The island of Cuba is so much more than just historic Old Havana. It’s packed with an abundance of things to see and do. If you have time during your stay, a day trip out to Trinidad, Viñales, or both would make your Cuba vacation unique and memorable. These towns both radiate beauty and history, yet they’re very different. To see which day trip from Havana to add to your itinerary, keep reading!
Trinidad: Colonial Coast
It’s been said that Trinidad was one of the first towns in Cuba to be colonized by Spanish settlers. This colorful spot on the island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and boasts vibrant architecture, dreamy views of the Caribbean Sea, and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
About four hours east of Havana, Trinidad sits on the southern coast of the island. You will have a few options of transportation, the cheapest being taking the local bus. This turns the four hour trip into a seven hour one, but you’ll only pay around 25 CUC and you’ll be able to meet locals and take in the scenery. The second option is hiring a taxi, which would allow you to stop whenever you like and customize your trip to Trinidad. Although you could barter the price down, on average you’ll pay between 150 and 200 CUC. The final transportation option is renting your own car, but this requires a daily payment of close to $100 as well as knowledge of Cuban roads, street signs, and the possibility of getting lost. In addition, the local roads of Trinidad favor foot traffic over vehicles. However you decide to travel to Trinidad, you’re in for a treat.
Once you arrive in gorgeous Trinidad, you’ll check into your accommodation. The absolute best way to experience authentic Cuban life is to stay in a casa particulares, Cuba’s version of a local bed and breakfast. Easily booked on AirBnb, these are local homes that have been opened up to travelers. The family will cook you breakfast, give you personalized recommendations, and love getting to know everyone that stays with them. In addition, you’ll be able to experience true Cuban hospitality. Casas can range in price, from 20 CUC a night to 100 CUC, and we recommend reading the reviews to see previous traveler’s experiences in the home. Staying in a colonial home with locals is a surefire way to authenticate your vacation in Cuba.
Now that you’re settled in, what is there to do in Trinidad? First, simply explore the town by foot. You’ll stumble across hole-in-the-wall art galleries, unique markets with items you can’t find anywhere else, and stunning architecture that’s been preserved for over 100 years. Make sure to stop by Plaza Mayor, a central square in the town where you can hear local bands. Take time out of your day to see the Romance Museum and climb to the top of the tower for incredible views of Trinidad. Each restaurant features homemade Cuban dishes and delicious seafood. Finally, spend some time at the stunning beaches. Only a 15 minute drive from the center of town will have you diving into the crystal clear waters of Playa Ancon. Snorkel within the reefs, take shade under thick palms, and happily sip on frozen daiquiris. Trinidad is the colonial, Caribbean side of Cuba, and a stop you won’t soon forget.
Viñales: The Land of Mountains and Valleys
The Viñales Valley is another UNESCO World Heritage site, and door to door, the town of Viñales is a short two and a half hour drive west of Havana. Surrounded by the Sierra de los Órganos mountain range, Viñales is a stark contrast to urban Havana and beach-side Trinidad. Take the same mode of transportation from Havana and arrive in an area like no other in the world.
Travelers who visit Viñales will be graced with breathtaking mountain sunrises, horseback riding through forests, and farm to table foods that will floor you. The casas here should not run you more than 30 CUC per night, and you’ll most likely be living in a house on a local tobacco farm. Make sure to wake up early to see rays of sunlight hitting the fields, or eat dinner on the balcony to watch the sun dip below the mountain range. However you choose to soak up your time in Viñales, you won’t be disappointed.
Get off the beaten path in Viñales by touring your casa’s tobacco farm. When the Spanish arrived in this area of Cuba, they brought with them the tobacco crop. The climate, fertile soil, and Cuban’s attention to detail make this area a hub for perfecting the Cuban cigar. Walk through the crop fields, observe the harvest, and learn how to roll your own cigars with the family who has shown you the utmost hospitality.
If tobacco isn’t your thing, don your hiking boots and make your way up the mountains that hug the town. You’ll find the best views from the top and be able to experience a day that travelers who only stay in Havana can only dream of.
Being in Viñales means unplugging from the rest of the world and taking on a different life. Living at this relaxing pace and connecting with the local farmers will give you a taste of how it feels to reside on the western side of the Cuban island. No trip to Viñales is complete without a few puffs of the cigars you made as you watch the birds fly into the horizon. You’re one of the lucky ones if you’re able to make it out to Viñales while traveling to Cuba.
Would you travel to Trinidad and Viñales? Have you ever been to Cuba? Let us know by leaving us a comment! And if you’re ready to book your trip, click here to see our full Cuban itinerary.
X, Grace Poulos, @chasinggracee