Any tour around the historical center of Trinidad, a city declared the Patrimony of Humanity in 1988, should start in the Plaza Mayor , around which the city grew. Although only 18th and 19th-century buildings remain today, it is known that a church with a thatched roof had been built here by about 1620, in the very place where the Parroquial Mayor de Sancti Spíritus now stands. This temple was consecrated in 1892 after several reconstructions. The palaces and mansions of the Brunet, Padrón, Sánchez-Iznaga and Ortíz families, which have surrounded the square since the early 19th century, have become during the last decades the Museo Romántico, Museo de Arqueología Guamuhaya, Museo de Arquitectura and the Casa Ortiz, a gallery of art.
The blocks around the Plaza Mayor contain other interesting buildings, including the Palacio Cantero where the Museo de Historia is located, and the Palacio Iznaga, which has not yet been restored. Other historic buildings house cultural institutions such as the Casa de la Trova, Bar Casa de la Música and the Fondo de Bienes Culturales (Cultural Properties Fund).
Down from Plaza Mayor along the Calle Real, there's a little square called Plazuela Real del Jigüe with a poster and a tree commemorating the first council and the founding mass of the city. The big houses around this little square contain the Restaurante Vía Reale, specializing in Italian food, the Restaurante El Jigüe , specializing in poultry, and the tavern La Canchánchara , one of the most visited places in Trinidad. One block away, above the Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra Bandidos , you'll find the tower of the Convento de San Francisco de Asís, which has one of the city's best views.
Walking along the same Calle Real toward the limits of the historic center, one arrives at another small square where three crosses stand. These marked the limits of the processions during the Holy Week and Corpus Christi. There is also a temple house in which the Afro-Cuban rituals of the Cabildo de los Congos Reales de San Antonio have been celebrated since 1859. Other small but worthwhile plazas include Plazuela de Segarte and Plaza de Santa Ana. The former, lying close to the Plaza Mayor, is lined with mansions with wooden balustrades, distinctive roofs and eaves typical of the 18th century. This little plaza also has the Bar cafetería Ruinas de Segarte and the 19th-century Casa Borrell, now the Oficina de Restauración. In Plaza de Santa Ana, one can see the ruins of the hermitage of Santa Ana, with its facade, walls and tower intact. Also located here, Cárcel Real, the former jail, now contains a gallery, a restaurant, and several bars and shops.
The last point of interest is the Plaza de Carrillo, also called Parque Cespedes. Chosen as the future center of Trinidad just before the city's decline, this area has the Parroquia de San Francisco de Paula, built in the early 19th century. Nearby there are the former Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), where the Poder Popular Municipal meets today, the Hotel La Ronda and the Romelio Cornelio movie house. The Bar Cafetería Daiquirí lies one block away as does the Casa Fisher where Casa Artex organizes cultural meetings and sells tours and handicrafts.
Although not as relevant as the old center, the peripheral neighborhoods have important sites as well, mainly having to do with modern life. The funeral home, the police station and the baseball stadium are all in the Armando Mestre neighborhood, and the airport lies a little farther on. The ceramics workshop Taller Alfarero has given its name to its neighborhood, where one may visit the ceramics galleries of Taller de alfarería y cerámica Coqui Santander and the Hospital General. In La California, to the southeast, the former Cuartel de Dragones stands, now home to the Escuela Provincial de Arte. The hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa lies in a neighborhood called Popa, which also contains the Mirador de la Vigía, a good vantage point. Farther to the northeast, you will find the Hotel Las Cuevas, which includes the subterranean disco Ayala with its strange rock formations.
Eating in Trinidad can intensify the sensation of traveling through another era. The city's restaurants are located in mansions once inhabited by leading Trinidadian families of the 18th and 19th centuries. These old houses retain not only their original names and architecture but also the period furniture, ceramics and other decorations. Some of these restaurants, such as Don Antonio, are divided into several reserved rooms, formerly bedrooms. Others, including Mesón del Regidor, preserve some of their 18th-century features while also adopting decorations and atmosphere appropriate to their particular cuisines.
In choosing a restaurant in the old part of the city, it is important to consider not only the dishes served but also location. Located on the little square where the city was founded, Top of the Cove is known for its chicken and for its Moorish architecture. The Restaurante Trinidad Colonial serves fish, seafood and various international dishes. This is one of the most elegant spaces in the city thanks to the furniture and architecture. Located in the Cárcel Real, La Galera specializes in beef. The Plaza Mayor offers its Langosta Mariposa (Butterfly Lobster) in a huge 19th-century house with wide stairways and a lush courtyard.
Bars in the city's historic center offer a large selection of Cuban and international drinks, and musicians who play traditional Cuban melodies. These sites also retain their colonial atmosphere. Canchánchara (La) is the most famous of them all, located in one of Trinidad's oldest houses. The bar is characterized not only by its namesake drink but also by the ceramic vessel in which it's served, by the traditional music played here and by the artisans who weave and twist tobacco leaves in the corners. Another popular spot, Casa de la Trova occupies an 18th-century building and features music by Sindo Garay, Manuel Corona and other musicians in that tradition. And sometimes it doesn't matter that only the walls of a building remain, as is the case with Segarte and Lleonci. A few arches and columns and few musicians are enough to recharge these places with life.
For lighter meals, try the more modern area of the city. The best-known cafes include Las Begonias and Rapiazul, but one can also eat in private homes that take Cuban pesos and serve sandwiches, pizzas and natural juices.
On the outskirts of Trinidad there are ranches, such as Casa de la Gallega, and estates like María Dolores and Codina that serve Creole food. These places preserve the best traditions of the Cuban countryside. You'll enjoy pork cooked on skewers or on the grill, Cuban music, cock fights, and rides horses or in boats. One of these ranches, El Cubano, features its own variety of catfish. Near the city, in El Valle de los Ingenios, there are two mansions that have become restaurants, Manaca-Iznaga and Guachinango. Decorated according to 19th-century customs, these houses preserve their original architecture and furnishings.
Most of the restaurants and cafes near Ancón and María Aguilar beaches are located within hotels. Costa Sur restaurants specializing in fish and shellfish include Arrecife (El) and Lina. Or try a hotel bar such as Manta (La), located in the lobby near the pool. The renowned restaurant of the Hotel Ancón is Olaya, where you can choose a lobster from the tank and watch the chef prepare it. Also try Bahía de Casilda and Las Conchas. And at night try Los Corsarios and Coco bar.
Coast, rivers and lakes
In Trinidad, as in most of the cities on the island, one can sunbathe and bathe in the sea. There are the tropical sun, the wide expanses of sand and waters known for their calm transparency. Besides these advantages, Trinidad also offers boating through rivers and lagoons, bathing at waterfalls, and fishing in the backwaters and on the coast.
Those looking for beaches will find a four-kilometer peninsula of fine sands and shallow waters, with two hotels, the Hotel Ancón and the Hotel Costasur. In addition to the specialized restaurants, cafes and nightclubs at these places, you'll also find facilities for water sports at the beaches of Ancón and María Aguilar. You can dive to a coral reef with an abundance tropical fish and other sea life. Near the end of the peninsula, Marina Puerto Sol offers ferry trips, shipwreck dives, boat rentals, equipment and excursions to catch various types of fish, plus excursions to the southern cays and moorage for yacht owners. West of Trinidad, at the mouth of the Río Guaurabo, lies La Boca beach, not as popular as the beaches of Ancón peninsula but just three kilometers from the city. This is a good economical choice as most facilities here accept payment in Cuban pesos.
As most of the rivers around Trinidad originate in and flow through the Escambray highlands, one can find numerous waterfalls there, some over 60 meters high, as well as springs amidst tropical forests. With some local advice, adventure seekers can reach wilder areas, but there are also options for those who prefer the known paths. In Topes de Collantes, you can visit waterfalls such as Excursión al Salto del Caburní, Rocío and Vega Grande, and caves such as the one at Batata (La), where an underground river forms several pools. Along the Río Guaurabo near Trinidad, one can follow the Velázquez route through the Finca Ma' Dolores and Rancho El Cubano. You can hunt on game preserves such as Hacienda Manatí and Hacienda El Taje. Reservoirs such as Zaza offer fishing and low-priced hotels.
On the south coast close to Trinidad and throughout the province of Sancti Spiritus, zones such as La Boca, Punta de Higuanojo, Zaza and Pasabanao feature deep-sea fishing and trolling. Again, try Marina Puerto Sol.
Ferries from Trinidad sometimes sail of the open sea, but you can also cruise to Cayo Blanco or Cayo Macho de Afuera, to snorkel at coral reef or swim at beaches where fellow passengers will be your only company. These completely uninhabited cays boast an abundance of mangroves, reptiles and other animals, as well as birds of the tropical coast, including flamingos, seagulls and pelicans.
Despite the modernity of the new century, Trinidad maintains its ancient aura. For this reason perhaps, travelers cannot avoid falling for its charm, for that essence retained in its old buildings, in its squares, in its stone streets and even in its shops. To shop in Trinidad is also to learn its history and to submerge into the magic of the island. Negotiating the peculiar labyrinth of colonial alleyways, one can't help but find the street merchants, known by the locals as 'candongas'. At the popular handicraft markets of the Esquina Real del Jigüe and Pablo Pis, you'll see the very white embroidered linen sheets waving in the wind, breathe in the aroma of embossed leathers and be charmed by the calls of the vendors. As one passes, the sellers approach to show the best of their crafts, much as their ancestors did in the Puerto de Casilda. At every museum, square and tourist site, you will find a bazaar of souvenirs called Artex. These places sell handicrafts and factory-produced goods, postcards, tourist guides, pottery, and T-shirts depicting the Cuban sun and city sights. Artex headquarters is La Casa Artex, a huge colonial mansion on Calle Lino Perez. Not quite so numerous, the shops of Caracol are usually located in hotels or other high-traffic areas of historical or cultural interest, such as La Canchánchara or the Cochera del Brunet. Along with handicrafts and souvenirs, these shops sell clothing, toilet articles, jewelry and perfumes. If you are looking for art, visit the Casa-venta Amelia Peláez, the Galería de la Plaza de Santa Ana or the shop in the Museo de Arqueología. At these place, you will find the best art from Trinidad and the whole central region, works with artistic value beyond their commercial value, including handicrafts that are the best of their kind. If you prefer to know the inner world of the artist, watch the creation process, discover as yet unexhibited pieces and buy unique works at the workshop of Coqui Santander. Here you will meet a young woman with clay and paint on her hands, both skilled and devoted to her work. It's said that when the conquistador Diego Velázquez arrived at the mouth of Río Guaurabo in 1513, he first met native potters. Thanks to the region's rich natural clays, pottery has been the city's noblest profession since before colonization.
To the Cuban ethnologist Don Fernando Ortiz, the history of each region of Cuba is the result of the constant interplay between sugar and tobacco. Trinidad was also born from theses influences. This sugar industry supported the city, and the region grows some of the world's best tobacco. La Casa del Ron y el Tabaco sells tobacco and rum, including cigars under the Habanos brand and Havana Club, Caney (formerly Bacardí), Matusalem and other rums. You can also visit another of the establishments at the corner of San Procopio and Jesús María, or the rum shop Galerías Universo. But we haven't said anything yet about the best thing on this island illuminated by poetry and music. Trova has a deep tradition in all of Trinidad. This and other rhythms can be heard and purchased on CD in the shops of Casa de la Trova and Casa de la Música.
When you arrive in Trinidad, you'll feel as if you've stopped in time, in the colonial era of stone alleyways, and mansions with huge windows and lanterns by their doors. Plaza Mayor , also called the Antigua Plaza de Trinidad, is a good place to start. It is surrounded by beautiful colonial mansions that belonged to the barons of the sugar industry. All of these have been carefully restored and now contain museums of great historical and architectural interest. The Palacio Brunet is now the Museo Romántico, which shows an interesting collection of furniture, paintings and objects once owned by aristocratic Trinidadian families. Formerly the Padròn mansion, where the German scientist Alexander Humboldt stayed during his visit to the island, the Museo de Arqueología preserves a collection of objects and tools used by the first inhabitants of these regions, the Siboneys and Tainos. The Museo de Arquitectura has galleries representing colonial buildings, the era of the sugar plantations and an original 19th-century steam bath. Recently restored to its 19th-century splendor, Palacio Cantero now houses the Museo de Historia Municipal, which exhibits valuable paintings and objects from the colonial epoch. Enjoy a magnificent view of the city and the Escambray mountains from the palace's roof.
The Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, built in the 19th century on the Plaza Mayor, does not have a clock on its tower like most cathedrals, which may be its principal peculiarity. Don't miss the church's unusual image of Christ in a resting pose. On Avenida Guitart, you'll find the former Covento de San Francisco de Asís, now the Museo Nacional de la Lucha contra Bandidos , which keeps documents, photos and objects concerning the fight against counterrevolutionary groups after 1959. The building's terrace has a majestic view of the city with its red mud roofs in the colonial style and of the surrounding mountains. The former Chief Magistrate of Trinidad's house is now a contemporary art gallery with a collection of works by regional artists.
Walking along Avenida Guitart will bring you to Plaza de Jigüe, where the city's founding took place and where Fray Bartolome de las Casas celebrated the first mass of Trinidad. This Franciscan friar was an outstanding defender of natives' rights. The Parque Martí is where Trinidadians come to meet, and it is a good choice for a stroll. You may appreciate the Ayuntamiento and the Teatro Principal, both located in the park. Walking north you'll come to Plaza de Santa Ana, where you'll find the church of the same name, built at the beginning of the 19th century. Across the square in the old jail building, there's a tourist complex with restaurants, bars and handicraft shops. The hermitage of La Popa, now in ruins, is the oldest church in Trinidad. Also consider trips to Sancti Spíritus, an important neighboring city, and to El Valle de los Ingenios, where the sugar plantations were located.