We're back in Cuba today for our final stop in beautiful, vibrant Trinidad. I reckon Trinidad has it all: this former Spanish colonial town in the Sanctus Spiritus region pulsates with energy, music and colour. Its neo-Baroque buildings are gorgeous and crumbling, like a living open-air museum, and everywhere you go there's a cool spot to drink rum and take in the architecture or sunset, often soundtracked by live jazz. And when town life gets a bit much, there's an excellent beach nearby to take a break. What more could you possibly want?
HOW TO GET THERE
We hopped on a Viazul bus from Viñales which took us directly to Trinidad. To be honest, it was a bit of a dodgy ride from the outset: the driver, having forgotten to fuel up, had to make a quick detour to the petrol station, pulling all the blinds down and exhorting us to hide in the back of the bus so that the officials wouldn't notice that the unfuelled bus was already full of tourists. It could have been much, much worse though - on the same journey, we came across a fatal crash between a bus similar to ours and a car, both of which had skidded into a ditch on the side of the motorway. And on the bright side (arguably) the bus driver played 90s prank videos all the way to Trinidad.
We stayed in La Boca, a little seaside village just outside of Trinidad, so opted to take cabs costing 5-10 CUC into the city every day. Of course, if you're staying in Trinidad, it's probably easiest to just walk everywhere, though you'll want to take a taxi to the beach - more on that later.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
Taberna la Canchánchara (Calle Real del Jigue 90), for the eponymous canchánchara cocktail, a honeyed pot of rum, lemon and water. Best sipped (or drained) to the strains of Cuban jazz played by four funky elderly gentlemen with their pants slung high. This joint is touristy but lots of fun. There was a monsoon raging when we visited this place, with rain waterfalling on to the tables in the courtyard and blowing in through the door. We huddled around the tables and bought postcards and impressively cheap bottles of Havana Club wrapped in cigarette paper while we waited out the storm.
For those looking for another good drink spot, you're really spoiled for choice here. There are bars dotted throughout the city, one of the most famous being Casa de la Musicá at the top of the steps off the main square. You have to pay to sit inside, but it's just as cool to grab a cheaper mojito at one of the bars around the bottom of the steps, take a seat on the pavement and listen for free from there.
In terms of the standard of food, Trinidad is roughly on a par with Viñales - by our reckoning, not as good as Havana. In fact, our favourite restaurant (and one we ate in three times) was in La Boca, a small beach town outside of Trinidad. I couldn't tell you the name if I tried as I'm not sure it had one - it was basically somebody's porch - but it was cheap, the food was fairly good and the mojitos flowed plentifully. Oh, and they had a huge St Bernard for us to play with. There were never any other customers, leaving us with a quiet space to plot our adventures. On a practical note, it's also worth visiting if you're staying in La Boca as the casas are pretty basic and don't have anywhere to charge your devices, while this restaurant has UK-friendly plug sockets.
Here's a couple of things to avoid.
Number one, pizzas on the beach. I got quite excited when I saw food trucks on the front of Playa La Boca selling drinks and pizza, all in local prices. Now the 'pizza', costing 1CUC, was easily one of the worst things I've ever eaten - and I grew up faced with the horror of durian and petai, which I'd prefer to eat any day. A pre-frozen disc of tasteless white cheese (the same as the topping on my salad in Viñales) and tomato sauce congealed on a powdery yellow base which disintegrated in my hand. One bite was more than enough for me, with a strong flavour of what I imagine a mouthful of soil might taste like.
Number two, restaurant touts. One night in Trinidad all the restaurants were ridiculously packed, with jacked-up prices much worse than anything we'd seen in Viñales or Havana. The place we wanted to go to, Taberna La Botija, seemed to have good reviews and affordable prices - but as a result, was too full for us to get a table. A tout at a nearby restaurant promised a dinner deal that was revoked while we were eating, resulting in a wildly expensive bill that we had no choice but to contest (having already had money stolen in Havana, we couldn't afford to get scammed a second time). I know it's difficult to avoid touts if everywhere else in town is full - maybe it's worth heading further afield from the main streets to find a table at a cheaper, better place.
WHAT TO DO
Pack a bag with a towel, a book and sunscreen and hit the beach.
The local beach on the doorstep of our Airbnb was Playa La Boca, a beach frequented mainly by locals. Here you'll get a good view of the hills and a sense of the 'real' Cuba, for better or worse. It's definitely rough around here. The beach is made of shingles rather than sand and you'll see locals throwing all sorts into the sea or directly on to the ground: babies' nappies, fish scales and the fish skeletons themselves. It's also pretty packed, so on our first morning we opted to go further down the coast to sit on the rocks instead, which were pretty sharp and dangerous. Hence why we had a few bemused locals coming up to us to ask why we weren't at the much nicer beach...
Playa Ancon, which blew La Boca out of the water and has been praised as the best beach on Cuba's southern coast. This little paradise boasts clean swathes of silvery white sand stretching along for miles and was peaceful and pretty devoid of tourists at the time of year we visited (August), with an unbroken horizon great for bird-watching and storm-spotting.
This shot comes to you in black and white to hide the epic sunburn sustained by one of our number after lying in full midday sun on Playa la Boca...
Fronting the beach are some gigantic 1950s hotels (that look like they've fallen out of the 1970s) - they're not very attractive, but they have bathrooms and table tennis tables. And giant chess.
Get yourself a piece of greased lightnin' and take a ride in a classic car.
I found the taxis here were mainly the kind of cars that make you think of Cuba. They make for a really cool ride (though the insides are pretty much ripped out) without the accompanying price tag that you'd get in Havana.
Go with the flow. Wander around the city marvelling at the boldly painted buildings, pick up a drink or two in the main square while watching the jazz bands playing on the steps. We were doing just this one night, chatting to fellow travellers at a bar when there was a blackout across the entire city. While it was strange and a little scary to be stumbling around town in the darkness, with the only lights available emanating from phone screens and the dimly starlit sky, we kept our wits about us and it was actually pretty cool (until we got back to La Boca and realised the blackout extended across the countryside too, and the air conditioning was out!)
Spot symbols of the Cuban revolution daubed on the walls. A little bit of research after coming home told me that this painted flag signals fealty to Castro's revolutionary 26th of July movement, the organisation that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, and that it continues to be featured on Cuba's military uniform today.
There are so many memories of beautiful, tempestuous Trinidad that I treasure. Reclining on the sand on Playa Ancon with my friends, idly glancing up from my Stefan Zweig to see lightning forks illuminating the horizon. Screaming as a gigantic (seriously, the size of a dinner plate) black butterfly hurtled around our heads in the bedroom. Toasting to our trip on the final night with mojitos on the porch of our favourite paladar. How after the epic rainstorm the rivulets of water were funnelled away down the cobbled streets, the leaden grey veil of rain sweeping away to reveal spun-sugar skies, the cool rain-soaked air gradually giving way to oppressive heat. It was a great place to finish our travels before one final night in Havana (where, of course, we had a second meal at the stellar El Chanchullero). I came back to London a couple of kilos lighter, my skin a few shades darker and carrying a suitcase heavy with rum.
So that wraps up my Cuba trip! Thank you for reading this far - I hope you've learned a bit about Trinidad, especially if you're planning your own adventure to this magical island that hails from another century.