Trinidad de Cuba seems frozen in time. That was my immediate reaction on arrival. That was my leaving thought after exploring it for a week too. It's difficult not to fall in love with such a enchanting and unique city especially after experiencing a different vibe in energetic Havana.
Trinidad is a town in the province of Sancti SpÍritus in central Cuba, a mere 5-6 hour drive from Havana. It was built on the back of the area's highly profitable 19th century sugar and slave trade. Trinidad not only has such a fascinating history but together with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios, it has been one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites since 1988. Surrounded by spectacular landscapes, exquisite valleys, waterfalls and pristine blue seas coupled with a rich culture and heartwarming locals, Trinidad is known for being a living museum and a paradise for visitors. Like the rest of Cuba, it's also a photographers paradise.
So what makes this city so special?
The once rich and thriving city, with a backdrop of the grand Escambray mountains, had some of the finest Spanish colonial mansions, squares and churches on the island. All of which are well maintained today and are an important part of the tourism trade.
Local home owners have proudly maintained their antique furniture, so proud they are that they leave their doors open for people to look inside (and in some cases walk in) and admire such beautiful period furniture. Each house is like a museum of its own.
The quaint cobble stoned streets are a signature of Trinidad. With little traffic on these streets they are fun to wander on and explore the old city. Locals tend to relax sitting outside and are very friendly so it's also easy to make friends along the way and soak up life in Trinidad.
Apart from the typical souvenir shops, there are a few art galleries around town with local artists proudly displaying their work. These artists, whilst they appreciate a sale, are happy to explain their thought process behind their paintings or let you sit and watch them at their craft. It's another place to understand how the locals feel patriotic towards their country, leader and rich history.
Peso pizza is a popular street food in Cuba, from being sold by people walking on the streets, beaches etc, it's also sold in "pizza shops" like these. Pizza may be an international favourite and may cost next to nothing in Cuban peso for an individual sized one but Cuba has to be the first place outside of Italy I've seen this much pizza eaten so often. Stopping by a "pizza shop" in Trinidad for a freshly baked peso pizza is a treat while you wander the streets.
Plaza Mayor is a beautiful square in the centre of old town from which hours can be spent people watching. Surrounded by beautiful buildings including the elegant and majestic Iglesias Parroquuial de la Santisima which is also the largest church in Cuba.
Life in Trinidad may seem slow but the locals teach you that slowing down and spending quality time is their way of life. From playing music under the trees on the small squares to chess in the midday heat, they may not have wifi and cable but make the most of their time doing what they love.
The majestic Iznaga estate in the Valley of the Sugar Mills gives you the opportunity to soak up the wealth of the region including antique relics, the railway bridge and steam train, a colonial hostelry and a working sugar cane press from which you can learn to press your own glass of sugar cane juice just like the old days.
In the beautiful Agabama Valley, at the height of Trinidad’s sugar industry, 56 sugar mills were powered by the hands of more than 11,000 slaves who were shipped from the west coast of Africa. The Cubans have preserved this history well and it is possible to visit former estates including areas such as these slave quarters - sixteen slaves shared small rooms like these - bringing history to life.
A quick taxi/bus ride or longer bicycle ride out to the peninsular is the gorgeous Ancon beach, which is also popular with the locals especially on weekends. With such a relaxing beach within distance, it makes for the perfect relaxing spot after exploring the sugar estates, hiking or even the cobble stoned streets of Trinidad.
There is so much more to this unique city, that even one week felt too short for me. It left me wanting to return one day. And given it is a UNESCO site, Trinidad de Cuba maintains its authenticity and preserve its natural beauty. We can only hope that it remains this way with a higher influx of tourists in coming years.