Do you dream of Cuba? If so, you’re not alone. Americans are itching for the United States government to continuing loosening travel restrictions on our neighbor to the south. It’s getting better. Journalists, educational groups, Cuban Americans, and the Carter family can now legally travel to the Caribbean island. So there’s hope that soon everyone else can, too. And while most people have their sights firmly set on Havana, there’s a small city on the southern coast you might want to focus on instead.
Trinidad is 200 miles away from Havana. It’s an isolated city—surrounded by the dense Escambray Mountains on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other—in central Cuba. And, along with Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and Old San Juan, it’s one of the best-preserved colonial cities in the Caribbean.
The city’s wealth came from the sugar trade and the hard work of slave labor. It created Spanish-style buildings—pastel-colored houses with wrought-iron grills, red-tiled roofs, and wooden shutters—plus cobblestone streets and wide plazas. Plaza Mayor is the heart of the city. It’s surrounded by churches and old mansions that have been turned into museums. Climb the wooden stairs in the Church of the Holy Trinity for views over the entire town. Visit the Museum of the War Against the Bandits in a former convent, and the galleried courtyard and the original frescoes at the Municipal History Museum. Check out the 1950s Buicks and Chevys parked on the side streets. Buy handmade linens and tablecloths at the market.
And then get out of the city. Tour the Valle de los Ingenios—the Valley of the Sugar Mills—only a few miles outside of Trinidad. You’ll see grand plantation houses and original slave quarters from the 18th century. From the tower at the Manaca-Iznaga Estate, you’ll have a panoramic view over the lush, green valley and the railroad tracks that used to transport sugar cane to Casilda Bay. Head south to beautiful beaches and the warm Caribbean water. Ancón Beach is a pristine stretch of white sand. Scuba dive around Cayo Blanco, a tiny offshore island, to see black coral and sea fans. Or go horseback riding through the forest to Hoyo del Pilón. Go for a swim in the cave behind the waterfall.
Just return to Trinidad later in the evening. The salsa music will guide you back to Plaza Mayor, where Casa de la Música is now set up. The al fresco dance space has live music, beer, and people who know how to move. You’re hesitant, at first. But eventually, you make your way to the dance floor. You may not know the steps and your hips seem to move in the wrong direction, but it doesn’t matter. You’re laughing and dancing like it’s 1952.
As you expected, you’ve fallen in love with Cuba and its beautiful architecture, gorgeous landscape, and welcoming people. It shouldn’t have taken this long.