East of Trinidad , the Carretera de Sancti Spíritus drops spectacularly into the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), known more correctly as the Valle de San Luis and declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. It is named for the many sugar mills, or ingenios (43 at its peak), that sprang up over the centuries.
Valle de los Ingenios was Cuba’s most important sugar-producing region into the 19th century Many of the mills and estate houses remain, albeit mostly in ruin.
Sitio Histórico San Isidro is signed from the highway, about 10 kilometers east of Trinidad. It features a three-story campanile. Most notable is Sitio Histórico Guaímaro daily 7 a.m.–7 p.m.), about 20 kilometers east of Trinidad, which boasts deteriorated wall murals. It has a chapel and well to the rear.
Guaímaro is about 600 meters off the highway via a dirt road that continues 11 kilometers (to be attempted in dry season only) to Sitio Histórico San Pedro, a rural village of tumbledown wattle-and-daub huts with a couple of restored colonial homes.
You gain a vantage over the valley from the Mirador del Valle de los Ingenios, about five kilometers east of Trinidad .
The quaint village of Iznaga is a picture-perfect gem with a prim little railway station. The village, 14 kilometers east of Trinidad, is most famous for Hacienda Iznaga (tel. 041/99-7241, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.), built 1835–1845 by Alejo María del Carmen e Iznaga, once one of the wealthiest sugar planters in Cuba.
The hacienda features a 43.5-meter-tall tower that according to legend was built as a wager. Alejo was to build a tower while his brother Pedro dug a well. The winner would be whoever went highest or deepest (no well has been found). It has seven levels, each smaller than the one beneath. You can ascend the 136 steps (CUC1).
The hacienda is now a restaurant. Lacework, a local specialty, is sold.
You can ride horses at Casa Guachinango (no tel., daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.), three kilometers north of Iznaga; a one-hour ride leads to mineral springs good for bathing. This 200-year-old hacienda-turned-restaurant boasts a beautiful setting above the Río Ay. You can also milk cows and be shown how to extract honey from beehives. Lunches are served.
A local commuter train departs Trinidad for Meyer via the Valle de los Ingenios at 5 a.m. and 5:20 p.m. (CUC5). It stops at Iznaga and Guachinango. Trains depart Meyer for Trinidad at 6:30 a.m. and 6:40 p.m.
A 1907 steam train also runs an excursion from Trinidad to Guachinango daily at 9:35 a.m., with a lunch stop at Iznaga (CUC10; you pay for lunch separately). Tour agencies make reservations.