Trinidad with Kids
Our last port of call on our Cuban circuit was the small town of Trinidad. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is often described as a living, open-air museum of colonial architecture and a town frozen in time. We jumped aboard the time warp express and spent three days exploring this colourful town, its surrounding countryside and long-forgotten beaches.Cuba with Kids: The colourful, colonial port town of Trinidad #FamilyTravel #LPKids Click To Tweet
Founded in the 16th century by Diego Valázquez, as a port base for New World voyages, it obtained much of its wealth during the 18th and 19th centuries on the back of the booming sugar and slave industries.
Its colourful buildings and leafy squares are beautifully preserved, and life itself appears to have changed little over the centuries. Horse-driven carts and ancient Fords clatter down the cobblestone streets and the only trace of the outside world are the huge, and unsightly tourist buses that unload scores of retirees, all in matching t-shirts and baseball hats. Trinidad is very touristy!
We spent three nights in Trinidad although two would probably have been enough and relished the slow-paced life that Trinidad is famous for.
The following are five activities that are great to do with kids in Trinidad.
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1. Plaza Mayor
We spent the majority of our time pottering around town, enjoying performances from talented street musicians and visiting little museums at random, of which there are many. Our favourite spot was the Plaza Mayor, the pretty little square at the heart of the town.
2. Palacio Cantero (Museo Historico Municipal)
Admittedly, we wandered into this museum not really knowing what it was about! We just caught a glimpse of the grand interiors from the street entrance and were curious to see more.
Located just off the Plaza Mayor, this neoclassical mansion traces the history of Trinidad through maps, antiques and exhibits, including sections on the Cantero family, piracy, the slave trade and the wars of independent. The building originally belonged to The Borrelli family in the early 19th century but was later acquired by the German planter, Dr Justo Cantero. Legend has it that he obtained all his sugar plantations by poisoning a slave trader and marrying his widow. Today the mansion still reflects the immense wealth of that time and is certainly worth a quick peek.
The views of Trinidad from the top of the tower are supposedly very good. Had we known we would have searched harder for the staircase leading up it!
3. Art Gallery (Universal Benito Ortiz Galeria de Arte)
Much of the art I saw in Trinidad catered to the mass market. Endless paintings of Che blowing cigar smoke lined the pavements of Trinidad’s cobbled streets, along with colourful cliched street scenes. It was something of a surprise when we stumbled upon the Universal Benito Ortiz Galeria de Arte.
Formally the home of Ortiz de Zuniga, a 19th century slave trader and at one time, mayor of Trinidad, the mansion now showcases contemporary Cuban artists. The building itself is a work of art and decorative murals of flowers in vases can still be seen on the exterior walls.
The first floor balcony also offers a great view of Plaza Mayor.
4. El Valle de los Ingenios
As in all the colonial cities and towns we visited on this trip, there comes a point when the kids start to get restless and need a change of scene and pace. The beautiful green Valle de los Ingenios ticked both those boxes.
Located 12km northeast of Trinidad (around 20 minutes by car), The Valley of the Sugar Mills (as it’s also referred to) was the hub of the sugar and slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. In its heyday the valley housed fifty operating sugar mills, along with 11,000 slaves (some sources say 30,000). After Cuba abolished slavery in 1886 the industry slowly declined, followed by a severe drop in the 1990s when the Soviet Union fell.
On our way to El Valle de los Ingenios we stopped briefly in a roadside cafe that offers fabulous views of the valley from its terrace.
Although the majority of the valley’s sugar mills are now in ruins, there are a handful that still remain intact and open to tourists, including the plantation house of Manaca Iznaga. Although today, it’s primary function is to serve the busloads of tourists that visit the mill.
Along the path leading up to the main house, eagle-eyed vendors homed in on our children, thrusting various knick-knacks into their hands as bait, from dolls and Che magnets to embroidered clothes and at one point, even a bird of prey!
Like ants, we followed the slow-moving line of tourists up a 150-foot bell tower to take in the spectacular views of the valley from the top (Along with Trinidad, the valley is a UNESCO Heritage Site). The original purpose of the tower was to keep an eye on the slaves that worked the surrounding sugar fields. The bell that once hung at the top of the tower would signal the beginning and end of each working day for the workers and was also used as an alarm if a slave escaped, or if a fire broke out. The bell now rests on the front lawn outside the main house.
The canary-yellow hacienda is beautifully restored and now functions as a restaurant. On Thursdays (the day we visited) it serves a special spit-roast. We were tempted to stay for lunch but, like so many places, were put off by the sheer volume of tourists.
At the back of the house was an old sugar cane press. The children entertained themselves by pushing its long wooden handle in a wide circle, which presumably the slaves once operated for hours on end.
Given the context, it was a little surprising, if not disappointing that this popular touristic landmark did little (if anything?) to acknowledge the thousands of individuals who worked the land, and who made Trinidad the wealthy town it once was, and of course the beautiful town it still is. The only reference to these slaves that I spotted was a child’s ‘Topsy-Turvy doll’; one of the many items the souvenir vendors had waved in front of my children. These double-ended rag dolls fuse a white doll with a black doll at the hips. The lining of the white girl’s skirt is the black girl’s skirt, and vice versa. The child can switch between the two by turning the doll upside down.
Historically, these dolls were given to the children of this time, but what is not clear is whether they were meant for black or white children, and how the children played with them. Some say they were made for slave children who were not allowed to play with black dolls. If their master entered the room they could flip it to the white side. Others say they were given to white children who used the black doll as a maid for their other dolls. More recent theories, and the saddest of all, suggest that slave children secretly longed for a white doll (like the babies their mothers looked after). In spite of their controversial connotations, our daughter bought one for her treasured collection of dolls from around the world.
On our way back to the car, I noticed a crowd of tourists piling into a little steam train. After making a few enquiries, we discovered that this train – dating back to 1906 – ran daily tours around the valley. I was told it departs Trinidad at 9:30, and takes 25 minutes to reach Manaca Iznaga. It returns to Trinidad at 2pm. Tickets are $10 and can be bought in Trinidad’s train station (we were also told that kids are free). It looked a lot of fun, especially for kids and I regretted not having done my research properly!
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5. Playa Ancon
Just 20 minutes south of Trinidad is Playa Ancon, a beach that Lonely Planet describes as ‘the finest arc of sand on Cuba’s south coast’. When we visited the sea was as flat as a pond and ideal for the children to splash about it, but I must admit that I found the place a little eerie for some reason, as though we had landed on another planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for deserted beaches, especially beautiful Caribbean ones such as this one, but I felt there was something a little ghostly about Playa Ancon. Maybe it was just the cloudy weather?!
In the centre of Ancon bay sits the state-run hotel, Hotel Ancon, a dated all-inclusive resort that I remember thinking looked more like an airport terminal than hotel. Stepping inside the vast complex was like stepping back in time. Think Lake Baikal in the 70s!
All the same, it was a fun half-day outing that gave the kids a chance to release some steam.
Cuba with Kids: The colourful, colonial port town of Trinidad #FamilyTravel #LPKids Click To Tweet
Video: Cuba With Kids: Trinidad
More things to do with kids in Trinidad
If we had had longer then I would love to have explore the Valle de los Ingenios with the Horse Whisperer of Trinidad!
Known as the ‘Horse Whisperer of Trinidad’ Julio Muñoz set up a project to help train farmers in equine care and offers horse-riding tours around the Valle de los Ingenios. Proceeds from his tours go towards the ‘Diana Project’, enabling him to rescue more horses.
Where to eat in Trinidad, with Kids
As with every town in Cuba, we found dining out to be a bit hit or miss. But if you know where to go, and reserve a table in advance, you can eat very well. These are our top picks:
Taberna La Botija
Excellent tapas and service, this taberna was a favourite of ours. The restaurant also pays homage to the thousands of slaves who worked in the nearby sugar plantations. Waiters are dressed from head to toe in white (the traditional slave uniform), and memorabilia collected from this era line the walls.
Reservations are essential!
Address: Calle Boca a the corner with Calle Amargura
Paladar Sol y Son
We loved this restaurant for its pretty courtyard and characterful set-up. All the china plates and glassware are different and there was something about this homely mix n match style that appealed. The food was also very good and reasonably priced. To access the courtyard, you walk through the front rooms of the house that I don’t expect have changed since the 19th century. Chandeliers, antique beds and free-standing bronze cast bath tubs are just some of the many objects on display.
I later discovered that this Paladar rents out two rooms so families may want to check it out as a place to stay as well.
Address: Simón Bolívar #283, between José Martí and Frank País
Phone: +53 41992926
Taberna Ochun Yemaya
Good food, although service was a little slow
Pino Guinart 151B Frank Paris y Jose Marti.
La Redaccion de El Liberal
This former press house had the biggest bathroom I have ever seen! But that is not the only reason for listing it here! The food was very good (I recommend the pork belly!) with friendly service.
Address Calle Macao 463
Phone: (+53) 41 99 45 93
Café don Pepe
Head to Cafe don Pepe for the best (if not the only?!) coffee in town! We generally visited this little outdoor coffee house first thing in the morning as well as after lunch when my husband would take his espresso with a cheeky cigar!
Address: Piro Guinart, on corner of Martínez Villena”
Phone: +53 41 99 35 73
Restaurante San Jose
One other place which we wanted to visit because of its good reviews but didn’t get a chance to was Restaurante San Jose. If you go, let us know your thoughts!
Address: Maceo No. 382, between Colón y Smith.
Phone: +53 41 994702
Where to stay in Trinidad, with Kids
We stayed in the Casa Acela y Carlos, a little Casa Particular on the outskirts of town that had two separate double rooms on the second floor. Although the two rooms are the only rooms on the floor they are not adjacent to each other and so maybe better suited to families with older children. As we booked at the last minute, the more centrally-located casas had been taken. However, we found the hosts here lovely and would recommend the casa to families who, like us, struggle to find availability in the centre of town.
155 Calle Manuel Fajardo, between Frank Pais (Carmen) and Miguel Calzada (Borrell). 0053 531283 $35/room/night.
Other options: I didn’t stay in or visit these casas and so cannot vouch for them personally, but I read good things about them on Cuba Junky.
Casa El Tulipan: A two bedroom rooftop apartment in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Host, Bernado is married to Mara who is Dutch and speaks perfect English. Address: 511 Anastasio Cardenas (Reforma), between Simon Bolivar (Desengano) y Santiago Escobar, Trinidad +53 52711807, +53 5 271 1807 firstname.lastname@example.org
Casa El Caribe (run by Mara’s friend, Ada Silva): The two-bedroom, two-balcony apartment on the top floor. Antonio Guiteras #151, between Frank Pais and Pedro Zerquera. +53 5 337 6903
For more information on staying in a Casa Particular and how to book them, see our post Staying in a Casa Particular.
You can pick up WiFi in the Iberostar Grand Hotel. If you buy a drink they allow you to hook up to their WiFI. They also sell the WiFi scratch cards at the bar. For more information on WiFi in Cuba see our FAQ here.
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To view all our blog posts in the Cuba with Kids series see our Family Guide to Cuba.