Liz Brown, Canwest News Service
For many Canadians, Cuba is a ray of sunshine during our bleak northern winters. After a morning of slogging through the rain, who wouldn’t dream of lounging on Varadero’s white sands, frosty Cuba Libre in hand, or sipping a mojito in Havana at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar, La Bodeguita del Medio.
But travel beyond Varadero’s famous beaches and Hemingway’s haunts and you’ll find a smaller, more laid-back city on the opposite side of the island.
Trinidad, in Sancti Spiritus province, isn’t as well known as other Cuban destinations, but it should be. Located near the Ancon peninsula, its beaches rival Varadero’s, and the city offers some of the best preserved examples of colonial architecture in the Caribbean. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated this city of 70,000 a world heritage site in 1988.
I stayed at a resort on the Ancon Peninsula, about eight kilometres from the city. I used my resort as a base, but spent most of my time trekking the cobblestone streets of the city. The first day, I took a tour bus from the resort. The first stop was the Mirador de La Loma del Puentos, a lookout that provided a panoramic view of Valle de Los Ingenios, another UNESCO world heritage site. The valleys hold the ruins of several sugar mills from the 19th century.
During the 18th and 19th century, Trinidad was a major sugar hub, and the Spanish brought slaves from Africa to the area. At the industry’s peak, there were 58 sugar mills in the area, but with the abolishment of slavery in 1886, the sugar industry began to decline. Against this historic backdrop, you can enjoy a mojito or ice cream from the lookout’s bar.
Next stop was Trinidad’s centre, Plaza Mayor. The city was somewhat forgotten after the sugar industry’s decline, with minimal new construction taking place, and the center remains virtually the same as it was 200 years ago. Pastel-colored colonial mansions, many converted into museums, line the heaving cobblestone streets.
You can spend all day poking through museums, but a must visit is the Palacio Cantero (Calle Simon Bolivar 423). Housed in a mansion that was built between 1827 and 1830, it features historic documents and artifacts. The mansion itself overshadows the collection, with its massive courtyard, Italian marble floors and lookout tower. Although a steep and rickety climb, the journey to the top of the tower is worth it. The view includes the city’s main square, which features Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad (Holy Trinity Church), one of the largest churches in Cuba. From here, you can also see one of the most familiar landmarks in Trinidad, the yellow and white tower of the Convent of St. Francis of Assisi.
After my first taste of Trinidad, I was ready to explore the city on my own. For two Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) (just over $2 Cdn), you get a round trip bus from the Ancon Peninsula to the city center. Like most things, you get what you pay for, and though cheap, the bus isn’t always reliable. In the city, I waited at two bus stops but a bus never showed up and I ended up taking a cab back.