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Getting to Know Trinidad- Colonial Architecture and Colourful Charm in Cuba

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Trinidad is the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Cuba. I had heard so many great things about this delightful, small town, and lucky for me, it easily lived up to my high expectations.

An elevated view of Trinidad, Cuba backed by mountains.

Walking around Trinidad, I couldn’t help but smile. The colourful, colonial architecture gives the town a bright, cheerful feeling and the original cobblestone streets make you feel as if time here has stood still.

The town was relatively calm and peaceful, which was exactly what we needed after our exhausting and stressful visit to Havana. It was a relief to be able to wander the streets uninterrupted, free to enjoy Trinidad’s charms without worry.

Cobblestone street framed by colourful architecture in Trinidad.
American classic car on a cobblestone street in Trinidad.

Since we were visiting Trinidad on an excursion from Varadero, we didn’t have time to explore as much as I wanted to. We passed by many lovely restaurants and music venues that would have been nice to visit. We did, however, get to spend some time at the municipal museum and Plaza Mayor, Trinidad’s main square, while learning a bit about the town’s history.

Plaza Mayor in the historic centre of Trinidad.

History of Trinidad

Trinidad was founded in 1514 by Diego Velázquez, a Spanish conquistador who governed Cuba on behalf of Spain. The city became a major trade centre for sugar and slaves, enjoying economic prosperity from the 17th-19th centuries. By 1796, Trinidad was the third-largest city in Cuba.

The town layout has remained largely unchanged since colonial times, the result of a period of isolation from the 1850’s-1950’s. Although Trinidad has not experienced any modern building, the historic centre has been meticulously restored, right down to the street lights.

Bell tower and colourful buildings in Trinidad.

In 1988, Trinidad and the nearby Valle de los Ingenios were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, as they are an exceptional example of a traditional settlement and have made substantial contributions to human history.

Today, Trinidad’s main industry is tobacco processing.

Exploring Trinidad, Cuba- What to See on a Short Visit

Since we we were only in town for a few hours, our visit focused on the sights and attractions around Trinidad’s Plaza Mayor. Here’s a look at the highlights from our short tour of Trinidad.

Palacio Cantero

Palacio Cantero is now home to the Museo Histórico Municipal, but the mansion once belonged to Don Borrell y Padrón, a prominent figure in the local sugar production. This 19th century building is a fine example of Neo-Classical architecture and design. The frescoed arches are particularly eye-catching.

Courtyard inside Palacio Cantero.
Archways framing the courtyard inside Palacio Cantero.
Fresco above a window in Palacio Cantero.

Throughout the rooms, you can see exhibits, maps and monuments that trace the history of Trinidad and surrounding areas. The best part of our visit, was climbing to the top of the palace’s tower. The viewing platform offers commanding views of the town’s historic centre and the nearby Sierra del Escambray.

View from the balcony of Trinidad and the Escambray mountains.
Elevated view of Trinidad's Plaza Mayor.

Trinidad’s Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is the heart of Trinidad. It’s also one of the most lovely town squares I have seen, lush with palm trees, manicured hedges and vibrant red flowers. The plaza is surrounded by beautifully restored 18th and 19th century buildings, which are now used as museums and art galleries.

Casa de Aldeman Ortiz and Plaza Mayor in Trinidad.

At one end of Plaza Mayor is Casa de Aldeman Ortiz, a gorgeous 19th century mansion with a wrap-around wooden balcony. The house was built in 1808 for Ortiz de Zuniga, who once served as mayor of Trinidad. Today the house is an art gallery that displays and sells paintings from contemporary Cuban artists.

Casa de Aldeman Ortiz and Trinidad's Plaza Mayor.

Overlooking the other end of Plaza Mayor is Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad. The church of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1892, replacing a 17th century church that was destroyed by a cyclone. We didn’t have a chance to go in, but the church is known for its carved wooden alter and the statue of Señor de la Vera Cruz, which came from Spain and dates back to 1731.

Cobblestone street leading to Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad.
Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad overlooking Plaza Mayor.

The blue building framing the south side of Plaza Mayor is the restored Casa de los Sanchez Iznaga, a family mansion from the 18th century that now houses the Museo de Arquitectura Colonial. Inside the Museum of Colonial Architecture you’ll find items illustrating the various architectural elements seen in Trinidad and the building techniques used during the colonial period.

Casa de los Sanchez Iznaga/Museo de Arquitectura Colonial beside Plaza Mayor in Trinidad.

Architecture of Trinidad

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved the architecture in Trinidad! Beyond the beautiful colours, there are many exquisite details that add to the allure of the homes we saw.

Palacio Brunet looking out on Plaza Mayor in Trinidad.
Palacio Brunet

A typical house in Trinidad has a large wooden door, with smaller doors cut in it for easy access. The doors are sometimes framed by plaster motifs.

Blue wooden door with two smaller doors cut out.

You will notice that windows are set just slightly above ground level and almost match the height of the door. The windows have strong wooden shutters, instead of glass, and are further decorated by wooden barrotes (small, turned wooden columns) or iron grilles, which became popular in the 19th century. Arched windows are also characteristic of the homes here.

Wooden window in Trinidad.
Decorative grille over a window in Trinidad.

Most of the roofs you see are two or four-pitch, supported by wooden beams and covered with terracotta tiles.

Casa de Aldeman Ortiz.

Final Thoughts About Our Trip to Trinidad

I really liked Trinidad and had we not been on an organized trip from Varadero, I would have spent a day or two here. Not only is the town very pretty, but the surrounding natural areas are beautiful as well.

While excursions are convenient, and a good way to see many things in a short amount of time, it bothered me to have such little time in Trinidad. I practically had to beg our tour guide to give us 10 extra minutes of free time. I would definitely return here again, but not on a guided excursion.

Cobblestone street and American classic car in Trinidad.

Tips for Visiting Trinidad

  • Trinidad is about 273 km (a four hour drive) from the popular beach resort of Varadero.
  • The resorts at Varadero offer excursions to Trinidad. You can choose from a day trip or an overnight excursion (which we did).
  • Trinidad makes a good base for tours to the Sierra del Escambray and the Valle de los Ingenios.

Information was updated January 2022, but can change without notice. Please confirm directly with venues and service providers.

Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad and other buildings surrounding Trinidad's Plaza Mayor.

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