The legacy of the sugar trade - Trinidad, Cuba
The sugar boom-and-bust town of Trinidad slopes off the edge of the Escambray Mountains in southern Cuba. Shadowed by the rising tropical forest behind, and buttoned in by the honey hued sands and sea some 12 kilometres away, Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez planted his real estate flag here in 1514. Founded as the fourth of the seven original villas of Cuba, Velázquez chose this spot for the Spanish colonialists to venture out on sorties to the New World.
The sweetness of sugar created the grandeur of Trinidad. Sugar barons grew rich on this sought after crop in the mid 18th century.
Outside Trinidad vast plantations, run by African slaves, unravelled across the humps and bumps of the low-lying hills, fuelling the global saccharine boom. Lofty palatial homes, embellished with a wealth of architectural traits, climbed elegantly from the town's cobblestone foundations.
When the sugar trade collapsed in the 1860s, Trinidad was abandoned by business like a sinking ship and slumbered under a somnolent existence for more than 100 years until UNESCO awarded the town World Heritage Site status in 1988.
Today, the palaces, churches, and handsome colonial homes, are preserved as museums and as casas particulares (Cuban B&Bs in private homes) around attractive plazas. The most interesting of these is the 1704-1808 Palacio Brunet furnished with precious antiques, the 1850 Palacio Cantero (a home-turned-museum of fine furnishings) and the pretty golden facade of the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad. Of the private homes, Casa Muñoz, built in 1800, and the simply stunning late 18th-century Casa Font (with its fantastic bed head adorned with mother-of-pearl decoration) are fine examples. Of the sugar plantations, board the old steam train at Trinidad's railway station, to puff your way to the Valley of the Sugar Mills (Valle de los Ingenios) to visit the preserved estate of the Manaca-Iznaga family. Climb the watchtower used to monitor the slaves and dine at the restaurant in the former sugar baron's private villa.
Trinidad also has a reputation for musical madness. Kick the nocturnal outing off with Trinidad's signature drink, the Canchánchara, a delectable treacly liquor of lime, honey and rum at the small, eponymous bar. Then, head across the road to the Club Amigos de la Parranda, home to a traditional Cuban music group who play requests from those with a wish list. Later, cross the Plaza Mayor and head for the courtyard of the Palenque de los Congos Reales to witness an extraordinary performance of Afro-Cuban dance by visiting folkloric groups. Wander next door to sip mojitos and sling some salsa moves on the steps (La Escalinata) next to the church before heading to the alfresco courtyard of the Casa de la Música behind. Or, for a more offbeat experience, run to the hills for the subterranean sounds of La Cueva, a disco buried in caves, for a combined session of spelunking and salsa.
Palacio Brunet (Museo Romántico), Fernando H. Echerri 52, corner of Simón Bolívar, tel (41) 994 363. Open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm.
Palacio Cantero (Museo Histórico Municipal), Simón Bolívar 423 between Peña and Gustavo Izquierdo, tel (41) 994 460. Open Sat-Thurs 9am-5pm.
Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, Plaza Mayor. Open Mon-Sat 10.30am-1pm.
Casa Muñoz, José Martí 401, corner of Santiago Escobar, tel (41) 993 673; www.casa.trinidadphoto.com
Casa Font, Gustavo Izquierdo 105 between Piro Guinart and Simón Bolívar, tel (41) 993 683; email@example.com
Valle de los Ingenios. The steam train departs Trinidad railway station, tel (41) 993 348,
at 9.30am daily and returns from Manaca-Iznaga at 1.30pm. It frequently breaks down so ask at any tour operator in town first.
La Canchánchara, Rubén Martínez Villena corner of Pablo P. Girón. Open daily 8.30am-2am.
Club Amigos de la Parranda, Rubén Martínez Villena 59 (Patio del Templo de Santería Yemaya). Open daily 10am-noon.
Palenque de los Congos Reales, Fernando H. Echerri. Open Sun-Fri 10am-1am, Sat 10am-10pm.
La Escalinata. Open 10am-2.30am.
Casa de la Música, Francisco Javier Zerguera, tel (41) 993 414. Open 9pm-2am.
La Cueva, tel (41) 996 133. Open Tues-Sun 10pm-2am.