Last week I shared the first half of our trip to beautiful Cuba, where we spent a few magical days in the historic neighborhood of Old Havana. Today I’m showing you the rest of our adventure, to the tropical city of Trinidad de Cuba, and ending with our final night on the island – in Central Havana. After a few days at our epic Spanish Colonial flat (which I did not want to leave, at all – in fact, I’m weighing the pros and cons of uprooting my entire life and moving there), we made our way 4 hours south to the Caribbean town of Trinidad. Along with its neighboring Valle de Los Ingenios, Trinidad is a UNESCO world heritage site that is over 500 years old. With winding cobblestone streets and houses painted in dreamy pastel colors stacked one after the other, it’s a world away from the busy streets of Havana. It feels like a tropical island all its own, much sleepier and slower paced than the big city.
We arrived on our first day feeling like we were coming down with the flu (we weren’t), which was perfect timing, as it was dumping rain. We used this as an opportunity to faceplant into the bed of our Airbnb for a few hours to sleep it off. As with most tropical places, the rain was gone as quickly as it came, giving us a window of time to venture into the central part of Trinidad for sustenance and a quick dosage of internet at one of the designated wifi zones. I was surprised to find my trusty denim jacket completely necessary – I’d been under the assumption that the temperature would never dare to drop below 80 in Cuba. It’s my theory that you’ll find yourself always a bit damp there, whether from sweat or rain (or both). Southern Californians like myself who are completely unaccustomed to much rain may find themselves feeling a bit like a gringo amongst the Cubans, who carry on business as usual even during a torrential downpour, barely bothering to worry about umbrellas. I blame my achy sickness for turning me into a wuss that day, but I digress.
The ‘downtown’ area of Trinidad is actually pretty small, and walkable within an hour or two. And just like its big sister Havana, it’s full of picture-perfect moments wherever you look. It was founded in 1514, making it one of the first three towns established in Cuba by the Spanish crown, and has been scrupulously preserved for the last half millennium. Home to Cuba’s early sugarcane industry, its economy now consists mostly of tobacco processing, and in recent years, tourism. We met with a local guide named Giovanni, who showed us around and shared a personal account of what life as a Cuban is really like. Having been born on the island and never left, Gio has experienced first-hand the heaviness of dictatorship and political turmoil in Cuba. Without putting his political views on blast (he does still live in a communist country, after all), let’s just say he’s been considered a bit of a rebel by the Cuban government in his time. It was eye-opening to learn more about the country from a local, the details beyond what online research will tell you. Though Gio has seen a few improvements in his lifetime, like the ability to buy and sell private real estate, the internet, and the ability of Cubans to travel outside of the country, we learned that they still face many challenges. Though they’re now allowed to leave Cuba, they must still obtain an expensive passport that costs on average about five months’ salary, making it nearly impossible to afford for most people on the island. There’s still not much class mobility or opportunity as a whole, but many Cubans like Gio are finding entrepreneurial ways of bettering their own lives.
We spent the next few days checking out the gorgeous Valle de Los Ingenios, the defunct sugar mills, and beautiful countryside. We didn’t have time to make it to a tobacco farm, which I regret. Apparently buying directly from tobacco farmers is the only way to ensure you’re getting ethically produced cigars. The government takes the majority of their produce, and pay farmers very little. Plus, visiting the farms seems like a beautiful way to experience life in the Cuban countryside, don’t you think? Next time. We snorkeled at Playa Ancon and learned a bit about the local reef and marine life, while simultaneously being stung by Agua Mala (baby Man of War jellyfish), most likely to the entertainment of several locals working there.
We ended our trip with a final night in Havana, but in the Central area this time. We were surprised by how different it is compared to the older parts of the city. There are lots of developments from the Soviet era but mixed in with the older, Spanish colonial buildings. In a sense, it feels more ‘modern’, but is still crumbling in its own way – from neglect, rather than just the effects of time. To ease ourselves back into contemporary life before our flight the next morning, we stayed at Paseo 206 near Vedado, within walking distance to the Malecon. It’s a boutique hotel that is run by a Cuban-Italian family, and this warm family feel is reflected in all the cozy touches. Swanky design, modern finishes, a ginormous kingsize bed, internet, and an Insta-worthy bathtub were all welcome after a few busy days of adventuring along the Caribbean coast. Gracias Cuba, we will be back!