TRINIDAD DE CUBA: THE COLONIAL TREASURY

You know the famous pastel colored buildings that Cuba is known for? Yeah, that’s Trinidad! Trinidad has a cute array of colored housing and here the casas particulares are unreal! Many of these homes are beautiful colonial jewels with stunning gardens. You can walk cobblestoned streets, listen to live music in the plaza, cool off with fresh sugar cane juice, hop into a horse-drawn carriage, chat with locals, or visit fascinating colonial museums spread about town. You will not loose your time in Trinidad. Trinidad is a place where new mixes with old to create a jumble of sights, sounds, and smells.

It’s certainly a tourist town though — but even with other travelers around, Trinidad doesn’t lose its charm.

 

 

 

A BIT OF HISTORY

Trinidad, is also began an UNESCO World Heritage site in the center of the island in the province of Sancti Spíritus. Trinidad is Cuba’s best preserved colonial city, a unique mix of 1850’s architecture & 1950’s cars that feels frozen in time.

Trinidad was one of the first Cuban towns founded by the Spanish, and it quickly grew wealthy from the production of sugar cane, cattle, and tobacco due to the importation of African slaves.

The town’s wealth funded extravagant palaces, large plazas, and colorful colonial homes for rich plantation owners.

WHAT TO DO

Plaza Mayor is the true heart of Trinidad, a large plaza comprised of raised gardens, walkways. Historic buildings from the 18th & 19th centuries still surround the plaza. Many of them are painted in pastel colors, topped with red terracotta roofs. The plaza was built when the region was rich and you’ll still find the same churches and mansions previously owned by sugar barons — restored and transformed.

Life is simple, grab a seat on one of the cast-iron benches, and enjoy the gardens and the buildings nearby. You can order your drink and the waitress will bring it to you. But taking a long walk down some of Trinidad’s side streets until you get completely lost is one of my favorite things to do. You’ll get a glimpse of what life in Trinidad truly looks like. You may see games of dominoes, deep conversations, bird cages hanging from porches. Don’t be afraid to ask some questions too. Most people will be happy to chat!

If you want to dance,  in Cuba you can stay sitting down or don’t move any of your mussels as you will have always music around you, every evening at Casa de la Música there is an outside show which travelers can enjoy. Here expect to pay 3 CUC  / $3 / £1.96 for a cocktail.

One good place is the Canchánchara where you can have good cocktail of rum, honey, lemon, and water, it’s the simple things in life in Cuba that matter. Don’t be alarmed when live music explodes! It is Cuba mood..

SURROUNDING

The nearby Playa Ancon deserves a shout out too because it is a postcard perfect beach. This beach is perfection, it’s exactly what you would expect of Cuba with its blue waters, white sand and palm trees.

In attempt to miss the strong sun, I hired a bike in Trinidad at 9 a.m. (5 CUC / $5 / £3.27 each). With the bike I rode till the beach and passed all the day chilling there.

To know more about Cuba, see the other articles on this amazing country!

WHERE MY COLOMBIA TRIP STARTED: CARTAGENA!

Colombia, maybe the best travel I did so far in my life. Go back in my memories is really a nice way to think again what I did there and what I visited. First, My thoughts went back to Cartagena.

Although I knew nothing about the city before arriving there, I had such an amazing experience exploring and going on a new adventure each day.

I sincerely believe that what I saw is only a small piece of all that the city has to offer. So many other things I want to experience in my next trip to Colombia, because of course I will go back in this beautiful country! Feel free to drop a comment with your recommendations!

The Walled City

Cartagena was founded in the 16th century, and is a port city located on Colombia's Caribbean coast known for its plentiful colonial architecture, its cobblestone streets, and its effortless lifestyle. In the past, Gold and emeralds brought people to Cartagena, today the jewels of the city are the contemporary riches - a vibrant culinary scene, and beautiful beaches are the main attractions.

In the center of Cartagena, you can visit the old city surrounded by ancient stone walls and full of vibrant culture. Beautiful buildings and potent colors all around… what’s better than this to relax? The old city is so bright and I thought definitely to plan on staying inside the walls next time I will visit Cartagena.

Have a walk during the morning and after sit down in a small restaurant enjoying the city life and his flow.

The food is amazing. You can choose meat or fish, equally delicious! If you want to close your lunch with a sweet try the coconut pie that still haunts my dreams.

Another advice… If you want to eat fresh fish you need to search a “cevicheria”. For a nice dinner, after getting semi-lost in the old city, just take a good decision, choose a cevicheria with seats on the sidewalk and enjoy all of the evening activities happening around you! Sometimes you find amazing guitarists playing or small shows around the streets…

Other attractions

Out of the old city you can walk on the city's historic walls. Better during the sunset for the hot weather during the day.

The Colonial wall was built to keep the pirates (of the Caribbean!) out in the 16th century.

I started my walk at Cafe del Mar, then walked south along the wall to Santa Teresa Square and I ended close to the Castillo de San Felipe.

From the top you can see the “Castillo San Felipe”, the 16th century fortress overlooking the city and coast. You can visit it or just take some pictures going below it.

I love to shop. As with most cities abroad, flea markets are a major tourist attraction but I really love it. Cartagena had local vendors selling little things throughout the streets in the walled city but if you want a real market there is a little flea market in an old courtyard. Unlike most of the vendors that carried the same set of items (fedoras, ankle bracelets, etc.), this flea market in particular has a ton of cool  things that I would have loved to bring home with me. It is fun to explore the city’s culture through the local lens and check out some of the things they cherish on a day-to-day.

Getsemani for nightlife

Cartagena is full of square where you can pass a really nice evening/night with live music. You don’t need to be into clubs and partying to enjoy the nightlife, just go to the Getsemani neighborhood.  This area is well known for its lively atmosphere during the hot nights in Cartagena.

There are great bars in the area where you can drink something or you can take a beer and drink it chilling a the Getsemani square, Holy Trinity Square, where I passed my nights enjoying local people and artists playing guitar, singing or just talking each other. I remember a guy that was amazing… He did the imitation of Michael Jackson but wow, He was incredible!! I saw also a dance class for women and some teen’s break dancing. It’s really a nice place to hang out and people-watch.

You can also go to a salsa club if you want to dance, such as Cafe Havana or Bazurto Social Club. You should expect a cover charge and that the salsa dancing starts late.

Last info, if you search for the streetart Getsemani is the perfect corner to visit to search it!

Cartagena surrounding

The one common thing you kept hearing before leaving was that the beaches in the city were not great but if you go a little bit outside you can find beautiful ones. Islas del Rosarios or Playa Blanca (Isla Baru)  are not so far and there you see crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. A paradise where there is almost anything, you will really enjoy the peace you find in this quite place. I passed 3 days in playa Blanca after Cartagena and I prepared myself for the “Ciudad perdida” trekking.

 

HAVANA: AN EXPLOSION OF LIFE STORIES OF JOY AND FEELING

Cuba, when you arrive to the airport, the hot weather embrace you in the row till the passport control. You are already exited to see how it is in the reality, if all the stories people tell you to about the magic of this place are true or not. It is magic or it is only a decadent place stopped in the ’60?

You looked many pictures at home trying to imagine how it is the legendary place you want to visit from all your life. When you are there, it seems all strange at the beginning. No advertising, no malls, long row out of the shops to buy food and alcohol, nothing that remember you the west world from where you came. For the time I passed on the island I forgave every truth or certainty, I had at home. Leave every prejudice you have and start to think and live different as it is always the last happy moment of your life!

It is poetry, happiness, passion. It is the fire that moves you around the island and the capital, one of the most beautiful places I was. Difficult to express through words, easy emotions to live when you are there.

After a while, you understand that it is not the time that stops but is the life itself. Locals have different opinion about that, “it is a good thing, we won’t change!” or “we want the progress”.

Cuba is salsa, is pina colada on a beach. Cuba is a child without his toys, is a smile that invites you to dance. Cuba  is a broken bus , a train that never stops, the smell of cigars, the taste of rum,  the rhythm of a vibrant music.

I decided to write now this article, aware that things are changing and I don’t know where Cuba will be in 5 years from now. It will be the island still a paradise? A place where you can live easily? Where the passion moves everything and not the consumption? I have many questions inside me on Cuba, and nothing more the time will give me answers.

The people are unique and you need to speak with them to understand their story and what they passed to become what they are, the convictions and the dreams they have, the way they live their life and more….

Each part of the island is a world, a different one, but dancing, smiling with a passion that comes from inside their hearts is part of each Cuban I met.

The best way to start discover this world is walking around, talking with people and drinking with them good Rum, maybe dancing gin small tiny place with live music that bring you in the dream of Cuba.

Remember that at that time the currency where two…… one for tourist and one for local. You had to be sly to know it!

So let’s talk about Havana, the capital city…

One of the first thing I did and the most romantic in Havana is going to see the Malecón at Sunset.

The Malecón is a long, historical road that separates the city of Havana from the blue ocean. For decades, Cubans have been there searching for a beautiful girl to fall in love with! I have to say not only couples but also families and group of friends go to the Malecón to talk and drink!

Many locals go there during the night to drink and socialize because it’s cheap and of course it is not an expensive club.  At the sunset it is a majestic sight to go. The colors are incredible, yellow turn in red and pink before the sun disappears under the buildings, a truly spectacular show!

Close to the Malecon you can also walk through the Cuban Missile Crisis Tunnels. Standing at the edge of Hotel Nacional — you see people starting to line up and the Cuban Missile Crisis tunnels are under their feet!

After you’re done enjoying your mojito in the garden of Hotel Nacional, take a little stroll to the far right corner and look for the signs, and tunnels where the Cuban Missile Crisis missiles were once set up and aimed directly at the U.S. It’s crazy to think that an island in the Carribean almost went up against the U.S. in what would have been a World War III!

Please if you can, ride a 1950’s Convertible car! One of the biggest trademarks of Cuba is its amazing collection of antique cars from the 1950’s. Many people still use them for everyday use, but most of them are used as taxis or private cars that you can ride. They will try to overcharge you at the airport and all around the city, so please bargain all the time you want to take one! It will be cheaper (around 10 CUC) and they will likely be willing to wait for you places, and will come get you whenever you call them!

You need to walk around Havana Vieja, the most touristic part of the city. The old Havana is today a renovated areas. It’s a “touristy area” with a lot of new hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc. You can see the famous capitol building, walk around the cobblestone streets, and check out one of the many restaurants or little souvenir shops that are on every block. Close to here there is also a nice fresh fruit market. You’ll see tons of little fruit markets around the city, so if you want a fresh piece of mango or watermelon, be sure to stop in these open market not in a touristic bar. At the time I visited Cuba, they accepted only Cuban pesos, not the Cuban Convertibles (CUCs) a tourist was used to using — 25 pesos = 1 CUC. So I had to search a change money and I enjoyed it!

If you continue walking, you find also the craft markets with all of the little souvenirs you see in the tourist shops, but all in one place. Here you can also bargain for a deal.

Deeper into the city there is Centro Havana, an area that is most densely populated with locals. Like most things in Cuba, the buildings are the originals from the 1950’s and earlier, however, there was no money to keep them maintained or restored. Currently they started to renew also this part of the city. But still, the buildings are crumbling and decrepit looking, as I loved. This is part of Havana charm.

Another nice neighborhood is Vedado. It is full of “casa particular”, so you can see mansion after mansion along the street. There your mind can start to dream about who lived there before the revolution.

People told me it was where mafia and mob leaders from the U.S., plantation owners, and even the Bacardi family lived there when Batista was in power and Havana was the “Las Vegas of the Carribean”. Now, multiple families live in these old mansions. No one pays rent. The government decides to assign the families to homes depending on the family size and where they are originally from.

Another must in Havana is Dancing, Dancing and still dancing! Cubans love to dance not only during the night but also during all the day. Therefore, there is always a live band and everyone dancing salsa!

If you want real, authentic Cuban nightlife, head over to Casa de la Musica in Miramar — just west of Vedado and close by the Tropicana. The young locals go to dance here live salsa or reggae music, but it is also the place where the tourists go to dance so it is a bit expensive if oyu want to drink.

Live another Havana

If you want to see also the normal Havana you can start discovering the Young Artists’ Movement at Fabrica de Arte. The place is awesome. Fabrica de Arte is essentially an art gallery  that is built inside of an old olive oil factory.

It has two floors plus an additional back area made from cargo containers. On the first floor there is a bar, artwork and a live band playing, and upstairs is more art. Out back is a patio where most people lounge and hang out, then back downstairs out back is a little “food truck” type thing made from one of the cargo containers with modern Cuban cuisine.

Another good thing to do to discover Havana is to practice Spanish & English with locals. Many Cubans want to learn English. Spanish in Cuba is important to talk with people, hardly anyone speaks English. A few people, especially younger ones can speak a little. We talk fast for them to be able to understand!

To live the history of the city , you need to visit the Four Plazas of the Revolucion. The giant Che tribute is one of the first Revolucion memorials you’ll see when you arrive in Havana. There are four different plazas with statues dedicated to memorials of the Revolucion leaders, but they’re spread out all over Havana, so you either have to take a taxi to go to each one.

Out of the city!

If you are tired of walking, the day after you can pass a perfect day at Santa Maria beach to relax! You can go there with a simple bus as Cubans do, paying 1 CUC. When you arrive in front of you there is a beautiful white-sandy beach and clear-blue waters about 20 minutes from Havana Vieja. I spent a day there exploring and lounging in the sun! There you can also have an Authentic Cuban Meal (you won’t have a choice). I hope you like Cuban food because otherwise you might starve in Cuba. Your typical Cuban meal will consist of a meat (usually chicken, beef, fish, or shrimp) with a heaping side of rice and beans, plantains, and a salad of cucumbers and cabbage. If you stay in a casa particular, you’ll likely have the option to pay the people who own it a little extra to cook for you as well. Try also food from the local vendors and food stands like empanadas and croquettas!