When we booked our trip to Cuba we knew that we would be spending most of our time wandering the streets of Havana, but we also wanted to either head over to the popular beach destination, Varadero (about 1 1/2 hour from Havana), or go down to Trinidad (about a 4-hour trip).
Since we live at the beach in Costa Rica, we decided to skip the beaches of Varadero and go spend three nights in Trinidad. Varadero looked beautiful, but it also seemed like a bunch of mid-level, all-inclusive resorts that would be filled with tourists. While Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, seemed to be one of those places you probably shouldn’t miss.
Getting to Trinidad from Havana
We could have hired a private cab ($500) or taken the local bus (about $30 each) from Havana to Trinidad. Typically, the Fellman way is to hire a private cab/shuttle (not gonna lie) but we opted to take the bus. We thought this option could make for a great story and it saved us some money.
Unfortunately, nothing fun or unexpected happened on the bus ride. The bus was a mix of local Cubans, European backpackers and a few other tourists, and everyone pretty much just kept to themselves. I guess I should have been happy that the bus ride was uneventful, but I was secretly hoping for a fun story to tell.
When we finally arrived in Trinidad, we were dropped off at what looked like an old abandoned building with some benches and chairs. The only way to tell this was the bus station was the line of taxi drivers outside hoping for some business.
My husband Harris quickly picked out a friendly looking chubby guy by making eye contact and giving him a little nod. The cab driver immediately grabbed my suitcase and lead us around the corner to where we assumed his car was parked. When we turned the corner he led us to his pedi-cab. My kids immediately jumped on, while I thought, “he cannot possibly pedal all four of us and our bags to our hotel.” When Harris told our cab driver where we were staying, a look of concern crossed his face, his eyes got really big and he immediately grabbed his phone to call someone.
What you need to understand is that most people stay in Trinidad at hotels known as casa particulars, which are rooms for rent in people’s homes. Casa particulars are essentially what is now known as Airbnb, but Cubans have been doing it for years. We were staying about 12 kilometers / 7 miles outside of Trinidad at Playa Ancon. Clearly this mode of transportation was not going to make it the 7 miles out to the beach.
With the Spanish that we did understand, we knew he was calling his dad who had a car. And sure enough, five minutes later a beat up old car came around the corner and pulled up right next to us. The pedi-cab driver’s Dad got out and started helping his son put our luggage in the trunk of his car. We all pile in and off we went!
So even though nothing wild and exciting happened on the bus ride, I’m happy that I have this memory of my kids playing on the pedi-cab and seeing this man call his father for help, and his father instantly be there for him. It’s small moments like these that I travel for.
Playa Ancon, Trinidad Cuba
Even though we skipped Varadero, we decided that it might still be good idea to stay at the beach near Trinidad to break up the trip for the kids. I could wander the streets of historic cities all day, but my kids cannot. So to keep everyone happy we booked a room at Hotel Club Amigo Costa Sur so the kids could play at the beach and we could keep cool in the pool.
Cuba does not allow more than three people to a room, so you have to book two rooms if you are traveling as a family of four. We booked two of the ocean front suites, that were side by side. Above is the photo of our suites, we had both the left and the right. The inside of the room was as basic as a hotel gets but we were only a few steps to this gorgeous beach (see photo below).
There are only a few hotel options in Playa Ancon and booking a hotel room in Cuba can be difficult if you are an American. You will need to go through a European or Canadian booking site. This will most likely change soon as the Cuban relationship with the United States keeps opening up, but for now you can use a booking site such as Gala Hotels. Hotels in Cuba are not fancy, a little dated and they’re not extremely service orientated, so don’t expect the American standard of customer service.
When booking our trip to Cuba, my husband was in a few email conversations with Cuba Travel Network and a local representative even met us at our hotel to give us a brief overview of Trinidad, points of interest and most importantly, where to eat. A cab ride from Playa Ancon to the city center of Trinidad was about $8 and I was happy with our decision to stay out at the beach.
Our cab driver dropped us off at the bottom of the pedestrian only streets in Trinidad and from the second we got out of the cab it felt like a director just called “Action!” on a movie set. We came to an intersection that had musicians playing their instruments, horses pulling supplies in wagons, fruit vendors, local Cubans hanging out on the corner, store owners standing in their doorways, vintage cars parked randomly along the street and only a few other tourists roaming around. Yup, Trinidad was well worth the trip.
We really didn’t have a plan when we went into Trinidad. I hadn’t done much research either. We just walked around and explored the streets, wandering in and out of anything that seemed interesting There are plenty of museums and historic mansions with colonial architecture to admire as well as unique shops and art studios to walk through. Many of the casa particulars let you walk through their main floor living area, which are more like exhibits of carefully placed furniture. One woman even lead us to her back garden and offered us a room to stay in as well. Just be sure to give them a small donation for letting you walk through their home.
The iconic yellow bell tower that is in most photos of Trinidad is the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos), An old convent that has been converted into a museum dedicated to the history of bandits. It’s worth a walk through mostly because you can climb the bell tower to see gorgeous views of Trinidad.
Across from Trinidad’s famous bell tower is Cafe Don Pepe, a small garden cafe that is a perfect hideaway to grab some shade on a hot day. They have a full menu or you can just stop for a coffee, lemonade or a mojito.
We were told that San Jose Restaurant was one of the best restaurants in Trinidad, and at first we walked right past it. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, just a doorway with a small sign, but inside was a beautiful restaurant with exposed brick walls with framed photographs and dark wood furnishings. The restaurant is narrow but keeps going further and further. After the first dining room there is an enclosed glass bar area, a second dining room, the kitchen and then a back garden dining room.
We were told to get there early because it fills up fast. Playing our cautious card, we got there so early we were the only ones there, except for a few people sitting at the bar. The service and food was fantastic and the kids didn’t complain about having pizza and milk shakes for dinner.
After dinner we stumbled upon this beautiful art gallery filled with clay pottery just a few doors down from the San Jose Restaurant. I wanted to buy every. single. piece. I had a horrible time deciding which ceramic vase, lantern and pot to buy, but I did limited myself to only two pieces.
This woman weaves these little handbags by hand with colorful straw. McKenna and I each bought one. There are plenty of hand painted pieces of art to buy as well as other interesting pieces of jewelry, wooden cigar boxes and small musical instruments at shops throughout the town.
We ended our night at Taberna La Botija which is a must while in Trinidad. This little tavern is dedicated to the history of the thousands of West African slaves that worked in the sugar mills near Trinidad. I am certain you have never seen this decor in a restaurant before. Hanging on the walls are chains, shackles and knives and the wait staff are dressed as slaves. Taberna La Botija is open 24 hours and there is live music every night. I wished we had ate dinner here to try the food, but we only stopped in for drinks, dessert and to listen to some music.
We spent a full day and one night walking around Trinidad, and I felt it was plenty of time to explore this charming city (especially, if you are traveling with kids). I would have liked to experience staying at a casa particular, however – I was very happy that we were able to go back to the beach. I would highly recommend this option to anyone traveling to Trinidad with kids. It really helped keep the family dynamic in check and our kids were entertained in between all the walking around the streets of Trinidad.