Cobblestone Streets of Trinidad
Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage site and quaint little town in central Cuba. Getting to Trinidad from Havana is simple; Mari and I arranged a “collectivo” for 30 CUC/$30 US (we overpaid). A small taxi picked us up and continued on for two others. The four-hour ride was fairly easy other than a rainy start. Halfway through we stopped for a bathroom break and reached our hostel, Hostal German 1806, in the early afternoon.
Day 1: Afternoon | Arrive in Trinidad
Hostel German 1806 was adorable and all ours for the next few days. Upon arrival the owner, Emillio, offered us fresh squeezed orange juice and an overview of Trinidad. On the upper level was our a private room, bath and small patio with a view.
After check in, it was time for food. The two of us ended up at a restaurant called Caniba. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great; the food lacked flavor and was smothered in mayo. As we finished up our meals an intense rainstorm rolled in and nearly trapped us (it was rainy season, after all). To be honest, Trinidad was pretty tough. Every restaurant was touristy, overpriced and not tasty - not at all what we imagined. Plus, there were torrential downpours every evening around dinnertime and through the night.
Day 1: Evening | Admire Local Art
Later on we went to explore the cobblestone streets, still covered in puddles. The homes were old and painted in bright lively colors. There were a handful of shops open but nearly every one was selling identical t-shirts, wooden knickknacks and trinkets.
Luckily we discovered a gallery spilling into three large rooms. Every wall was covered in beautiful paintings. The gallery featured local artists; one of which I fell in love. Yasiel Elizagaray Cardenas’ oil paintings are dark and creepy. They use clowns as a metaphor to raise questions about reality and the human condition. Some of his larger pieces were 1,000 CUC ($1,000 US), so I settled on a tiny vertical piece for 45 CUC, thankful that I didn’t walk away empty handed.
That evening after wandering the streets for hours looking at menu after menu we settled on a rooftop restaurant. We ordered shrimp and rice with guava smoothies but shrimp was out of season and teeny tiny. The rooftop was very pretty though, covered with trees and hot pink flowers climbing between the tables. Live music played in the main plaza as we relaxed.
Day 2: Morning | Visit el Mirador & Sugar Mill Valley
First thing in the morning, breakfast was served on our patio. Emilio prepared fruits (guava, banana and watermelon), fried malanga commonly known as the root vegetable taro, scrambled eggs, bread, cake, fresh orange juice and coffee. Everything was so delicious.
Originally, our plan was to hike the local mountains or visit Parque de Cubano in search of waterfalls but with the enormous amount of rain it wasn’t safe. Instead, Emilio arranged for his friend, Junior, to take us on a private “tour” stopping off at the best local spots.
Around 9:30 a.m. Mari and I jumped into our taxi. The first stop was El Mirador, the highest viewpoint in town. You could see for miles and the landscape was gorgeous, covered in green vegetation and palm trees.
Our next stop was an old sugar cane factory turned museum located in Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill Valley). We learned that Americans came to Cuba in the late 1800’s to set up the sugar business. It switched to Cuban ownership and then to FNTA (Frente Nacional de Trabajadores Azucareros), finally closing in 2004 due to changes in the economy and export market.
Cuba previously exported tons of brown sugar, particularly to the US, but now keep most of it for local use, only exporting a small amount. The loss of this factory had a tremendous impact on the area. In years past, 56 privately owned sugar mills used this central location to process sugar cane. Products like sugar, rum, paper and a special alcohol called Aguardiente were produced but once closed, everyone was on their own.
Continuing on in Sugar Mill Valley, we visited Manaca, specifically the Manaca Iznaga tower, the tallest lookout tower ever built in the Caribbean sugar region. The tower is said to have been used to keep an eye on plantations slaves.
Upon entering Manaca, make sure to grab a cup of sugarcane juice and take a look at the vendors selling textiles – they’re beautiful. It’s also possible to climb up the tower but with the heat we decided to pass.
Take a look around and step inside the small shop and restaurant to the left of the tower. There’s a gorgeous view without so many vendors and visitors in the way.
Day 2: Afternoon | Sip on Cocktails at Casa ChiChi & Chill at Playa Ancon
As a surprise, Junior dropped by Casa ChiChi, a local pottery house in Trinidad. This Spanish family-run workshop is famous nationwide and still open today after being taken over in 1962 by the Cuban government. The Santander family continues to operate Casa ChiChi and uses old fashioned pottery methods like a wood-fire kiln and pulling clay from local caves.
Inside Case ChiChi you can browse around thousands of pieces of pottery and watch as it’s made firsthand. The workshop also offers little cocktails called Canchanchara made with the local alcohol Aguardiente, combined with lemon juice, gas water and honey. Talk about strong but delicious!
With a rare and sunny day before us we ended at Ancon Beach, 20 minutes south of downtown Trinidad. The waters were clean and clear and without many visitors. We enjoyed the sun and spent some time in the warm waters.
Right on the beach was a little restaurant where we ordered mojitos and ate lunch. Junior joined us for a delicious meal of lobster, shrimp, rice, sweet potatoes and salad.
In the evening, Mari and I explored the colonial cobblestone streets of Trinidad once more. We followed them through the city center and out toward the edge of town where we found kids playing games in the streets.
The sunset was incredible as the backdrop to the colorful buildings and palm trees shooting up into the sky. The town felt moody and on the verge of a storm.
After a long and stormy night filled with crowing roosters and pounding rain, breakfast was served at 8 a.m. on our balcony. Breakfast included scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, croquettes, honey biscuits, french bread and fruit with mango juice and coffee. Our time in Trinidad had come to an end and it was time to move on.
Next up, Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba coined Pearl of the South.
Hostal German 1806
Hostal German 1806 is a very special place to stay. The host, Emilio, is so helpful and extremely kind (he even gave me a liter of fresh honey to take home for 8 CUC). He was able to set up local tours and taxi drivers, as well as cook up a mean breakfast each morning. The accommodations are both private and comfortable. Hostal German 1806 is in a great location and super clean. During our stay, we had the entire space to ourselves. Wonderful space and super affordable (30 CUC a night).