Technicolour Trinidad and a Night Out in a Cave

For our third stop in Cuba we booked three nights in Trinidad, which was a short (90 minutes) bus ride from Cienfuegos. Trinidad is beautiful and, of all the places we visited in Cuba, was the one that felt most stuck in time. With cobbled streets and technicolour buildings, the colonial Spanish influence is still prevalent here, and at any time of day you can expect to see horse-drawn carriages and hear bread sellers cycling through the streets shouting ‘paaaaaan’. We fell in love as soon as we arrived. Sadly we had minimal sun in Trinidad, so the photos don’t quite do it justice.

Trinidad  is a lot smaller than the other cities on our trip and our casa was only 5 minutes or so from the bus station. Our host Vladi was an awesome guy with great English and even better cooking skills (he worked as a professional chef for years before deciding to focus on the casa). Breakfast was included in the price of our room (£20 a night), and we were lucky enough to sample Vladi’s dinners on two nights, we went for chicken and lobster (both served alongside four other courses), both of which were delicious.

One popular attraction in Trinidad is Disco Alaya, a nightclub within a cave, which we knew that we had to try out. On Vladi’s advice that Saturday was a popular night among the locals and uncomfortably busy, we decided to head there on our first night in Trinidad, which was the Friday. The disco doesn’t open until 10 so we spent the first part of the evening around Plaza Major sipping on 1.50CUC (£1.20) mojitos to background sounds from Casa de la Musica and Palenque de Los Congos Reales. The walk to the cave took about 10 minutes up a pretty steep dirt track and, while it felt like we were going away from the nightlife, the migration of people from the town in the same direction was reassuring. 

When we got to the cave we were met with a queue, which soon got a long longer and, in true Cuban fashion, there was a separate line for locals which moved a lot quicker. We waited for just under an hour to get in and entrance was 5CUC, which included 2 local drinks (mojito, presidente etc.). The wait was completely worth it, it was like a badass Wookey Hole, for those that are familiar. Sadly the music quality took a fast decline at about 1am so we made the walk back to Vladi’s, attracting some strays along the way. 

On our first full day in Trinidad we went to check out two museums and the views from their bell towers. The first was Museo de Historia de Trinidad, with a 2CUC (£1.60) entrance fee, which as a museum was a little underwhelming. The exhibitions are quite small and dated but the building and internal courtyard are beautiful. To get to the bell tower you must first survive the very narrow and winding wooden staircase, which should be avoided by anyone who doesn’t like confined spaces. It took us quite a while to get to the top as we had to take turns using the staircase with those who were descending. The eventual platform is quite small but allows for awesome 360 degree views of the colourful city and surrounding valleys. Our second bell tower climb, inside of the Museo Nacional de Lucha contra Bandidos (The Bandit Museum) was much easier and, though the view at the top is semi-obstructed by the bells, there is a very large viewing platform about halfway up. The yellow building is one of the most recognisable in Trinidad, and museum itself is really interesting with a collection of photos, weapons and objects relating to the struggle against the counterrevolutionary bands that operated between 1960-65. With an entrance fee of just 1CUC (£0.80) this is the better choice of the two.

There is a lot of great artwork on display in Trinidad and there are many small galleries/shops where you can purchase unique pieces for a small price. Given that we are living out of backpacks for the next six months, and have heard that the Cuban postal service isn’t the most effective, we decided we would just look. Located next to Plaza Major, Galleria de Arte Benito Ortiz has lots of colourful work on display from various Cuban artists. There was also a pottery factory/shop called Taller Alfarero, full of handmade and brightly painted ceramics. I wanted to buy everything from the giant vases to the tiny espresso mugs (I don’t even like coffee) but Rob would not allow it, probably because he didn’t want to deal with the tears when things inevitably got crushed in my backpack. 

Before arriving in Trinidad we had planned to spend three nights there, followed by a night in nearby La Boca. None of our chosen destination in Cuba were beach towns, so we thought a night in this sleepy fishing village, with a little patch of sand, would be a nice way to break up the trip. However, we fell in love with Trinidad (and our host Vladi) as soon as we arrived, and so decided to demote La Boca to a day trip, and we were glad that we did. Foolishly we decided to walk to La Boca, it took us an hour in the midday sun and by the time we arrived we were red-faced and dripping in sweat. La Boca has a very small beach area with palapas where we spent a few hours in the sun. Apart from a small Cuban cafeteria style pizzeria there is little in the way of food offerings. A larger beach can be found further along the peninsula at Playa Ancon, but we decided La Boca was enough for us and took a taxi back to Trinidad later that afternoon for 5CUC (£4). Like many taxis in Cuba, ours was an old vehicle that sounded like it was going to give up at any minute and on several occasions I’m sure the driver was making the most of the downhill journey when the engine cut out. All part of the experience!

If you don’t find yourself incapacitated with upset tummies like we were then there are lots of tours you can do from Trinidad, including a horse riding tour of the sugar valley, ending with some time at a small waterfall. We were booked in for the said tour but we agreed that four hours jumping around on a horse was not a sensible idea when we were feeling so sensitive…

Trinidad is small and very manageable, you can walk between sights easily and that certainly adds to the colonial charm. Days can be spent wandering in the sun, checking out the museums and cafes and warm evenings can be spent surrounded by locals and visitors drinking ridiculously cheap ‘street mojitos’ to the background sounds of the various music venues. Trinidad feels safe and even more detached from the rest of the World than other cities in Cuba. A definite for any Cuban itinerary.

 

Where we stayed:

Casa Yusi and Vladi, three rooms available to book via Airbnb 

 

Where we ate/drank:

Don Pepe: If you’re a coffee lover or not (like me) then you have to check this place out. The mostly-outdoor cafe is set in a walled garden and has an extensive drinks menu, all of which are served with a little chocolate biscuit. If your palate has not yet fully adjusted to the taste of coffee then I strongly recommend the Turquino – a mix of coffee, ice cream, cream and honey that had me coming back for more and tempted Rob away from his Americano the second time around.

Ochun Yemeya: This tiny pirate-themed restaurant is nothing fancy, but it’s a good spot for cheap rope vieja at 5CUC (£4) and, if you’re lucky, there may be live music (think two girls, one with guitar and the other with maracas, crammed in the doorway).

Paraito: A little out of the way, this is a solid cheap-eat spot, providing you aren’t expecting anything special and don’t mind their cheeky conversion rate of 1CUC to 20CUP. Steer away from the burgers and go for a portion of the fried rice.

Taberna La Botija: Open 24 hours, this a great spot for surprisingly big portions of tapas and pizza. Meatballs and ‘hot’ shrimp are recommended. 

Vladi’s Casa: If you stay with Vladi then you MUST sample some of his cooking!! We had dinner twice at the casa and have no regrets.

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