Certainly Cuba has no shortage of charming Spanish colonial and early post-colonial architecture, from Pinar del Río out west to Santiago in the east. But for me the place that most makes me feel like I’ve actually stepped into the past of a century or more ago is Trinidad (Spanish for “trinity”), an almost ridiculously photogenic UNESCO World Heritage Site which in 2014 will commemorate its 500th anniversary. In the province of Sancti Spiritus, on the south coast of the island’s midsection, it can be visited as a day trip from Havana or the resorts of Varadero or Cayo Coco – but to really soak up the singular atmosphere, I highly recommend spending at least one night here, and a stylish, luxurious choice is the 40-room Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad on peaceful little Céspedes Park.
Once you’re settled in, there are several interesting little museums to see, as well as landmarks just outside town like the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) and nearby beaches such as Playa Ancón. But more than anything else, the main appeal here, for me at least, is just spending a leisurely day and evening strolling (or perhaps riding in one of the horse-drawn carriages that have proliferated to cater to the tourist trade) along the cobblestone streets of the historic center. And don’t forget to have a bite in one of the paladares (private restaurants), as I do on all my visits (that gives you the double bonus of a peek at a local home; last time I dined in a lovely tiled courtyard that I would’ve never seen from the street outside). And nighttime is even more delicious. The sun can be bright and the heat intense during the day, but when the sun goes down, the calles come aglow with streetlamps and often echo with chatter and music drifting from bars and restaurants.
You know, some might tell you that it’s too late, that Trinidad has already been Disneyfied and commoditized and ruined by mass tourism, but don’t let them discourage you. Because while it’s true that the growth of tourism has certainly changed the town since I first started visiting in the late 1990’s, there are still plenty of quiet corners to discover, where you can still very much feel the vibe of the past in one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved historic towns, de la Cuba de antaño – of the Cuba of yesteryear.
Next time you travel to Cuba , stay at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad on peaceful little Céspedes Park. Located in a quiet art of town but still only a 10 minute stroll to the famous Casa de Musica.