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Ever since my spur-of-the-moment trip to Havana, Cuba with TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino back in January, I’d been wanting to return to explore more of the country — and I’m so glad I finally did! Inspired by increasingly positive relations between the US and Cuba (and the fact that I’m based close by in Miami), I turned to travel agency Esencia Experiences for help planning an itinerary that included a day trip to the Bay of Pigs beaches and one of the most romantic towns in all of Cuba: Trinidad! (Except where noted, all photos by Julio Gaggia.)
A Bit of Trinidad’s History
Originally founded in 1514 by Spanish conquistadores, the charming historical center of Trinidad has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Spanish Colonial homes, cobblestone plazas and heartbreakingly beautiful cathedrals. By the 1820s, Trinidad was home to the world’s largest sugar cane empire, resulting in a staggering burst of wealth that can still be seen in vast 19th-century mansions. These days, tobacco and tourism keep the modern Cuban paradise of Trinidad afloat, but it remains a sweet place to visit.
How To Arrive
Set in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus, Trinidad is about four hours southeast of Havana and best reached by bus (Viazul or Transur), private taxi or shuttle. The small but functional Abel Santamaría Airport (SNU) is set in Santa Clara, about a two-hour drive from Trinidad — and that’s where I arrived.
What To Do
Trinidad is ideal because it offers the surrounding Sierra Del Escambray mountains, clean beaches and plenty of history — there’s something for everyone here. And luckily for me, I love all three of those things!
I started with a walking tour around Trinidad’s city center. I felt as if I was transported back in time as I strolled past the pastel-colored casitas, wrought-iron railings and massive churches, and was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the Plaza Mayor glistening in the afternoon sunlight and shadows of the nearby mountains. Havana is full of vintage cars, but here you’re just as likely to see rusty tractors, wooden carts and donkeys.
You can stop into the Romantic Museum, a 17th-century nobleman’s palace, to see colonial-era art and artifacts, such as furniture and antiques owned by Cuba’s sugar plantation’s elite, explore the history of revolutionary Cuba at The Struggle Against the Bandits Museum or simply poke around the Architecture Museum of Trinidad which offers a fascinating overview of Trinidad’s historical structures.
To get my daily dose of adventure, I went on a short hike through the Topes de Collantes park, a nature area set amidst the Escambray mountains with all sorts of fauna and flora (over 40 species of orchids and 100 species of ferns), caves and some beautiful waterfalls.
The protected area covers about 200 square kilometers (roughly 124 square miles), but I was only able to explore a small slice of it!
For some beach time and relaxation, head to the popular Playa Ancón, a short drive, long walk or easy bike ride from Trinidad’s town center.
Though it’s small, Trinidad does have a bit of nightlife, especially for salsa fans. The Casa de la Musica (Calle Cristo, +53 41 93414) is probably the most famous salsa spot and full of great dancers; after just a few minutes out on the floor, it became clear that I’d need to brush up on my moves in order to keep up with the crowd!
Day Trip to the Bay of Pigs Beaches and Museum
About two hours away by car are Playa Girón and Playa Larga, both beaches that served as landing sites during the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Playa de Girón was one of the last remaining areas occupied by invaders after over 72 hours of fighting.
Now, the small Museo Girón (which has a beautiful garden) is dedicated to remembering this historical event.
If you’re a fan of snorkeling in particular, head to the clear waters of Playa Larga to see some amazing coral. You might also want to explore the adjacent Ciénaga de Zapata, one of the world’s largest swamps. Here you can find about 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and over 1000 species of invertebrates. Be on the lookout for the “Cuban crocodile” (Crocodylus rhombifer), a highly endangered species that can only be found in a couple of spots within Cuba — the Zapata swamp being one of them. Though this area isn’t exactly close to Trinidad, having a chance to explore these peaceful, historically significant beaches was totally worth the trip.
Where To Eat
La Botija has some of the best shrimp marinated in garlic I’ve ever tasted! Set in one of the oldest houses in Cuba, this casual place specializes in a mix of Italian and Cuban dishes. You can get pretty much anything on a skewer, nibble your way through some tapas or splurge on a wood-fired pizza piled with everything from lobster to chorizo.
Sol y Son (283 Calle Desengaño, +53 41 992926) is a famous paladar (restaurant) worth a visit. Be prepared for a hike up several sets of stairs, but you’ll be rewarded with a pretty patio, a bunch of quirky antiques and what may well be the best roast pork in central Cuba.
Where To Stay
There are a few hotel options in this area, but overall, the casa particular (private house) route is the way to go.
I really enjoyed my stay at the B & B/Lodge Finca Kenia. It’s one of the oldest houses in Trinidad, built in the second half of the 19th century on the edge of the Santa Rosa Valley. I loved being in such a quaint, relaxing environment, and there were even horses on the property! Keep in mind that Airbnb is now open in Cuba, so this could also be a great resource if you’re planning to visit Trinidad.
Other recommended casas particulares are the Casa Yolanda Maria (which is actually more of a palace than a house) and Casa Santana. If you’d prefer a large hotel, the Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad is a solid option, but just be sure to book ahead, as hotels fill up pretty quickly in Cuba.
I personally loved Trinidad — the locals were warm and welcoming, the city charmed me and the nearby nature and beaches were stunning. I can’t wait to return someday!
Planning your own trip to Cuba? See these related posts and resources:
Travel Tips For Cuba
Airbnb’s Fastest Growing Market: Cuba
10 Things We Learned On Our First Trip To Cuba
Book Flights To Cuba With CheapAir
10 Types of People Who Need to Visit Cuba Now
5 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent for Visiting Cuba
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