The other day trip that I decided to do while in Trinidad, Cuba was the steam train out to the Valle de Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), apparently alternatively known as “The Tourist Train”.
Cuba was the world’s biggest producer of sugar in the late 18th and 19th century and this valley housed nearly 60 sugar mills and 30,000 slave workers at its peak.
In hindsight, I wish I’d taken a different option because:
- if you are expecting a steam train – you are going to be sorely disappointed. The steam engine seems to be out of action and instead you are pulled by a diesel engine, which makes for a not-so-pleasant smelling trip.
- if you are expecting close up views of old sugar mills (or even new sugar mills), you are going to be sorely disappointed. You see one or two in the distance, but that’s it.
- if you are expecting to see tons of sugarcane growing, you are going to be sorely disappointed. There is only one place along the route where you see any sugarcane – Escambray mountains (where I did the Trini-topes tour) in the background.
While sitting on a train and getting out of the town is pleasant enough – there really isn’t much to this excursion except sitting on a train going through a valley. Tip: sit on the left hand side of the train for the best views. Probably also try to sit down the back of the train to minimise the diesel fumes, though you can’t escape completely.
The highlight of the trip is the 44m tower at Iznaga which was used as a watchtower, to announce the beginning and ending of the slave’s working day on the sugar plantation, and to announce holy prayers at morning, midday and afternoon.
I was chatting with a doorman at a restaurant in Trinidad the night before and he told me one of the many different versions of the legend of the tower. In his version, there were two brothers who fell in love with the same beautiful woman. They went to their father to ask who should marry said fair maiden and the father instructed them to each build a monument. One brother built a 28m well, the other built this tower. Guess who won the hand of the beautiful woman? The father of course! btw there is no evidence of a well 🙂
Of course, I ran the gamut of artesanía stall lining the approach to the tower and paid my 1 CUC to climb the 184 steps to the top. I have to admit it was a beautiful view – with the old hacienda of the sugar plantation now acting as a restaurant.
From there it was back on the train and off to Guachinago to another old hacienda converted into a restaurant. Given that I’d brought my own lunch – this wasn’t particularly interesting so I walked further up the train line to explore the cool rail bridge.
From there – it was really just retracing our steps to Trinidad. Hmmmm…. Definitely not what I was expecting and I’m not sure there is actually a way to do the trip I was expecting (ie actually getting up close and personal to the old sugar mills). Oh well.
In hindsight I would have skipped this and done another day trip to Parque El Nicho – a different part of the Escambray mountain range.
Recommendation: Meh – I wouldn’t bother. This was the biggest disappointment of my trip so far.
Price: 10 CUC + 1 CUC to climb the tower at Iznaga
Time: 5 hours
Where to eat in Trinidad: La Redaccion. Awesome, awesome food!