Have you ever found yourself right at the heart of the 18th century? Well, if you have (by the art of a time machine or by the power of imagination), then good on you! But if you haven't, or if you'd like to repeat the experience, then Cuba has just the perfect place for it – a whole town where time has stood still for centuries and where you can fully absorb the colonial atmosphere.
The city of Trinidad is such a place, founded by Spanish governor Diego Velazquez back in 1514, as the third of Cuba's cities or "villas" (as they were called at the time) to be established in the island. The area later flourished over the centuries thanks to the blossoming sugar trade industry and brought in a wealthy class of sugar lords who rushed in to build magnificent colonial houses and palaces for their distinguished families. From then on, Trinidad quickly became one of Cuba's most prosperous cities and one of the most beautiful too.
The city peaked in splendour during the 18th century, thanks to the booming sugar industry, the country's number one economy driver at the time. It was during this time of opulence and wealth that a large part of city was built with most of the dazzling colonial architecture dating back to this era. Beautiful, refined, elegant and aristocratic, Trinidad is like one of those perfectly polished dames of yesteryear, always dressed in her finest gowns, giving out the most perfect demure smile.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, measures to preserve this city's unique colonial infrastructure have been put into place since the 50s, in the beginning by the initiative of the city's own inhabitants and later by a national drive to restore and protect heritage and cultural landmarks, especially after the island opened itself to international tourism, which has now become the country's number one source of income.
But how to make the most of your time on a visit to this fascinating town, and what shouldn't you miss during your stopover? Well, here I've conjured up a list of the most important and beautiful of Trinidad's collection ...the ones that would be completely unforgivable if you dared to miss!
What once was the heart of all the action, this central square still preserves the iconic buildings that are worth the admiration of so many locals and visitors. Under the watchful gaze of Terpsichore, the Greek Muse of Music and Dance, present here in the form of a marble sculpture that's perfectly located at the centre of it all, you'll find eye-catching edifications from the 18th and 19th centuries, colourful houses and tall palm trees. Most of the houses and former mansions surrounding Plaza Mayor, belonged to wealthy landowners who benefitted from the profitable sugar industry. Most of these grand houses are now museums.
At the centre of it all, on a raised platform and surrounded by white iron-wrought fences, the small sloping square is divided in quarters with four small gardens. Simply yet beautifully decorated, here you'll find elegant lamp posts, wrought-iron benches and statues of English greyhounds.
The Romantic Museum is a definite must-see on any visit to Trinidad. Also known as Palace Brunet, due to its famous previous owner, this magnificent structure was built in the 18th century in true neoclassical style of the times.
It features ample rooms and living spaces (a total of 13 in fact), beautiful detailing across the design of its walls and ceilings, magnificent ornamental objects and furniture as well as enviable ventilation thanks to its large windows and open spaces.
Decorative works of art and time pieces are exhibited in each of its rooms, from outstanding glassworks to the finest porcelain objects, many of which was imported from Europe, speaking of the limitless wealth and influence of the dwelling's owners.
Museo Principal de Trinidad
The former property of the distinguished Don Justo Cantero, a wealthy businessman of the times, this beautiful architectural gem houses authentic treasures with the finest mural paintings found across its rooms, to the sumptuous living room and the tower as the main lookout point boasting incredible city views (you must climb it).
Also dubbed the Cantero Palace, this 19th century wonder also exhibits an outstanding array of time pieces from different time periods. Some rooms go as far as recreating the ambience of different Cuban colonial periods, while others showcase antiques such as guns used by the villagers to defend themselves against the attacks of pirates and corsairs. There is also one room dedicated to the sugar industry and how it marked the development of the town over time.
The lookout tower it's not a belfry but the magnificent pinnacle of this splendid construction. From the tower you'll be able to enjoy sweeping town views, over the terracota-tiled roofs, towards the natural valleys and sea beyond - from the beautiful Playa Ancon to the ruins of the Candelaria hermitage and further along the coffee and banana plantations.
Drinking a glass of "canchanchara"
If you really want to immerse into the Trinitarian culture, there is one drink you must sample, and that is the "canchanchara". Not too far off Playa Mayor you can enjoy this classic Cuban drink which originated in the island's eastern part. Drank by local countrymen and "mambises" (those who fought to overthrow the Spanish control over the island), the canchanchara served many purposes – fighting off colds, keeping the cold weather at bay or relaxing during some free time. Made from moonshine, lemon, honey and water, nowadays some ice is also thrown in to make it even more refreshing and pleasing under the scorching sun.
To sip canchanchara you must head to the original and appropriately named "Canchanchara" building, built in 1723, still preserving its cedar ceilings intact and welcoming local troubadours and musicians that will make the experience even more authentic with the intoxicating tunes of traditional Cuban music.
Have a dance in Casa de la Trova
When it's time to let your hair down and let the local music take over, Casa de la Trova is the place to head to. Perfectly located in an original former colonial house dating back to the 18th century, this recreational venue offers the perfect place to enjoy traditional Cuban music and join in the locals with an unforgettable dancing session.
In the central patio, to the swaying of the lush plant decorations, acclaimed local musicians play a wondrous combination of old trova, traditional music and "novisima trova" for the dancing delight of everyone present. Typical beverages and light bites are also offered while a separate shop selling musical instruments and the CDs of the local bands complete the picture. This is definitely place to spend an Trinitarian night you'll never forget.
But there's more – Trinidad keeps on giving
All the above interesting options and places of interest in Trinidad that I've put before you and exposed in detail can be perfectly complemented with other attractions in the city's surroundings, such as the Iznaga Tower, the amazing Valle de los Ingenios and the beautiful Ancon Beach. These extras would perfectly complete a full tour of the Caribbean's most picturesque "museum city".