By Mayté Solano Gómez
Halfway between the historic city center and Ancón beach is the Valle de los Ingenios in Trinidad. It consists of an extensive plain of more than 250 km² and includes the valleys of San Luis, Agabama-Méyer and Santa Rosa, in addition to the southern coastal plain, the Manatí river delta. A corner of nature and history in Cuba, it was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 1988. Currently it constitutes a site in this wonderful town that everyone should know about.
With the development of the sugar industry in the region between the 17th and 19th centuries, Creole aristocratic families settled in this valley, basing its development of the activity on slave labor. However, although sugar production is best known as the main economic activity in this area at the time, tobacco was cultivated before sugar cane. Space was also given to cattle raising and the cultivation of small fruits.
It is estimated that some 80,000 Africans were brought to Cuba to work specifically on these sugar producing farms during that period.
The site evolved over time. Of 20 sugar mills in the first half of the 18th century, it came to have 75 in operation by the beginning of the 19th century. However, by 1840 the possibilities of exploitation of the valley were exhausted, because of the reduced fertility of the land and the lack of it to plant. On the other hand, the beginning of the war of independence against Spanish colonialism, as well as other factors associated with the international market, also led to the subsequent decline of the region.
What can we find in the Valle de los Ingenios in Trinidad?
As a legacy to the current generation, this settlement left 73 industrial archaeological sites connected to sugar production: boiler house, warehouses, towers and wells. Also included are the 13 haciendas houses for masters and servants, an infirmary and cemeteries, among others.
Among the old mills you can find:
• Manaca Iznaga
• Buena Vista
• San Isidro de los Destiladeros
The San Isidro and Manaca-Iznaga towers are still in fine condition, symbols of the power and aspirations of the owners.
On the other hand, the hydraulic works of the San Isidro and Santa Elena mills stand out, designed to solve the channeling and drainage of low and high salinity lands; also the rural settlement of vernacular architecture of San Pedro, founded in the 18th century by free blacks and small settlers and the farmhouse that was used as a shelter for the slave crews, which is still preserved in Manaca- Iznaga.
Tourist attractions in the Valle de los Ingenios in Trinidad
As tourist attractions, in the Valle de los Ingenios you can:
• Visit the Red Ceramic House of the Santander Family, with its large collection of handmade items made by the family in red ceramics and replicas of the jugs used to distill the sugar molasses in the sugar mills. Here it is possible to see the production process.
• Visit the Mirador del Valle, from where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the San Luis Valley.
• Visit the ruins of the old Manaca Izaga sugar mill, with its original boilers and bells. In the Casa Hacienda there is the Trapiche (rustic sugar mill) built in 1877, the ironworks, the infirmary and the slave farmhouse. For its part, the Manaca Tower is the main attraction of the place.
• Visit the Hacienda Guáimaro, with its relics from archaeological excavations, as well as a large exhibition of objects used by landowners of great historical and cultural value. In this hacienda the Chapel is kept with the original Bible written in Latin and covered in gold threads and plated with emeralds. The walls of the house are covered with floor-to-ceiling mural painting with romantic and neoclassical themes of the time.
From the El Mirador hostel, a private house in Trinidad, you can organize different excursions. Here you will also enjoy, from the large terrace, a beautiful view of the mountains of Escambray, a mountain range in the central area of the Island.
• Visit the San Isidro de Los Destiladeros sugar mill, where the Casa Hacienda is in excellent condition, as well as the three-level tower, used as a lookout point and bell tower. There are the ruins of the hydraulic system to supply the mill and the new system known as the Jamaican Train for cooking sugar. All this makes it easier to understand the process of obtaining the sugar.
• Travel in one of the 100 steam trains remaining in Cuba, through the Valle de los Ingenios, following the path of the sugar cane to the mill.
Canopy in the Valle de los Ingenios. A unique experience.
For lovers of adventure tourism, the canopy station created in the Valle de los Ingenios is the ideal option. The third in the country, it is 1,200 meters long and has 10 platforms for 5 jumps. It involves hurtling down a cable thanks to the force of gravity.
Here those who like adrenaline sports can add the contemplation of the beautiful landscape to the experience.
In short, the Valle de los Ingenios in Trinidad brings together nature, history and emotion. To the joy of all Cubans, there is an intention, both by the Government of Cuba and by international institutions such as UNESCO, to preserve and renovate this site, for the enjoyment of all.