Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!
This week, I’m welcoming back a familiar face to Postcard From. Rebecca Thomas previously took part in the feature with an awesome Postcard From… Siem Reap and another from Rome. Rebecca works full time in PR, but her spare time is spent planning her next adventure in great detail (much to the horror of her far more laidback boyfriend), dreaming of far off shores and keeping the world updated on her travels and top tips for their own visits through her blog, The Ramblings of Rebecca.
Welcome back Recebba! Tell us about your latest trip…
Imagine waking up and stepping out not only of the door, but back in time by 50 or even 100 years. Welcome to Trinidad in Cuba everyone, a truly one-off place. Having long had a fascination with Cuba and having read about the colonial time warp that is Trinidad, I just knew I had to go. It really didn’t disappoint, with old men smoking cigars, brightly coloured houses, cobbled streets echoing with horses’ hooves and plenty of amazing live salsa. The atmosphere was very laid back and welcoming, making it a perfect place to wander and see where you end up.
UNESCO heritage listed, Trinidad in Sancti Spíritus province is on Cuba’s south coast, about a five hour bus journey from Havana. Founded in the early 16th century, it prospered thanks to income from the sugar trade, which, with its decline, saw time stop seemingly in this city. It has resulted in making Trinidad an unusual and fascinating place.
Did you stay somewhere nice?
After what has felt like a very long time without a holiday (for me anyway!) we decided to treat ourselves and stayed at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad which was fantastic. One of the larger and more upmarket hotels in Trinidad, the service was second to none and the cocktails even better. If you can get it, then go for room 101: definitely not like the TV show where you throw all the things you dislike, this huge room has an amazing terrace from which you can observe daily life going on in the square below.
Wow, sounds fabulous! What did you get up to when you could tear yourself away from the hotel?
The beauty of Trinidad is that there aren’t ‘big sights’ that need to be ticked off: it’s about exploring in your own time, taking the next random turn, smiling at people outside their houses, capturing scenes of typical Cuban life and relaxing with a cold cocktail! The pace of life is just so much more relaxed that it makes a welcome change.
The Plaza Mayor sits at the heart of city and makes an attractive point from which to fan out and explore the streets running off of it. The attractive church, Iglesia Parroquial, and surroundings buildings are lovely to just sit and gaze at for a while in the shade of a park tree.
A definite must see is the Municipal History Museum (Museo de Historia Municipal) situated in a grand home just off the Plaza Mayor. Originally built in 1828 by one of the richest men in Trinidad, it still makes a magnificent impression with high ceilings and ornate frescoes. Its highlight however? The amazing views over the city, the sea and the surrounding mountains from the tower – just make sure you are happy climbing steep stairs!
If experiencing a Caribbean beach is on your must-do list, then you should be more than pleased with Playa Ancon, a stretch of sand only a few kilometres down the road. Quieter than many of the more famous beaches in the north, it offers white sand, a warm and clear blue sea, and plenty of offers of fresh fruit to keep you going for the day. A return taxi from Trinidad should only cost you around £10.
What was your highlight?
Trinidad seems to pulse with live music once the sun goes down, really drawing you in and making you want to move. There are so many options, but I loved Casa de la Musica, one of the country’s classic music venues. Every night, the staircase beside the Iglesia Parroquial off Plaza Mayor becomes jam packed with tourists and locals alike tapping their feet, dancing the night away to live salsa and enjoying, as the Cubans seem, to a bottle of neat rum. Even if you think you can’t dance, there is sure to be a partner happy to show you the ropes. The atmosphere is infectious.
I’ve heard mixed reports about the food in Central America. How did you find it?
While in years gone by Cuba might not have been known for its culinary scene, things have changed rapidly. No longer limited to government run institutions, family run ‘paladars’ are warm welcoming places with great variety. The seafood in Cuba is definitely something to shout about, and when you can get a whole fresh lobster for around £6, you can’t go wrong! We had an amazing and bountiful dinner of croquettes, lobster and shrimp at Restaurante Saan Jose in central Trinidad which I couldn’t recommend enough. Don’t make the same mistake we did and go only on the last night as the chances are you will definitely want to try it again before you leave.
Did you have any embarrassing moments on your trip?
Amazingly for me I managed to get away scot-free this time! Dancing on my terrace having had a few cocktails might have been amusing to an outside observer though, even if I was having the time of my life.
How was the weather in Cuba at this time of year?
Travelling in late September puts you in the height of the hurricane season. People might say we took a risk as we could have found ourselves sheltering from storms most of the week. In the end though we only had around an hour of rainfall all week in-between weather that was hot hot hot. To be honest, a litle too hot if you are a pale skinned, freckled Brit like me.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Cuba?
My key piece of advice: make sure you go! If you are heading to Cuba and have an interest in culture or history, then Trinidad is a must. It is very easy to reach from Havana by Transtur bus which your hotel will likely be able to help you book. Costing 25 CUC each way and taking roughly 5 hours, it isn’t an unpleasant journey and there is plenty to see out of the window. Once in Trinidad, make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the uneven cobblestones do end up fairly uncomfortable after a while.
And finally – what’s the most useful bit of Spanish you learnt?
Be it a taxi, a painting or a shell bracelet, then you can’t go wrong with ‘¿Cúanto cuesta?’ to help you determine the price. Don’t worry too much, as most people were met spoke English and were keen to engage with us to practice it and wish us ‘happy holidays!’
NB – all images are owned by Rebecca Thomas