Why you should care
Here, drinking is much better than thinking.
By 11 p.m. in Trinidad, Cuba, the streets have been emptied of the cries of pregones, street vendors and the click-clack of horse hooves. As soon as you pass through the colonial town’s pitch-black cobblestone roads and onto the winding dirt paths to Disco Ayala, you get the sense you’re headed somewhere you shouldn’t be. There are no streetlights or bystanders –- just you and the rustle of wind through shrubs. Far from anyone who could come to your rescue.
Which is an understandable feeling. The cave-turned-nocturnal hangout was the site of one of the town’s most notorious and grisly crimes.
Luckily for today’s guests, the only real fear now is trying to not to slip on the natural stone stairs curving down to the dance floor and bar. Surrounded by towering walls of jagged rock, the flutter of bats would certainly be heard if the Latin pop music wasn’t blaring with so much force.
Is there anything more disjointed than … drinking from disposable cups in a Cuban state-run disco named after a child-murderer?
After dancing to Cubaton (Cuba’s version of reggaeton) under the mystical stalactites and multicolored disco lights, my friend pulls me aside and repeats what a local had just told her: that the club was named after Carlos Ayala, a man from Trinidad who had allegedly used this cave to murder children kidnapped from Trinidad — which is a deeply disturbing thing for my mojito-soaked mind to process in a soundproof club deep underground. Suddenly the atmosphere is dark and damp and a whole lot eerier.
The legend is often repeated by locals, called trinitarios. While visiting, some elderly resident warned: “Behave well or Carlos Ayala will come to look for you!” spinning tales about the ex-soldier’s demonic tendencies. The book Leyenda y Verdadera Historia de Carlos Ayala (The Legend and True Story of Carlos Ayala) by Fidel Rodríguez Puertas and Maximiliano Trujillo Lemes also recounts the story. The verifiable facts confirm that in 1879, Ayala — who later was found guilty of abduction and homicide and executed three years later in 1882 — kidnapped a young girl and a few days later, her body was found mutilated and half-buried in the cave where Disco Ayala now exists.
So why would a disco be named after this horrible man? With the legend being so well-known, “it just seemed to be the obvious name to give,” says Susan O’Callaghan, who owns local hotel Casa el Delfin and who has spent time researching the case in various government offices and museums. But when I asked about why the state-run disco adopted this name — and even when it opened — their public relations manager, Jessica María Echemendía Zúñiga, replied that they “weren’t authorized to give me the information I was requesting.”
Locals say as the memory and legend of Ayala becomes less relevant to younger generations of residents, foreigners are increasingly entranced with the tale. After all, is there anything more disjointed than dancing close to pointed edges of rock and drinking from disposable cups in a Cuban state-run disco named after a child-murderer?
Carlos Alonso Duffay, owner of the Trinidad café El Mago, started going to the disco when he was 15 years old — not out of morbid fascination, but because back then, they didn’t check your ID, he says. Now he finds the music, which is mostly aimed at tourists, to be repetitive, but since it’s the only nightclub in town, it’s the only option.
But for tourists who can’t get enough of reggaeton heartthrobs like Maluma, J Balvin and Jacob Forever (Ever hear of “Hasta Que Se Seque el Malecón?” You will soon.), Disco Ayala is a hop, skip and a slip on the floor from an actual dream come true. But as you’re sipping your cubata (rum and cola) or a canchánchara (a local beverage of rum, lime and honey) listening to grooving beats, you can never be too certain what lurks in the heart of darkness (in my case, a handsy, gangly backpacker).
Go There: Disco Ayala
- Location: Get yourself to Finca Santa Ana in Trinidad, Cuba. Once you’re in the Plaza Mayor, keep heading northeast away from the center of town. There will be signs that say “Disco Las Cuevas” and “Hotel Las Cuevas” indicating where to go. If you’re unsure, ask someone to point you in the right direction. Map.
- Hours: Open daily 11 p.m. – 3 a.m.
- Entrance fee: 5 CUC ($5) – includes one drink
- Pro tip: There are performances on Tuesday nights, often based on Franco-Haitian traditions. It’s decidedly tourist-focused and kind of absurd — you’ll see men chewing broken glass and lifting tables with their teeth — but impressive nonetheless.