Exploring the colonial city center of Trinidad in one day

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Exploring the colonial city center of Trinidad in one day

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the well-preserved colonial city of Trinidad was founded by the Spanish in the 18th century. The city soon grew wealthy thanks to the production of sugar cane, cattle and tobacco. The profitable financial situation funded luxurious palaces, beautiful plazas and colorful colonial homes for rich plantation owners, which turned Trinidad into the charming and photogenic little place it is today.

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What we didn’t like about Trinidad

The downside of Trinidad’s beauty is that it has become very touristic. Coming from the quiet eastern part of Cuba where we hardly spotted a tourist a day, we felt overwhelmed by the bustle in Trinidad. Tourists were swarming through a city center that is fully designed for their needs, whereas locals were missing from the scene.

Everything is quite expensive in Trinidad. We had a hard time finding local shops or restaurants where they accept CUP money. Even when we finally did, we were denied cheap food. Having become used to tourists who have large amounts of money to splurge, local vendors have started to make a sharp distinction between locals and tourists. Usually you can buy cheap sandwiches on the street, but here we were charged 1 CUC, even though the handwritten menu clearly stated it was only 5 CUP. When we confronted the vendor with the fact, he simply refused to sell food to us. Even in the Viazul bus station we were charged 1,50 CUC for a 5 CUP sandwich for the simple fact that we didn’t look Cuban.

For these reasons, it took us some time to adjust before we could begin to appreciate the beauty of the city.

What we did like about Trinidad

Randomly crisscrossing the cobblestone streets of Trinidad, we marveled at the beautiful pastel-colored colonial buildings. The streets were lined with galleries, tourist shops, bars and restaurants, and a market selling souvenirs had set up too.

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A few bars

The timing was right as we passed along the bar Bodeguita del Medio: happy hour had just begun and mojito’s were at 1,25 CUC! We’d heard the mojito’s in this place are mind-blowing, so we had to try them out. We installed at a table inside not too far from the band playing live music. The rumors proved to be correct. The waiter was generous with rum and prepared us a delicious mojito.

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One evening, we set off looking for a salsa bar. Las Ruinas was a nice bar where they played jazz at the time of our visit. In Casa de la Trova, we saw mainly elder tourists. In El Rincón de la salsa, there wasn’t much dancing going on (yet) and the entrance fee was quite elevated at 2 CUC. We decided to go for the last option, being Casa de la Música on the stairs next to the church. A band was playing live music on a small stage in front of which people were dancing salsa while everyone was watching. If you’re just a beginner, it can be quite intimidating to set your first dance moves here.

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Note: you might want to try the ‘Trinidad colonial’, the signature cocktail from Trinidad which comes in the same colors as the glass windows characteristic of many colonial buildings.

Three restaurants we liked… and one we did not

On our first night, we went to La Fábrica de Cerveza on Plaza Santa Ana, where they brew their own beer with imported ingredients. The food is decent too and less expensive than the restaurants in the center. This seems to be one of the local places where Cubans hang out with friends.

Another place we really liked was La Botija, recommended to us by Marianne from our guesthouse Casa de Norge. As for most good restaurants in Trinidad, we had to wait in line for 20 minutes before we could enter. The restaurant is nicely decorated in a Caribbean style and all the waiters wear white clothes and a red headband. We had cheeseballs and patatas fritas as a starter, which were delicious. Our main dishes, grilled chicken and shrimp in garlic sauce, were really good too. With prices between 8 and 10 CUC, the food is more expensive than the state-run restaurants we had been visiting so far, but we really enjoyed trying different flavors for a change. A live band was playing music and one American girl had started dancing next to her table. The waiters moved the table aside, and joined her on this newly created dancefloor. In the end, almost the entire restaurant stood up to dance in line through the restaurant. What a vibe!

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This one is not a restaurant, but I’d recommend you mark this place on your map too. As mentioned above, we were frustrated by the high tourist prices for normally cheap food, so we started wandering away from the center looking for street food. We found one great place between Hostal Conga y Luis and Hostal Sra Maylan (on Calle Desengaño #125). They sell cheap batidos, sandwiches and tasty pizza’s for about 25 CUP.

So far for the places worth mentioning. I’ll also give you a note of warning about a place you better avoid. Originally we were headed to the popular restaurante San José, but given that the waiting line took about one hour, we entered the restaurant on the opposite side of the street, I think it’s called La Merced. The food was tasteless, the meat wasn’t cooked well enough and the staff wasn’t friendly at all. If you also feel desperate upon seeing the line in front of restaurante San José, please look further than we did. That’s just my two cents…

Disco Ayala, the underground disco in a cave

A steep dark cobblestone street opposite La Botija leads up the hill to the underground disco Ayala. You better leave your high heels at home if you intend on walking there. If you need encouraging, you can buy cheap mojito’s on every corner of the way.

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Entrance to the cave is 5 CUC, which includes a free drink (which we personally thought was the worst mojito we've encountered). After descending a long series of steps into the cave, you get to the dancefloor. It's really hot and humid in there, but everyone is just having a great time dancing. Depending on the night, the music can be salsa, reggaeton or house… Beware though if you’re a group a girls: the boys are thirsty. All in all, dancing in a cave was really a fun experience, so much even that I would say that you should check this place out even if you’re not a disco fan.

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