Ins and outs
Trinidad, 133 km south of Santa Clara, is a perfect relic of the early days of the Spanish colony: beautifully preserved streets and buildings and hardly a trace of the 20th century anywhere. It was founded in 1514 by Diego Velázquez as a base for expeditions into the 'New World' and Hernan Cortés set out from here for Mexico in 1518. The five main squares and four churches date from the 18th and 19th centuries and the whole city, with its fine palaces, cobbled streets and tiled roofs, is a national monument. Architecturally, Trinidad is perhaps Cuba's most important town: its preserved and colourful colonial buildings are suspended in a time warp and since 1988 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the families who live in the old houses rent out rooms and this is one of the best places to lodge privately. There is good hiking among picturesque waterfalls and abundant wildlife in the forests up in the mountains overlooking Trinidad.
Playa Ancón, nearby, is a reasonable beach to relax on and a good base for boat trips and watersports.
There is a small airport that only receives charter
. Trinidad is not connected to the national rail network. The most convenient independent way of getting to Trinidad is by
bus, with services from Havana via Cienfuegos, or from Varadero via Santa Clara and Sancti Spíritus. Most visitors to Trinidad arrive on tour buses from Havana and Varadero and do a day trip, although it is possible to extend your stay and rejoin the bus a day or two later. The drive from Sancti Spíritus through the Valley of the Sugar Mills is very attractive.
The old city should be toured
. The cobbled streets make wheeled transport rather uncomfortable. All the main sites are within easy walking distance of each other. For local excursions many people hire a driver and
, although some prefer to
to the beach (fine on the way there, harder work on the way back), and organized tours are recommended for
in the mountains to avoid getting lost and to make sure you go to all the right places.
Maps of Trinidad can be unbelievably difficult to follow because of the use of old and new street names. Locals of course switch from one to the other. The old ones have been painted over in white on the streets and are still legible. The new names are in black letters on white, often on the opposite side of the street.
Best time to visit
There is an
.Information is also freely available from the state tour operators:
and others . However, they are concerned to sell their own tours, so for impartial advice and for how to get off the beaten track it is worth asking your hosts, if you are staying in a
. They will know of private, usually illegal, taxi drivers and guides who can show you something a bit different from the organized tours.
September is good for religious processions around the 8th of the month, Cuba's patron saint's day, but at any time of year you can find music, dance and other festivities. Semana Santa (Easter) is another good time for processions, with a huge event on Good Friday; Semana de la Cultura is the second week of January and Carnival is in June. Expect heavy rain between September and November, when the cobbled streets become awash with water, but in the mountains it can rain any day, turning paths into muddy slopes.
A thriving economy soon grew up around the settlement, originally based on livestock, exporting leather, meat and horses. This prize inevitably attracted the attention of adventurers and there was a particularly severe period of attacks between 1660 and 1688. Mansfield from Port Royal in Jamaica and Legrand from Tortuga, off Hispaniola, looted and set fire to the town, destroying the original archives of the church and the city hall. Unlike other populations who moved inland to escape pirate attacks, the inhabitants of Trinidad decided to stay and defend their wealth with their own fleet, inflicting several defeats on British and Dutch corsairs in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the British took Havana in 1797 they tried and failed to invade Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus, an event which is portrayed in the coats of arms of both cities.
After a time, sugar was introduced and by 1797 there were 56 sugar mills and 11,697 slaves imported to work in the sugar cane fields. Trade, the arts and sciences all expanded on the back of the sugar prosperity: Alexander von Humboldt visited and studied the fauna and flora around Trinidad; the first printing press was opened and the first newspaper began to circulate; schools of languages, music and dance were opened; a wide variety of artisans set up businesses, including gold and silversmithing; and in 1827 the Teatro Cándamo opened its doors. The well-off patricians built huge mansions for themselves (now museums) and sent their children to European universities. However, the Industrial Revolution and the increase in sugar beet grown in Europe sounded the death knell for an economy based on slave labour and in the second half of the 19th century Trinidad went into decline. Construction ceased and the city remained frozen in time with its cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF