Valle de los Ingenios, Trinidad
Around the Plaza Mayor you'll find plenty of hustlers trying to get you on their horses for a trip out to the Valle. There is one man (known as the "horse-whisperer of Trinidad) though that has set up a project (Diana project) through love of animals, to help the local farmers with equine care and training without the use of dangerous bits for the mouth, and has several horses for riding. He also has carriages for those that don't ride.
Julio is also a local photographer and has a casa particular as well, although we never stayed here.
After a short walk from his house we were partnered with a horse each and off we went, round by Tres Cruces and out into the Valle. The horses seemed well-mannered and obeyed well even crossing streams and muddy paths with aplomb. There are a couple of stops for refreshments along the way (not included in the price) and also a visit on foot up to a waterfall and a pool for a swim. Plenty of water in the pool but no fall to look at. There is only the scenery to see in this part of the valley as there are no more working sugar-cane farms here, although cane can be seen along with some abandoned buildings. All in all we were gone nearly 6 hours which was something like 4 1/2 in the saddle.
Cost is 26 CUC per person and the rides must be booked the day before.
The village of Iznaga was the site of the large Manaca Iznaga sugar plantation. The warehouse and factory buildings are long gone, but the owner’s house and watchtower are still there. The house is not elaborate, but it is large and attractive. It was only used during the few weeks of harvest, as the owners had a mansion in Havana. The 147-foot watchtower allowed the overseers to watch the 1,000 slaves working on the plantation. When the Soviet Union fell, Cuba lost its main market for sugar cane and they quit growing it. Some is now being planted again, but it won't be the major industry it was.
The path from the train station to the house is lined with vendors hoping you will buy their handicrafts. It is primarily embroidery, crocheted vests, and necklaces made from seedpods—and they do very nice work. They approach visitors, but they will accept a "No." (Although I said "Yes" quite a bit!)
This region used to be the sugarcane plantation region. There are remnants of sugar mills, 19th-century manor houses, slaves quarters, milling machinery, etc... found around here.
To visit this area, there is a very kitsch activity. A replica steam-train that costs US$10 (two-way) leaves at 9.30am every morning. Many organised tours cater to this trip, making you feel like you are riding a Disneyland toy-train.
Still, the scenery, sugarcane plantations with the distant undulating mountains is rather picturesque.
Stop at Manaca Iznaga. There is a 44m-tall tower where you can climb up and be able to see what the slave masters could see in begone years as they observed the slaves at work. Naturally, this being Cuba, you have to pay US$1 for this.
Just wander around the tiny village and talk to the friendly locals. I met a great wonderful 85-year-old man here and chatted with him for about an hour.
Steam train from Trinidad through the countryside past the sugar cane fields to Valle de los Ingenios. The return trip is a great full-day excursion as the train stops for lunch at the Casa Guachinango before returning to Trinidad. Also the train stops at the Manaca Iznaga, an old sugar plantation with a tall tower next to the old hacieda that was used to watch the slaves working in the fields all around. Great views for scenic pictures make the climb to the top of the tower worthwhile. There was a small market at the Manaca Iznaga where we bought a beautiful tablecloth for our kitchen table.
I loved the tower: even though it's frequently used as a symbol of Trinidad, it was a surprise to me, a site much more impressive than I had expected. It's such a powerful reminder of the existence of slavery and that of wealthy plantation masters.
The view of the valley from the top is of course stunning.
When you are in Trinidad, you must pay a visit to the Valley des Ingenios and climb in the tower, you have a breath taking view over the landscape.
This tower just to be used by supervisors to watch out for runaway slaves. The Indians just to work in the fields as slaves and this tower was one of the means to keep them in control.
For more information see my travelogue: The Valley des Ingenios
From the tower in Manaca Iznaga there is an amazing view of the valley. It's definitely worth the climb.