Trinidad is situated in the middle of Cuba, east of Havana. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, with a population of 100,000, Trinidad is renowned for its small “country” charm, with colonial history that rivals Havana. It is not as well kept as Old Havana, but that actually added to its charm for us. The city was founded in 1514 by Spanish explorer Diego Velázquez, and is hailed as one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Caribbean. If you travel through Cienfuegos from Havana (the most common route), you will see the stark difference between the Spanish influence in Trinidad and the French influence in Cienfuegos.

Spend at least 2 to 3 nights in Trinidad, where the cobblestone streets lined with picture-book houses captivate, and where the former convent’s bell tower near the Plaza Mayor is your only marker of time. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes with sufficient ankle support, as the cobblestone streets are not “up to code.” With a coffee (or mojito) in hand, experience the buzz of life in the plazas. Then, return in the evening for the lively Casa de la Música, Cuba’s classic alfresco venue for salsa, on the sweeping staircase beside the Iglesia Parroquial off Plaza Mayor. Arrive early to snag a table. Otherwise, perch on the staircase with locals and tourists alike, while servers swing by (frequently) to take your drink order. Enjoy the view of the musicians and dancers below, or if you’re feeling bold, join for salsa on the dance floor. For an incredibly unique musical experience, check out Disco Ayala, a subterranean disco dance club in a cave.

For a more historical experience, learn about Cuba’s principally agricultural economy, which shifted from the sugar trade to tobacco following the Cold War. Bike or train to an historic sugar plantation for a tour, a picnic, and a dip in the river before returning to “the hustle and bustle” of “city” life. If you want more out-of-doors options, then experience guided horseback riding, based at one of our favorite boutique casas in Trinidad that’s renowned for its horses. If you would rather stand on your own two feet, escape into Escambray Mountains for hiking, with a picnic lunch at the fabulous waterfalls of Todes. Located only 20 minutes by car from Trinidad, Playa Ancon is an easy half-day beach excursion.

There’s no denying that Trinidad is an increasingly popular tourist destination; however, its quaint charm, architectural beauty, and the local’s laidback attitude remains. And let’s not forget, the lively thrum of the music scene never fails to impress. This is the perfect mix of outdoor activities and history/culture. Plus, it’s an easy extension from Havana.

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Jamie Mehrotra