Trinidad, Cuba–Step Back in Time 500 Years

Have you ever wondered what life was like 500 years ago in this hemisphere?

A visit to Trinidad, Cuba, will answer that question. You must visit Cuba these days for an authorized purpose, but including Trinidad in the itinerary is a good idea.

Settled in 1502 just a few years after Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean, life in the old town of Trinidad hasn’t changed much since then.

The city has grown a little around the core old town with more modern buildings and infrastructure, but in its core, you’ll be transported back in time.

Staying in one of the many private homes that have opened up to tourists, renting rooms with breakfast has the advantage that many are located right in the old town area.

The main type of transportation in Trinidad is by horse. You’ll see horse drawn carriages, trucks, and even taxis. The streets are the original cobblestone. So by staying in the old town you’ll be awakened by the clopping feet of horses on the cobblestones. Many of the old homes have been converted into restaurants, many of which have musicians performing at meal times. You’re likely to hear the music wafting past your window. Most delightful, you will be able to observe everyday life from the time the city awaken around 7:30AM until the many bars shut down for the night after the last mojito has been served.

The Lonely Planet tour guide has a walking tour that will take you through some of the oldest parts of town, places that few would dare to go under normal circumstances. But Cuba is a particularly safe place to walk. I recommend you take the walk to see the homes with horses tied up outside, pet birds in cages hanging outside peoples’ doorways as we would place flowers in a planter, and the children playing in the cobblestone streets.

Cuba is the home to many automobiles from the 50’s. You will see some of them on the streets of Trinidad, struggling to make it up the hilly cobblestones and navigate the narrow streets. A main bus terminal is located in the old town. It’s amazing that the big buses can even fit on the streets!

The food in Trinidad’s many restaurants is as varied as in any city in variety and price. I recommend that you stick with the food of the people rather than try to get too adventuresome. This is a place to try to imagine life of old, not modern cuisine. Stick with chicken or pork with rice and beans instead of a steak or French cuisine.

The city prides itself on its lively nightlife. At night the streets come alive with folks seeking a night out.

Trinidad was the center of the slave trade in Cuba during the 1800’s. Ships would bring in African slaves who would be sold at auction on steps near the central church and convent. There were many more slaves brought to Cuba than to all of America. The steps where slaves were sold are still in use today…at night. They are the center of what is called “music alley,” where live performances occur nightly and salsa is danced in the streets nearby. Surrounding bars and restaurants set up tables and the food and liquor flows freely.

The old convent is now a museum that explains the slave history. Another excellent museum about the Cuban revolution can be found in Trinidad. Both are worth a visit.

From the roof of the private house where I stayed I was able to see how the colors of the brightly painted old buildings of the old town changed hues as twilight set in. And once the sun set, the yellow stucco of the church tower took on a beautiful tone as dramatic lighting of the modern world illuminated the ancient one.

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