One of the most visited towns in Cuba, Trinidad maintains a charming colonial atmosphere with its uneven cobbled streets, quiet plazas, churches, red-tiled roofs, wooden shutters and wrought-iron grilles. Bicycles and horse-drawn carts bump along streets lined with untidy pastel-coloured houses, where open doors afford brief views of folk on rocking chairs and wooden birdcages, and the strains of salsa music drift out from cool courtyards where the intricate steps of the dance are practiced.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Trinidad has escaped the modern tourist infrastructure and large hotels usually accorded a popular destination, and retains its welcoming and tranquil atmosphere. Surrounded by sugarcane plantations, and situated between the Topes de Collantes mountains and the Caribbean Sea, Trinidad's location also provides easy access to the beach, the mountains, and the beautiful surrounding countryside, where vestiges from the 18th and 19th centuries in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) testify to a time of prosperity during the sugarcane boom. The Valley and its old sugar mills are interesting historically, as well as scenically, because the slave trade was a huge contributing factor in the sugarcane industry's success. It was after the abolishment of slavery that the boom ended and the area drifted into picturesque tranquility.
Trinidad is relatively easy to negotiate on foot as most attractions are in the historic hub, centred around the Plaza Mayor. It is a charming and generally very safe town for walkers and getting around on foot somehow suits the ponderous pace of life in Trinidad. Playa AncÃ³n's beaches are serviced by Cubatur minibuses, usually from 8am to the evenings, running along Maceo. Taxis are available, as are car rental agencies, though streets can be somewhat confusing and are known by different names. You won't struggle to hire a horse-drawn wagon either, should the urge strike you. A novel way to explore the area is on the Rumbos steam train, dating back to 1907, that travels to Valle de los Ingenios. The train leaves at 9.30am and returns at 2pm. There are also very popular horseback tours of the valley and many people get around the area on bicycles. All in all, it is a small and friendly place, and very easy to get around.
Trinidad has a number of museums in colonial mansions, but one of the best is the beautifully renovated Museo RomÃ¡ntico overlooking the main square, Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is the historic centre of Trinidad and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mansions, or palaces, that surround the square date back to the 18th and 19th centuries when trade in sugar and slaves brought great wealth to the area. The Museo RomÃ¡ntico, or Brunet Palace, was built in 1812 by the wealthy Borrell family but it takes its name from the Brunet son-in-law who took over the house. The museum displays mostly the belongings and personal collections of these two grand families and boasts an excellent exhibition of paintings, decorative furniture and porcelain from the 1830s. The mansion itself is the main attraction, however, with the original marble floors still on display and splendid frescoes and neoclassical architecture and decoration. The Plaza Mayor is an un-missable attraction in Trinidad and visitors will do themselves an injustice if they don't explore some of these magnificent old houses, which provide so much insight into a certain period of Cuban history.
Museo Histï¿½rico Municipal
This neo-classical mansion belonged to one of the richest families in Cuba, the Borrell family, between 1827 and 1830 but it was bought by German sugarcane plantation owner Justo Cantero, a controversial figure in local gossip. The mansion, now a museum, is still called Casa Cantero. The grandiose house, just off Plaza Mayor, is in itself the main attraction, with beautiful wall murals depicting classical scenes and splendid decor in the rooms. Apart from the cool, stylish rooms, the museum also displays some exhibits relating to the sugar industry and history of Trinidad, including collections of weaponry, furniture, art and important documents. One of Casa Cantero's most popular attractions is the superb view that can be seen from the mansion's tower - from here you can see wonderful vistas of Trinidad and the Escambray mountains. This view alone will more than justify the entrance fee for photographers. The museum starts getting crowded after 11am, when the tour buses arrive, so it is best to visit early in the morning to enjoy the personal charm of the place.
The soft sand and still, warm waters backed by palm trees make the beach at Playa AncÃ³n a popular trip from Trinidad. Situated at the end of the peninsula, seven miles (12km) south of Trinidad, Playa AncÃ³n offers water sports and some good offshore snorkeling and diving sites. The colourful coral, rock tunnels and other exciting features of the seabed make this beach a scuba divers dream. You can take a yacht out into the ocean for a swim, or hire boats to explore the coast or go fishing. The beach is famous among locals and travellers alike and the crowds there are a great mix of the two: if you like to feel like you have paradise to yourself then go during the week when it is quieter, but, although it can get crowded during the weekend, it is quite fun watching the locals cavort and it is a good opportunity to mingle and meet people. Make sure you bring your own snacks or picnic because food stalls at the beach are limited and the hotels along the beach front generally only cater for their guests. A lovely way to see the countryside is to cycle from Trinidad to this beautiful beach - you will pass through a picturesque little village on your way and the trip is not strenuous.
Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills)
This picturesque emerald valley was once the centre of the sugar trade industry, and home to the plantations that brought wealth and prosperity to Trinidad in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak of the sugar trade there were over 70 sugar cane mills in the valley area and about 30,000 slaves working on the plantations. Today, the ruins of estates, sugar mills and other remnants are visited by tourists who are attracted by the beauty of the valley, and the historical significance of the slave trade that operated during the valley's boom years. The main site is the Manaca Iznaga, a striking 144ft (44m) high tower that was used by a plantation owner, one of the wealthiest men in Cuba, Pedro Iznaga, to keep watch over his slaves working in the fields. The bells in this tower would toll to signal the end of the working day. Visitors can climb the tower for impressive views over the countryside. Along with Trinidad, the Valle de los Ingenios has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Horse riding tours to the valley, departing from Trinidad, are a popular way to see the sights and take in the beautiful surroundings.
Located 55 miles (88km) north of Trinidad, the city of Santa Clara is best known for its Che Memorial at the Plaza de la RevoluciÃ³n, and monuments relating to the Cuban Revolution. The armoured train monument (Monumento a la Toma del Tren Blindado) marks the spot where Che attacked the train sending Batista's troops to Santiago de Cuba, a battle which was a decisive factor in the victory of the revolutionaries. The Ernesto Che Guevara Monument was built to pay homage to the memory of Che and his comrades who fought with him in Bolivia, and the enormous monument incorporates a huge statue of Che with his famous phrase Hasta la Victoria Siempre(Forever Onwards Towards Victory), as well as representations of many aspects of his revolutionary life. To one side of the statue, a huge stone block has been inscribed in full with his farewell letter to Fidel Castro. The monument also includes a chilled mausoleum where the remains of Che and his comrades have been interred, and a museum with displays about his life and involvement in the revolution.
The beautiful colonial city of Sancti Spiritus, with its gracious people, delightful architecture and maze of narrow, winding cobblestone streets remains almost completely unassuming and detached from tourism. Located in the centre of Cuba, 43 miles (70km) east of Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus lies on the banks of the Yayabo River, exuding charm, affability and authenticity. The old town dates back to 1514 and has been declared a National Monument. It is filled with picturesque, colourful little houses with uneven red-tiled roofs and weathered colonial homes. It also boasts the much-photographed green-towered church which dates back to the early 16th century, making it the oldest church in Cuba. Streets are crammed with horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, scooters and pedestrians licking at ice-creams flavoured with a fruit which grows along the banks of the river. Spanning the river is the Puente Yayabo, an arched brick bridge built by the Spanish in 1815, and the city's most famous sight. The population of Sancti Spiritus is only about 100,000 and its rundown charm and friendly, laid-back people are part of its appeal. It is also renowned to be the home of many famous Cuban singers and musicians so it is worth seeking out some music when you visit.
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