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One of the most visited towns in Cuba, Trinidad maintains a charming colonial atmosphere with its uneven cobbled streets, quiet plazas and churches, detailed with red-tiled roofs, wooden shutters and wrought-iron frames. Bicycles and horse-drawn carts bump along streets lined with somewhat pastel-coloured houses worn with age, while the strains of salsa music drift out from cool courtyards where the intricate steps of the dance are practised.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Trinidad has largely escaped the modern tourist infrastructure and doesn't have the large hotels usually accorded to a popular destination, allowing it to retain 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.
Vestiges from the 18th and 19th centuries in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) testify to a time of immense prosperity for landed Cubans, amassing immense wealth during the sugarcane boom under slavery and colonial rule. It was after the abolishment of slavery that the boom ended and the area drifted into picturesque tranquillity.
Museo Romántico overlooks Plaza Mayor, the historic centre of Trinidad and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mansions and palaces surrounding the square date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when trade in sugar and slaves brought huge wealth to the area. Also called Brunet Palace, the Museo Romántico mostly displays the personal collections of paintings, furniture and porcelain belonging to its previous owners. While the plaza and nearby houses are all unmissable attractions in Trinidad, the neoclassical Museo Románticoi is itself magnificent, with original marble floors and splendid frescoes.
The grandiose Museo Histórico Municipal is a beautiful site. Previously owned by one of the richest families in Cuba, there are murals depicting well-known classical scenes and its rooms are outfitted in decorative splendour. Exhibits hark back to its original past, covering the sugar industry and history of Trinidad, including collections of weaponry, furniture and art. One of the most popular attractions of this neoclassical mansion is the captivating view from its tower, capturing wonderful vistas of Trinidad and the Escambray Mountains.
Situated seven miles (12km) south of Trinidad at the end of the peninsula, Playa Ancón boasts soft sand, warm waters and a fitting backdrop of palm trees. There are many watersports at Playa Ancón, as well as good offshore snorkelling and dive sites. Scuba enthusiasts will revel in this underwater playground of rock tunnels and colourful coral. Visitors can guide yachts through the beach's surrounding waters to find that perfect swimming spot or even hire boats to go fishing or exploring along the coast. Travellers also enjoy taking in the countryside when taking a leisurely bicycle ride to Playa Ancón from Trinidad, passing through a picturesque old village on the way.
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 safe town for pedestrians and getting around on foot somehow suits the ponderous pace of life in Trinidad.
Playa Ancón's beaches are serviced by minibuses, usually from about 8am until dusk, running along Maceo. Taxis are available, as are car rental agencies, though streets can be somewhat labyrinthine and are known by different names which can make driving confusing. You won't struggle to hire a horse-drawn wagon either, should the urge strike you.
A novel way to explore is on the vintage steam train, dating back to 1907, that travels to Valle de los Ingenios. It generally leaves Trinidad at about 9.30am and returns at 2pm. There are also popular horseback tours of the valley, and many people get around the area on bicycles. Ultimately, it's a small and friendly place, and exceedingly easy to get around.
A holiday in Trinidad provides an enchanting taste of traditional Cuba. The centre of Trinidad is a living colonial museum and visitors enjoy evenings of salsa performances in the central square, where bars serve up delicious mojitos and a market sells intriguing handicrafts.
Attractions in Trinidad include the largest church in Cuba, called Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima; extraordinary white interior makes it feel light, cool and vast. So much of Trinidad's charm is owed to its well-preserved colonial architecture. The Museo Historico Municipal, Trinidad Architecture Museum and the Museo Romantico are all stunning examples of mansions that have been turned into museums. They house collections composed largely of the private belongings and art of the wealthy and influential families that once lived in them. Both are on the Plaza Mayor, the old town square.
Trinidad is also remarkably well situated for excursions out into the countryside. It is just a few minutes' drive from one of Cuba's loveliest beaches, Ancon, and the Embalse Hanabanilla lake and waterfalls, which are immensely popular with hikers and cyclists. Also nearby is the beautiful and historically-absorbing Valle de los Ingenios, while it hardly takes any time to reach the nearby city of Sancti Spiritus, a continuation of the rustic colonial glory of Trinidad.
The best time to travel to Trinidad is during the cool, dry months between December and April, which is high season for tourism in Cuba. The rest of the year the weather is sweltering, humid and wet.
This emerald valley was once the centre of the sugar industry in Cuba in the 18th and 19th centuries. At its peak, there were over 70 sugarcane mills and about 30,000 slaves working on the plantations. Today, the ruins of estates and mills are visited by tourists attracted by the region's beauty and its historical significance in the slave trade during the valley's boom years. The main site is the Manaca Iznaga, a striking 144ft (44m) high tower which was used by plantation owners to keep watch over slaves. Along with Trinidad, the Valle de los Ingenios has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and riding tours are a popular way to take in the area's lovely views.
The city of Santa Clara is best known for the Che Guevara Mausoleum and other monuments relating to the Cuban Revolution. The Tren Blindado marks the spot where Guevara attacked the train carrying Batista's troops and derailed the tracks with a bulldozer. The Mausoleum was built to pay homage to the memory of Guevara and his comrades who fought with him in Bolivia, and the enormous monument incorporates a huge statue of his likeness, 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.
Sancti Spiritus lies on the banks of the Yayabo River, its delightful architecture and winding cobblestone streets exuding charm, authenticity and friendliness. Pedestrians enjoy ice-creams flavoured with fruit, while dodging jams of horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and scooters. The old town is a National Monument dating back to 1514, filled with stately colonial homes and colourful houses beneath red tile roofs. It also boasts the Parroquial Mayor, Cuba's oldest church, and the Puente Yayabo, a bridge over the river which is the city's most famous sight. The city is the birthplace of many famous Cuban musicians, so it's worth checking out the local music scene.
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