Trinidad is many people’s favourite destination in Cuba, it is easy to understand why. There are many more western looking faces here but despite it being popular it still has an authentic vibe.
The streets are lined with coloured houses, blues, yellows and terracottas with equally colourful classic vehicles negotiating the many potholes.
Horse drawn carriages and the ever present, persistent bici-taxis seem to be on every corner and the offers for a tour of the city are incessant. If I’d received a peso for everytime the words “taxi amigo” were directed our way the trip could have paid for itself.
Exploring the streets on foot, there is plenty to catch the eye of any traveller. Some alleyways have been turned into market places, pure white linen and colourful cloth or handcrafted goods such as intricately carved wooden objects are abundant. Most stallholders invite those exploring to browse their wares but are usually pleasant or insistent. In common with most similar sales tactics a firm but polite rebuttal is generally sufficient.
Each street leads to another small market, after awhile the wanderer becomes accustomed to it and it is less surprising, just a pleasant distraction.
Trinidad is also one of Cuba’s most important towns for art and there are plenty of galleries on most of the central streets. It is fine to browse without any obligation, most are oils on canvas, but the subjects are often common between galleries. They may not be originals but there are still some excellent pieces, striking in black and white or colour. It is also possible to negotiate so don’t necessarily accept the first price offered.
One aspect of the island I found especially appealing is the number of public places available. Every small town or large city has attractive little squares, surrounded by trees and often with a central memorial. Heroes of the Revolution or the conflict with the colonising Spanish are all commemorated, and there is plenty of seating available whether paying hommage or merely relaxing.
Trinidad is not any exception, with large open squares lined by vibrant buildings and historic churches. The Plaza Mayor is the most important. Recognised as being of historical significance, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site but has a chequered past. The town was once a main trading area for sugar and slaves, in which most of the surrounding buildings were involved.
Sugar production has since declined and the town has too, many of the buildings falling into disrepair and it is only in the last 50 years that restorations have commenced. There are still a few which are almost derelict, it is a shame as some are truly beautiful buildings but in a way they add to the authentic feel of the town.
The Church of the Holy Trinity as a particularly interesting story it is built on the grounds of a church previously destroyed by a cyclone in the 17th Century. It houses the wooden statue of “The Lord of the True Cross“. Dating back to the 18th Century the statue was originally destined for a church in Mexico, however bad weather forced the ship transporting the statue back to Trinidad 3 times. The statue was off-loaded along with some other cargo and it was seen as a sign that the statue should remain, so it was placed in the church.
Close by can be found the Church and Monastery of Saint Francis ( Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco) another building that fell into disrepair and only the bell tower still stands proud. It has a claim to fame however as it features on the 25 cent coin.
This visit took place during the wet season on Cuba but until reaching Trinidad our group had avoided it. From there on however it found us with a vengeance, most afternoons and evenings featured an electrical storm and torrential rainfall. The light before the storm and the dark skies however often produced some interesting and stunning images, far better than harsh sunlight of a boring blue sky.
The rain was torrential, even when during a visit to the beach, the best of which is located on the nearby Ancon Peninsula we were treated to monsoon conditions. The beach is lined with trees and the sweeping bay is predictably attractive unlike the nearby hotel resort, which can best be described as a monstrosity.
After a short swim and settling down to relax and top-up tans we were soon running for cover in a nearby bar when the natural Cuban powershower was turned on. Some of the locals chose to stay under the thatched shades which are scattered like oversized mushrooms outside the hotel but the more sensible took refuge in the bar. It was not any loss though; ordering beers and mojitos we settled down to listen to a group of young friends with a guitar that started up an impromptu session. Their lead vocalist was really good, possessing a voice that resonated as powerfully as the thunder.
A trip to ‘The Cave‘ had been planned for the evening, a club described by our guide as the best in Cuba but the weather put an end to that. It closes in the rain and venturing out into the ‘the perfect storm’ did not seem enticing anyway.
A day spent visiting the nearby sugar plantations is recommended, our group visited several around Trinidad. The Intrepid Travel guide was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, providing an interesting commentary at each site. The remains of the homes and other buildings associated with the slave trade still remain and are a stark reminder to this sorry period in mankinds history.
As the tour progressed west across the island heading back towards Havana each town seemed to be getting gradually more touristic. Trinidad did have plenty of travellers and the eager merchants which their prescence encourages but it is relatively easy to escape and find a little authentic Cuba here.