Though the colonial streets of Trinidad are the main draw, the town is perfectly situated for quick trips to the beach (one of the best on the southern coast) and gorgeous surrounding countryside, which includes the Sierra del Escambray mountains and a picturesque valley that was once home to the sugar plantations that made Trinidad wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Though it can't quite compare with Cayo Largo, Varadero, Cayos Coco and Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria, or Guardalavaca -- Cuba's prettiest and most prestigious beaches -- Playa Ancón is still a very beautiful beach with one distinct advantage over those other, isolated stretches of sand: the proximity to Trinidad. At just 13km (8 miles) from town, Ancón, a 3km (2-mile) strip at the end of a peninsula, is a quick and easy ride to and from Trinidad, so beach lovers can stay here and visit the colonial wonder of Trinidad at their will. The beach is made up of wonderful white sand, and there's good snorkeling and diving at some 30 offshore dive sites. Both the Brisas del Mar Trinidad and Playa Ancón hotels, as well as the major travel agencies in town, offer diving and snorkeling excursions beginning at CUC$45 per person in addition to watersports. Cayo Blanco is a tiny offshore island reputed to be one of the best dive spots, with a huge variety of coral. Local operators also offer "seafari" expeditions to Cayo Blanco, with boat trips to the island, lunch, and snorkeling. Trips depart from the Marina Nautica Marlin (tel. 41/99-6205).
Northwest of Playa Ancón, about 8km (5 miles) from Trinidad, is La Boca, a small fishing village that's the popular beach spot among locals. Few tourists make it to La Boca, though there are a couple of casas particulares that rent rooms, including the Hostal Vista al Mar, Calle Real 47 (tel. 41/99-3716), a cute royal-blue bungalow overlooking the beach. The best room is at the front of the house.
To get to Playa Ancón, take a taxi or Coco Taxi. Alternatively, energetic folks can rent a bike.
Valle de los Ingenios
Trinidad got rich off the sugar trade back in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) was one of the most productive sugar-cane growing areas in all of Cuba. The gorgeous, verdant valley is no longer king of the sugar trade, which once supported 60 mills, but for visitors, it makes a wonderful day trip. The zone has been declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. A 1907 American steam train, especially for tourists, departs daily for the valley, making the journey out to one of the old sugar estates, Manaca-Iznaga, in just over 30 minutes from Trinidad. However, the train has broken down several times in the last year; a replacement bus costs CUC$19, but it's not nearly as atmospheric. The old manor house (Casa Hacienda) remains and is now a pretty good tourist restaurant; however, the main attraction is the fantastic, 45m-high (148-ft.) pointed tower, built in 1845, which visitors can ascend (for a fee of CUC$1) for spectacular views of the surrounding area. A huge bell once hung here and tolled for the toiling slaves in the fields, signaling the beginning and end of their working days. There's a surprisingly good little restaurant in a hacienda-style home here, that serves up a filling lunch for between CUC$4 and CUC$8.
If it's working, the steam train departs Trinidad daily at 9:30am, leaves Manaca-Iznaga at 1:30pm, and returns back in Trinidad around 2pm. Tickets (CUC$10 round-trip) can be purchased from any tour operator around town, or directly at the train station 1km (1/2 mile) from the center of Trinidad on Calle Antonio Guiteras Final (tel. 41/99-3348).
Parque Nacional Topes de Collantes (Sierra del Escambray)
Northwest of Trinidad, along dangerously curving roads, are the thickly pine-covered mountains of the Sierra del Escambray, a beautiful range that cuts across central Cuba. From Trinidad, the Topes de Collantes National Park, which covers 175sq. km (68 sq. miles), is the main draw, a cool refuge from the heat that usually bakes the stone streets of Trinidad. It's a splendid area for hiking, though a sad and lifeless resort village of Soviet-style hotels also provides therapeutic spa treatments.
Of the several well-established trails, the most popular route is Salto del Caburní, a hike that begins near a graffiti-covered house, the Casa de la Gallega (where simple lunches are served), and terminates in a great 75m (246-ft.) waterfall and swimming hole. The clearly marked trail, through dense forests of palm, pine, and eucalyptus trees, is fairly challenging, with several steep descents, often along a muddy, narrow path. The water in the deep green pool makes for a brisk swim. Another popular hike, which also has a waterfall as its reward at the end, is Salto Vega Grande. Each of these trails is a 4km (2.5-mile) hike each way.
The Topes de Collantes resort, about 20km (12 miles) from Trinidad, welcomes mostly Cubans; but several of its hotels accept foreign guests. Of these, the top choice is Villa Caburní (tel. 42/54-0189; www.gaviota-grupo.com). The massive and rather unattractive Kurhotel Escambray (tel. 42/54-0180; www.gaviota-grupo.com) is most notable as a sort of lakeside spa offering a variety of therapies, including hydrotherapy. Still, it's hard to recommend this place, when most visitors have access to such vastly better services at home. Reservations for these hotels must be made at an office at the resort complex or by phone (tel. 42/54-0117) or at a tourism desk in town.
Though it's possible to rent a car and explore the region on your own, paying a CUC$6.50 entrance fee at the Topes de Collantes resort (Complejo Turístico Topes de Collantes; tel. 42/54-0193/0219; email@example.com; run by Gaviota), hikers are advised to sign on for organized bookings, since many trails are not well marked. The Trinidad travel agencies, such as Havanatur and Cubatur, offer Sierra del Escambray jeep excursions for CUC$29 to CUC$37 per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.