I intend to at some point. I am envious of Sam’s trip, hanging on each word he writes as I mentally plan mine. For more of Sam Spector’s adventures, click here to visit his index page.
My wife, also known as my adventure buddy, and I have been to fourteen countries and five continents together in our four years as a couple. We are lucky that we have enjoyed every country we have been to, as each place has its own gems and has been special in its own way. Yet, when we are asked which has been our favorite place from our travels, without hesitation we say, “Cuba.” And when we are asked what part of Cuba was our favorite, without a second thought, we respond, “Trinidad.” In this article, I am going to tell you about this must-visit place, which may be the most charming city in the entire Caribbean.
Trinidad is located on the southern coast of Cuba and was founded in the 16th century. With the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, it is home to 70 sugarcane mills from the 18th and 19th centuries, which were vital to the island’s economy. For this reason, Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the old town of Trinidad is one of the best preserved colonial towns anywhere in the Americas. Getting to Trinidad is not the easiest task; one needs to take a bus or taxi from Havana to the city of Cienfuegos first. Cienfuegos is a popular tourist destination in its own right, being a frequent stop for cruise ships and having a historic harbor and old town. Cienfuegos is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its preservation of 18th century Spanish architecture. Within the town there is a fun pedestrian market that largely sells knickknacks. Overall, while we did not regret stopping and spending a few hours in Cienfuegos, we found that a few hours in this town was more than enough and that it is not a must-visit within Cuba. Cienfuegos has minibuses and eager taxi drivers who will take you to Trinidad, a little over an hour away.
When I travel, the biggest things that draw me to places are historical significance, natural beauty, affordability, ambience of bars and restaurants, and being enough off the beaten path that it is not overrun with tourists. It is rare when a place has all of these qualities, but when I stumble upon a treasure like this, it stands out forever as one of my favorite places. Trinidad is one of those cities that checks all of these boxes. The entire town is centered around its Plaza Mayor, which contains a well-maintained park, a colonial church and belltower from the Convento de San Francisco de Asis, which one can climb for spectacular views, and the Museo Romantico, a museum of an 18th century colonial mansion. The plaza, like the town itself, is painted in different beautiful bright colors. In the plaza is also an incredible stairway that leads up a hill to great rooftop bars, shops, and restaurants. Make sure when visiting these rooftop bars to enjoy some of Cuba’s great contributions to the world: a daquiri, mojito, or Cuba Libre (rum & coke), and of course a cigar, while listening to a live band.
For those who enjoy good food and nightlife, there are no shortage of options in Trinidad. Our favorite was the Taberna La Botija, an Italian restaurant that is open 24 hours a day with great décor and vibe. While we did not expect this in Cuba of all places, we had the best pasta that we have enjoyed on any of our travels, and it was all for only a few dollars per dish, which we washed down with delicious cocktails that were only a couple dollars as well. We were grateful for Taberna La Botija being open all hours in particular after we worked up an appetite dancing at one of the coolest nightclubs I have experienced anywhere on earth, Disco Ayala. To get to Disco Ayala, you need to hike up a tall hill across town; along the way, there will be many street vendors selling food and beverages. Finally, you will arrive at a cave, and Disco Ayala is inside of the cave. One hundred feet underground and inside the hill, with stalagmites and stalactites surrounding you, you will find yourself in a nightclub with hundreds of locals dancing and partying to the top hits from Cuba and around the world. Of all the nightclubs that I have been to, none compare with Disco Ayala, whose music, environment, and venue make it unlike anywhere else you will ever party. However, if the loud nightclub is not your scene, which as I get older, it is becoming less so mine, then we have another recommendation for you: Bar Yesterday. Along with the Yellow Submarine Bar in Havana, Bar Yesterday was one of two Beatles-themed bars we went to in Cuba. Bar Yesterday is easy to spot with its bronze statues of John, Paul, George, and Ringo in front of this large bar, which is spacious and allows you room to social distance while having a drink. The center part of the bar is open air and uncovered, while there are side rooms away from the stage for people to sit and talk. During the daytime, the bar plays music videos of the Beatles performing their top hits, and at night live tribute bands perform some of the greatest songs ever written.
Though the center of Trinidad would be enough to make for an ideal trip, there are pristine destinations just outside of the city. An old-timey train ride to the Valle de los Ingenios, while gimmicky, makes a popular day trip. However, we decided to have a bit of rest and relaxation at the Ancon Beach located about ten minutes away. This white sand beach on the warm blue Caribbean Sea with palm trees lining the way felt unspoiled, and we saw almost no tourists here as most beachgoing tourists stay at the all-inclusive Verdadero resorts on the northern coast. Following our trip to the beach, we had a taxi take us to – and wait for us at – the Topes de Collantes National Park, half an hour north of Trinidad. Though there are various waterfalls and hikes that one can do here, we opted for the Salto de Cabruni trail. This 2.5 mile there and back hike takes you through a lush forest and alongside impressive rock formations until you arrive at a small pond with a beautiful waterfall. Join the local children jumping off of rocks into the chilly water, which will be a perfect refreshing moment after your hike in the Cuban jungle heat.
As a man of religion, I know that many hope to one day die and go to heaven. However, I pray for something better, to die and go to Trinidad, Cuba, the best town in the Caribbean, if not the world.
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