Trinidad, 500 Years of the Caribbean Sea's City Museum
By: Masiel Fernández Bolaños / Photos by José Tito Meriño and Garal
With the imprint of colonial times that pervades every one of its buildings and its high degree of preservation, this city might seem frozen in time. However, Trinidad, located in the heart of Cuba, enchants every visitor with its intoxicating spirit, a mixture of the enigmatic past and a captivating freshness after 500 years of existence.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, Trinidad stands out as one of the best-preserved colonial cities of Latin America. Its cobblestone streets invite us to wander down its winding paths, up and down gentle slopes and around its curves, as they have been for centuries.
Urban center, sea and mountains come together to offer the attraction of a place that brims with culture, and where the hospitality of its people are unforgettable. Local residents, known as trinitarios, have a reputation for being kind, modest and excellent hosts. They help visitors to feel like a part of this world, with its fabulous legends of pirates, its history of slavery, and its treasures that remain to be discovered behind masonry walls and forgotten colonial courtyards.
A place full of history
Originally known as La Villa de la Santísima Trinidad, this was the third major settlement, or villa, founded by the Spanish crown on the island of Cuba in early 1514. It was established by the explorer Diego Velázquez de Cuellar and grew rapidly.
One of its most interesting sites is the Plaza Mayor, the oldest main square, and around which the villa evolved. There stands the imposing architectural treasure known as the Iglesia Parroquial Mayor de la Santísima Trinidad, an ancient colonial church, along with former mansions that now house the city's principal museums, where visitors can learn about different facets of this urban center's life since its founding.
Other cultural and recreational centers that are obligatory stops here for enjoying the most authentic music and dance of Trinidad include the Casa de la Musica, Casa de la Trova, Palenque de los Congos Reales and Canchánchara.
Trinidad is not just about contemplating art; it is a place for encountering and sharing in rich popular culture, reflected in its traditional fiestas and its religious and artistic expressions. In that sense, its arts and crafts especially stand out: pottery, jewelry, textiles in natural fabrics, embroidery, and visual arts that are on display and for sale in streets, plazas and galleries.
Restaurants, bars, cafes, and diverse commercial establishments also ensure the enjoyment of a wide variety of services. Tourist transportations services include buses, taxis, and auto rental, and the Bay of Casilda features a port that can receive cruise ships with visitors to Trinidad.
The growth of the non-state tourism sector also stands out, with a network of privately-owned hostels and restaurants that complement the tourism product here, the city known as the top destination in central-southern Cuba.
The city is surrounded by valuable natural heritage that makes this province an ideal setting for enjoying a diverse experience, combining the sea and mountains.
Trinidad's coastline features more than four kilometres of fine sand on the Peninsula of Ancón, and Ancón Beach is considered the best on Cuba's southern coast. Other attractions include beautiful cays such as Cayo Blanco and Cayo Iguana, a major coral reef, and 27 diving spots.
The nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) was also declare a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. It is an expansive natural and archeological reserve of the early 19th century sugar industry, which made Trinidad one of the most prosperous cities on the island.
Some of these ancient former plantations include the Manaca Iznaga, Buenavista, San Isidro de los Destiladeros, Guáimaro, El Abanico and Guachinango. One of the most productive sugar mills of its era was the Manaca Iznaga, where an unusual, 45-metre lookout tower still stands, the only one of its kind in Cuba.
Just 20 kilometres from the city of Trinidad and 800 metres above sea level is the Topes de Collantes natural protected area. This natural reserve features five parks: Guanatara, Codina, El Cubano, El Nicho and the Altiplano Topes de Collantes. It is impressing to see its imposing peaks, ample valleys, lush vegetation, endemic flora and fauna, cave systems, beautiful landscapes, and its rivers and streams, where pure, clear waters flow into natural falls and ponds.
Celebrating 500 years is a real occasion, to say the least, especially with such an excellent state of preservation. Like any great hostess, Trinidad is dusting and adorning, and dressing up in its finest to show the world just how authentic it is.