As mentioned in the previous blog post, after four days we exchanged Havana for Varadero. From there we took a trip to Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara - three beautiful cities you must see.
In Varadero, we booked a family room in Hotel Paradisus Varadero, part of the Melia group. The hotel looked, at first glance, fantastic. A large open lobby, sandy white beach, palm trees and no high buildings. All rooms are spread over the domain and have only one floor. Our room was very large with a nice terrace. The family room consisted of two connecting rooms with two bathrooms. All top so far. It was just a pity that the hotel really needed a thorough overhaul. It hasn’t been painted in ages, tiles of the pool were falling down. A new section has recently opened, but it was all pretty tight and coldly decorated. That was not quite our thing.
Also the food was not what we expect from a five-star hotel. Thank God the Italian and Japanese specialty restaurants were okay.
But this should not spoil the fun. We were here not to sit in our hotel room, but to explore central Cuba.
Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara were on the program. We had thought about making three separate trips, but after checking with a local tour operator, we decided that was not so smart. The Varadero drive to these three cities takes three hours because there is almost no highway. Moreover, the three cities are fairly close together, so it was easier to make one very long daytrip and visit them all in one day. In the past you could fly a helicopter to Trinidad, but since last year the tour has been skipped. The Cuban state needed the helicopter for other purposes. So we had to hire a car with driver/guide once again.
At 7 in the morning our driver for the day was waiting for us. Father and son would show us the most beautiful places of central Cuba. It was in fact the first time we had a guide who spoke very good English.
After a ride of three hours we arrived in Santa Clara. This city was founded in 1689 by the inhabitants of Remedios who withdrew inland to escape the pirates. In 1958, the last battles of the guerilla war led by Che Guevara happened over here. It was the end of the Batista dictatorship.
There are some beautiful parks in Santa Clara, but the city is mainly visited because of the monument "Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara”. It was unveiled in 1988 to commemorate the battles that took place over here. At the back of the monument you can enter to visit the museum and mausoleum.
Just outside the center is the Tren Blindado Monument. On December 28, 1958, Che Guevara conquered, with the help of 300 guerrillas, the city that was defended by over 3,000 Batista soldiers. The next day, Che also derailed a train that transported soldiers and weapons. At the intersection with the railroad you can find a monument and a small museum in a couple of train wagons.
Moving on to Trinidad. Near Sancti Spiritus is the village Iznaga. You're here in the middle of the Valle de los Ingenios, the sugar region from the 19th century. Here there are still many ruins from that flourishing time. The valley is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Manava Iznaga plantation is one of the most interesting to visit. The planter’s house is still intact and is now a bar/restaurant. The slave cabins or barracones can still be visited. The 45-meter-high tower was built in 1830 by Alejo Iznaga who wanted to make a clear view for his brother who was the boss in the valley. You can climb the tower and enjoy a magnificent view of the surroundings. From Trinidad, you can take a steam train to explore the region.
This beautiful town from 1514 with its original cobblestone streets, colorful houses, cozy squares and historic buildings is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Imagine yourself here hundreds of years back in time. At that time it was the center of trade in sugar and slaves.
Some important buildings in the center:
- Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco: The bell tower of the church and the adjoining monastery, dates from 1853 and is the symbol of Trinidad. In 1895, the church served as barracks for the Spanish army. The convent was demolished in 1920 and only the tower remains.
- Canchanchara: This 18th-century bar serves Canchanchara, the slaves drink. Made of rum, lime, water and honey. A live band brightens things up.
- A few doors away is Trinidad’s, following Havana, own Bodeguita del Medio.
- Het Casa de los Conspiradores was the meeting place of the nationalist secret society La Rosa de Cuba. Today it is a cozy restaurant.
- Behind this wall was formerly the berths of the slaves. Only the facade is still here.
- Casa de la Trova is located at Plazuela de Segarte. It is a place where people can listen to music and drink a cocktail. Most places have their own Casa de la Trova. In larger cities like Havana and Trinidad it is a tourist attraction.
- Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad is the church that stands on the Plaza Mayor. The great 18th century wooden statue comes from Spain.
According to legend, the image was created for a church in Mexico. The boat that would bring the image from Barcelona to Mexico, tried three times to leave the harbout but was driven by fierce winds to Trinidad. When they made a fourth attempt to leave, the captain decided to leave a part of the cargo, including the coffin with the statue. That was seen as a sign from God and since then the image is worshiped.
- At this point, the Spaniards declared that they took Trinidad.
If you want to read more about Trinidad, be sure to check this Trinidad Guide.
Some pictures of the charming alleys in Trinidad.
After the visit to Trinidad, we head to Cienfuegos. This port is located on one of the most beautiful bays in the Caribbean and was known as "The Pearl of the South." Columbus discovered the bay in 1494. In 1745, the Spaniards built a fort to defend the bay from pirates and in 1819 the city was founded.
Benny Moré was from Cienfuegos. He is considered the greatest Cuban singer. He mastered all genres of music and was nicknamed "El Barbaro del Ritmo”.
In the middle of Parque Marti is the so-called "zero kilometer", the center of Cienfuegos. The park was formerly known as Plaza de Armas and was later given the name of the national hero. The square is surrounded by historical buildings and in this place the official ceremony was held to celebrate the founding of Cienfuegos. Here you will also find the only triumphal arch that Cuba has.
There are many beautiful buildings as you get closer to the coast. The Palacio de Valle was changed by Batisto into a casino. Today it is a restaurant.
After visiting Cienfuegos we had a long drive home. If you do these three cities in one day, you're about 13 hours on the road. A pretty heavy trip. In retrospect, we could have made the trip even from Havana. In kilometers it’s a bit further from Havana, but from Havana there is a highway.
I'm glad I met Fidel and Che Guevara country as it's still somewhat authentic. I'm really curious about what the future will bring for this beautiful country.
Have you been in Cuba? Then let us know what you thought of it.