Cienfuegos and Trinidad
Cienfuegos is a lovely coastal city 160 miles (250 km) from the capital city and Trinidad is a 90-minute ride from Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos is the only city founded by the French and not the Spanish, with a unique architecture, Trinidad is probably the greatest must-see outside of Havana. And while Trinidad is conquerable by foot, with its cobblestoned, narrow streets, Cienfuegos is more spread out, with wider streets, clean and slow. Trinidad is hip and dynamic, Cienfuegos is calm and photogenic. Hop on any daily Viazul bus linking Havana to Trinidad, but on the way there do not forget to make a few day’s stop in Cienfuegos. Both places will be worth your time.
Things to see and do in Cienfuegos
Buses from Havana to Trinidad and from Veradero and Santa Clara to Trinidad stop in Cienfuegos. There is a train as well every second day from Havana, and from Santa Clara. Then there are always local taxis which take you anywhere in the country if you cherish solitude or privacy in travel. Plan one or two days in Cienfuegos. There are two main points of interest in this city: one is Pueblo Nuevo, which is the city centre, and the other is Punta Gorda, a lovely peninsula with a plethora of 1950s houses. These two must-see locations are around 2 miles apart and are joined by Calle 37 (del Prado). Walk along this strip running along the sea or enjoy the ride on a local horse-drawn cart (they are called ‘coches’). They seat six to eight people and the fare for one ride is 1 CUC.
Two things you have to visit in Pueblo Nuevo are the Tomas Terry Theatre and the History Museum (Museo Histórico). The beautiful 1890 Victorian theatre is a lovely sight from inside and outside and houses a quaint café if you need a nice starting place of the day. The historical museum shelters exhibits of a wide variety, such as archaeological findings of the original Indians as well as artefacts of the colonial era.
After having visited Pueblo Nuevo, stroll along the Malecón towards Punta Gorda. You will pass through a shady Sculpture Garden, so you can admire the local artwork. There are also many local restaurants on the way if you get hungry, or a bar to welcome you at the end of the walk if you’d like to refresh with a drink. Once in Punta Gorda, visit the Taj Mahal-ish Palacio de Valle. It has a restaurant on the first floor and a breathtaking rooftop view of the harbour, so just roam around, take in its amazing architecture and the sight of the coming and departing ships.
Things to see and do in Trinidad
Go to Trinidad with the 6 pm bus from Cienfuegos if you are a budget-conscious traveller. At arrival, you will see that there are huge map boards everywhere in the town guiding you around with ease. It will be in the evening, so head straight to Casa de la Música (the House of Music) and listen to some Cuban music sipping mojitos, or better, the traditional local rum.
Start your sightseeing the next day from Plaza Mayor, the Main Square, the centre and the heart of Trinidad. Just walk around, it is a small town, impossible or at least really hard to get lost in. Explore freely and snap the iconic Trinidad pictures: vintage American cars in the streets against the background of yellow, blue and pink houses. For the best view in Trinidad, head for the top of the tower of the Historical Museum. You will have the opportunity to take the postcard picture of Trinidad here: the beautiful yellow bell tower with the mountains in the background.
Activities around Trinidad
After enjoying the lovely streets and taking in the vibe of this little town, choose from the many activities Trinidad area offers. The waterfalls just outside of the town in Topes de Collantes are beautiful and easily accessible. Hiking trails start close from the town (Escambray Mountains are 13 miles from Trinidad). There are options to visit sugar plantations in Valle de los Ingenios by an old train (with a new engine), try Horseback Riding or purchase finished pottery from the Old Ceramics Factory fifteen minutes walk from town (it is called El Alfarero). For any of these activities, rent a driver, contact Cubatur or ask your host at the Casa to arrange it for you.
Drinking and eating options
Apart from Casa de la Música, which I have already recommended for its rum, I would direct you to two other places: Casa de la Canchánchara for the drink with the same name and Bodeguita del Medio for mojitos. Whether you have missed the latter in Havana or you really loved it, you have a chance to experience it again, La Bodeguita del Medio welcomes you in Trinidad as well. Usually drank from clay mugs, canchánchara is the signature cocktail of Trinidad. When in Casa de la Canchánchara mix two spoons of honey with one teaspoon of lemon juice, then add two oz of aguardiente and ice. Stir and enjoy!
Dining-wise choose according to your preferences. Restaurante/Paladar San José is the most recommended tourist place with reasonably-priced, various and rich food. Sit in El Bucanero if you are seeking a more affordable spot than most of the touristy restaurants, and head straight to Palador Sol y Son if you are in for authentic Cuban food served in a gorgeous colonial house.