Under the Trinidad sky
A guide to solo travelling in the old city of Cuba
Trinidad has been the highlight of my trip to Cuba and it is one of the best experiences I have had during my travels. In this old city, I learnt and fell in love with the essence of Cuba. Through the years, I only learned about an exoticised version of Cuba—one that was studded with images of pseudo-dictatorship, lax human rights, cigars, salsa dancing and rum. When I got to Havana, some of these images did come to life in the form of dirty alleyways and poverty-stricken street corners in Centro Habana. But Trinidad managed to quash all of these images and repaint a portrait of Cuba in vivid colours.
If you too want to reinterpret Cuba in your own way, I suggest you spend at least four days in Trinidad.
Below is my humble attempt as your virtual tour guide, taking you through the streets of Trinidad in the hopes that you too fall in love with it as hopelessly as I did.
For transport, if you are planning to go to Trinidad from Havana, I suggest you look into Viazul buses. They are much cheaper than collectivos (shared taxis). The bus ride takes six hours (longer than a collectivo but is certainly much more comfortable and cheaper). You can book the buses online and you should try and book them preferably before you go to Cuba. They cost USD 25 each way and the online payment is easy. Compared to a collectivo, you will end up saving an average of USD 15.
Now that you are there, it is time to find a place to stay. Look for a Casa Particular (homestay) near or at walking distance from Plaza Mayor, which is at the centre of the city. I stayed with a lovely couple, Cira and Felix, and they actually have a Wi-Fi hotspot which is quite a luxury in Cuba, notorious for their poor internet services. Their place is a nine minute' walk from both the bus station and the city centre. I paid USD 14 per night for my private room which can easily house three. The stay is complete with a large breakfast for an additional USD 4.
As a solo traveler, I think the most important thing to focus on is navigation. There are many things I love doing alone but getting lost in the middle of the night in a new city where you do not speak the language is definitely not one of them. My saviour in these situations, especially in Cuba where you cannot buy a sim card, has been maps.me. Download the app on your smartphone, get the map of Cuba and voila, you are set! Trinidad is not a place where you can get lost easily. It is tiny and easy to navigate but maps.me has saved me more than once, especially in Havana, where taxis are very expensive.
Like everywhere in Cuba, you can buy cards that allow you to access the internet. The steps at the centre of town in Plaza Mayor have access to internet as do other parks. The price of the card is more expensive here—CUC 2 for one hour—but I suggest buying five-hour cards for CUC 5 from Hotel Plaza in the city centre of Havana.
Free walking tour
On your first day, try and attend the free walking tour of the city. It is available in Spanish, English and Portuguese and starts at 5:30 pm every day at the park opposite to the Museum of the Bandits (the yellow bell tower which is the first thing you see when you google Trinidad). This walking tour is not only comprehensive in its historical overview of Trinidad, it is also a great way to know where to go for the best drinks, food, dancing etc. Although this is a free walking tour, I suggest you tip the guides.
Trinidad is studded with plenty of restaurants and bars, but I honestly have to admit I really did not like the food in Cuba. I found it to be plain and lacking in flavour. You can find something for every price range--from super cheap street side burgers and pizzas to fancy meals. Many restaurants in the city centre offer a big meal of bread, salad, a main dish of meat/fish and a side for CUC 5. You have to make sure you look at the menu before you go into the place. There are of course many restaurants that charge more but you are guaranteed at least bread and butter/sauce for free with every meal.
I don't really drink alcohol but if you do, Cuba has the world's best rum and of course mojitos and daiquiris. Trinidad is no exception to this, you can find bars serving mojitos for as little as CUC 1.50 and they are always fresh and delicious.
There are plenty of places that have amazing music in Trinidad. One of the best spots in my opinion is, The Casa de La musica, right at Plaza Mayor. This amazing spot used to be the house of the priest from the church next door but was later converted into a house of music by the government. You will find amazing salsa music every night for a nominal fee of CUC 1 per person. Now sit on the amphitheatre style stairs under the starry sky with a mojito in your hand and let the music take over you. Another option is Palenque de Los Congos Reales. The entrance to this place is also CUC 1.
Cuba is famous for many things, but salsa has to be one of its most melodious exports. The music, the sway and the beats, all ooze art! The most amazing place to go dancing in Trinidad is Latin America's second cave club, Disco Ayala. It is set on top of a hill overlooking Cuba. The walk is relatively easy in slippers but don't wear your heels though. You won't be able to walk in them! The entrance is CUC 5 which includes a free drink. The music is an incredible mix of salsa, Latin, Afro Cuban genres.
Beach and nature
If you are keen on going to the beach, there are buses that take tourists from the city at 9am, 11am and 1pm from the Cubatur (look for it in maps.me) to Playa Ancon. The ride is about half an hour and costs CUC 5. This is ideal for a solo traveler but if you are in a group, taxis cost CUC 16 for a round trip and timings are flexible. The last bus back from the beach is at 6 pm so make sure you do not miss it. There are also incredible waterfalls around Trinidad!
Note: There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban Peso which is for the locals, 1 USD = 20 Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for the tourists, 1 CUC = 1 USD. But due to the current state of politics between the US and Cuba, the Cuban exchange offices charge an extra 14 percent when you exchange USD. I would suggest you bring Euro instead of USD as the exchange rates are better. Plus, if you have an American bank account like I do, make sure you bring only cash because you cannot use your card here.
Maliha Fairooz is a 27-year-old Bangladeshi solo traveller, who has travelled to 79 countries, on a Bangladeshi passport. Through her blog www.whereareyoufr0m.com, she shares her experience of travelling as a brown, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman while simultaneously encouraging a culture of travel amongst Bangladeshi youth.