Discover UNESCO in Cuba: Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios
Founded by Spanish colonizer Diego Velasquez as the third settlement of the island, the colonial gem of Trinidad is nowadays one of the best preserved towns of the Caribbean and the second in Cuba to earn a UNESCO listing after Havana. After Hernan Cortes set sail from here to discover Mexico, the city became incredibly wealthy through the sugar trade and the exploitation of slave labor in the cane sugar mills of the Valle de los Ingenios. Much of the heritage remains visible today and can be explored in and around the colorful cobblestone streets of Trinidad.
- Trinidad is the best preserved colonial town in Cuba and the Valle de los Ingenios is a living museum of the former sugar trade of the 18th and 19th century.
- This UNESCO site is located at the southwestern coast of Cuba, in the Sancti Spiritus province, in the center of the island.
- Originally founded in 1514 by Diego Velazquez, most buildings in Trinidad date from the time of the sugar trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. The UNESCO inscription happened in 1988.
- Inscribed by UNESCO is the city of Trinidad with its mix of colorful historical buildings, as well as the Valle de los Ingenios with about 75 former sugar cane mills.
- Trinidad can be visited anytime, while the Valley of the Sugar Mills is best seen via a slow train or on horseback.
- Walking the city is for free, while taking the train out to the Valle de los Ingenios and back, costs 10 CUC (dollars) per person.
Valle de los Ingenios – Valley of the Sugar Mills
The city of Trinidad
Why this is a UNESCO Site
The colonial city of Trinidad, with its winding cobblestone roads and colorful houses, remains almost completely intact. Thanks to the steep decline of the sugar trade and the lack of development in a town of single family residences and traditional building techniques, most of Trinidad appears as it did a few hundred years ago. Of the 75 cane sugar mills in the Valle de los Ingenios that were operated using slave labor, the plantation houses, watchtowers, sugar presses and the railway system remain intact. Sugar cane is nowadays rarely seen in the valley, but the remaining infrastructure and architecture stand as a testimony to the development of the sugar industry in Cuba and the Caribbean.
Thoughts and Observations
Trinidad was probably the second most popular tourist destination in Cuba, and that was for good reasons. Walking along the irregular cobblestone streets and seeing all the colorfully preserved colonial houses really did feel like stepping back in time. The vicinity of the palm-tree-shaded Plaza Mayor alone hosting great edifices like the Iglesia Parroquial, Palacio Brunet, Palacio Ortiz, Palacio Cantero and the convent of San Francisco, is charmingly reminding of the heyday of the sugar cane business of the past centuries.
In combination with the beautiful Valle de los Ingenios and its ruined plantations, which once generated the wealth of the entire area, there was a lot to see in this remarkably well-preserved UNESCO town. Seemingly centuries away from the busy roads of Havana, for me personally the best part of Trinidad was simply getting lost in the small alleyways and having a look at all the historical buildings along the way.
Most of the colonial houses were simply stunning, and even the furniture seemed to perfectly fit to the airy rooms, with their tall ceilings and fading wall paintings. The two things completing this picture were the old lady sitting in her wooden rocking chair and the slightly run down American car parked in front of the door. It really didn’t get much more Cuban than this…
What else to see in Trinidad
Tips and Recommendations
- While walking around in Trinidad, definitely make sure to look through all those open window shutters and let your eyes adjust to the darkness inside. A lot of houses are beautifully furnished and have old wall paintings, stained glass windows or other features.
- Take the slow train or a horse riding tour into the Valle de los Ingenios to see some of the ruined sugar mills that once made Trinidad a rich city.
- For great sunset views of the city, walk from Plaza Mayor north and up the little hill with the antenna. From here you can not only see the city, but also the beaches and, form all the way up, even the Valley of the Sugar Mills.
- Speaking of beaches, if you need a day to relax in the sun, head out to Playa Ancon. The beach here is one of the nicest in Cuba and for being so close to a major tourist destination, it is surprisingly empty and relaxed.
- Go right now!
- Definitely go soon
- Go if you are around
- Stop by if you are bored
- Consider missing it
Trinidad is an amazingly beautiful place to visit with a lot of historical buildings, museums and nice restaurants. Not only is the town the most well preserved and restored in Cuba, but with its natural setting in the Valle de los Ingenios on one side and the beaches on the other, it is easy to spend a few days longer here than initially anticipated.
Trinidad is located about 300 km southeast of Havana, but getting there on the Viazul bus will take you almost the whole day. Between the 30min. to get to the Viazul station in Havana, checking-in 1 hour before departure, 6 hours of driving, 45min. lunch and a stop in Cienfuegos, you are looking at about 9 hours of time difference before you can drop your bags in a casa in Trinidad.
Would you enjoy visiting such a beautifully preserved colonial town with its natural setting between the valley and the sea?