Sancti Spiritus is a Latin phrase that means “holy spirit.” And you’ll find the city of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba around 220 miles east of Havana. Although it is one of Cuba’s smallest cities, it has a rich history that draws people interested in the country’s past. Sancti Spiritus is now a lovely colonial village on the banks of the Yayabo River that is off the usual route for visitors. A Roman-style stone bridge spanning the river, completed in 1815, is one of the city’s most notable features. Pedestrians, bicycle taxis, and horse-drawn carriages use the bridge, which is over 220 feet long and has five elegant arches. The Parroquial Mayor (Grand Church), located in the town’s central plaza, is another notable feature. It is the country’s oldest church, established in the early sixteenth century. There are hundreds of beautifully preserved homes, mansions, and other structures originating from the height of the sugar business in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, making it a perfect site to meander around the tiny cobblestone lanes. So, here’s our guide to the best things to do in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.
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The Best Things to do in Sancti Spiritus
As a minor provincial capital, the town’s history also included significant support for revolutionaries throughout the years, as an example, hundreds of revolutionaries from the area joined Che Guevara’s rebel army division during the 1956-1959 Cuban Revolution.. As a result, it was often disregarded or passed over by the successive administrations in power and so there’s not a great deal here. So why, I hear you ask, am I writing about it? Well sometimes in Cuba it’s just really nice to get off the beaten track and explore places a little less touristy.
The main attractions of Sancti Spiritus can be seen in a short time and this ancient town is unobtrusive and untouristy, making it ideal for a little downtime.
Calle Llano is Sancti Spritus’ most atmospheric street, a bent-elbow cobblestone lane lined with pastel-colored and tiled-roof dwellings (one of the last surviving stone alleys in town). It’s usually rather quiet. The river here is crossed by Puente Yayabo, a 19th-century take on a European Romanesque stone bridge near the southern part of the old town.
Locals don’t stop to consider if a medieval-style bridge erected in 1825 in a town that didn’t exist until well into the 16th century looks funny or not; they whizz by on bicycles, horse-drawn carts, and 1950s Chevys on their way to and from the Colón residential neighborhood.
Plaza Serafin Sánchez, a wide public plaza with a few excellent colonial structures in varying degrees of ruin mixed in with bland new constructions, is the major center of life in Sancti Spiritus. It isn’t one of Cuba’s most gorgeous plazas, but it is always bustling with automobiles and people meeting up. The Biblioteca Provincial Rubén Martnez, an early-20th-century library that appears more like the local opera house, is one of the most remarkable edifices on the plaza, located at the intersection of Solano and Máximo Gómez. A short stroll south of here will take you to the city’s major attractions.
Where to Stay in Sancti Spiritus
Sara’s Homestay in Sancti Spiritus is just 3 minutes from the bus station and a 15-minute walk to the center of Sancti Spiritus. You can rent bicycles from Sara and she’ll even give you Spanish dancing lessons on the terrace here. This Sancti Spiritus casa particular is highly recommended for delicious cocktails too! The rooms here have A/C, fridges, and private bathrooms. Sara also provides a laundry service for visitors. Check rates and availability here.
El Buganvil Hostal in Sancti Spiritus is a great option in central Sancti Spiritus. This Sancti Spiritus Casa Particular is just 50 meters from Serafín Sánchez Park and comes with internet access, a laundry service, and a BBQ. Rooms have bathrooms, A/C, and TVs and you can take a fabulous breakfast here too. Check rooms and rates here.
The casa particular of Norma Belen is in a great location in Sancti Spiritus. Rooms here have A/C and bathrooms and you can also borrow bikes here too. There’s a laundry service and a garden too. One more benefit? Your casa particular owner is a tour guide, so you’ll definitely benefit from local knowledge here! Check room availability here.
Why Visit Sancti Spiritus?
Apart from being older, more chilled out, and way less touristy than Trinidad, this lovely colonial city would be a cultural tour de force in any other country. Visitors scarcely notice Sancti Spiritus, which always plays second fiddle to Trinidad. For me, this is why I visited. Trinidad without the touts is Sancti Spiritus. You can eat, listen to boleros in the square, and wander around without distraction. A visit to Sancti Spiritus will also provide you with some alone time, especially if you are searching for a place to unwind and think.
Visit Puente Yayabo
The Puente Yayabo, one of Cuba’s most famous bridges, was constructed by the Spanish between 1817 and 1831 and has been designated a National Monument since 1995. The Puente Yayabo, which spans the Rio Yayabo only a few streets south of Sancti Spiritus’ town center, is made of brick and, with its five low arches, seems like it belongs in deepest rural England. Because the river is often sluggish flowing at this point (particularly during Cuba’s dry, peak season between November and April), many portraits of the Puente Yayabo concentrate on its mirror-like reflection.
The terrace of the Taberna Yayabo is perhaps the best position to take a photo of the bridge while also relaxing with a refreshing drink. If you like to know more about the history of a place, then one of the legends surrounding Puente Yayabo is that it owes its long life and overall resilience to the addition of cow’s milk to the mortar during the bonding process!
Because Sancti Spiritus is relatively small, particularly in terms of its historic center, viewing the Puente Yayabo may easily be integrated into a (self-guided) walking tour of the town’s main attractions. If you’re visiting Sancti Spiritus from neighboring Trinidad, then most excursions to Sancti Spiritus are combined with a tour to the Valley of the Sugar Mills, which is about an hour’s drive from Trinidad (and the bridge was constructed to increase links between the two cities). Don’t forget to stop by Yayabo Café for a nice cold beer.
Stay at a Casa Particular in Sancti Spiritus
There are a couple of hotels here – you can read more about them in our guide on where to stay in Sancti Spiritus – but the best places to stay in Sancti Spiritus are the Casa Particulars. (our guide to Casa’s is here) We spend an awesome couple of nights in one just off Plaza Serafin Sanchez and had the friendliest welcome, got our laundry done and dried on the roof terrace, and were in the middle of everything without being in the noise of the city.
Casa’s are a fabulous way of getting a taste of Cuban life. And you’ll get some of the best breakfasts in Cuba by staying in them – be sure to read the reviews carefully and go for the foodie places! Check out Casa Particulars in Sancti Spiritus which you can book online here.
Explore Calle Llano
Calle Llano is the most atmospheric street in Sancti Spiritus, a bent-elbow cobblestone passageway with pastel-colored and tiled-roof buildings (one of the last surviving stone alleys in town). It’s typically extremely quiet and leads down to Puente Yayabo, that 19th-century take on a European Romanesque stone bridge in the southern end of the old town, spanning the river. Take your camera. Take lots of shots.
Hang out in Plaza Serafin Sanchez
The heart of Sancti Spiritus is Parque Serafin Sanchez, with the majority of the city’s attractions to the south. Choose your seat carefully if you’re taking a break from touring the city. The Park has relatively little shade, and the few available chairs are generally occupied.
There are a few places to hang out around the park if you follow the music coming from Casa de la Cultura.
The excellent Biblioteca Provincial Ruben Martinez Villena is located across the street from Casa de la Cultura. This library has a lot of bookshelves and places to work inside. But the view of Parque Serafin Sanchez from the second-floor balcony is more interesting. The Museo Provincial is just next door. Before paying, have a peek through the open windows to see whether you’re interested. The rest of the area is occupied by hotels, restaurants, and stores that were refurbished in 2014 to commemorate Sancti Spiritus’ 500th anniversary.
Visit the Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espíritu Santo
Turn left to the blue Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo. This church can be seen almost everywhere in Sancti Spiritus.
Iglesia Parroquial Mayor Church is known as the oldest church in Cuba. It was initially constructed in wood at Pueblo Viejo, adjacent to the Tuinicú River. Due to the city’s expansion in 1680, it was relocated to its present position and was constructed of lime and pebble. It is now one of the most popular attractions in Sancti Spiritus, with Romanesque and Baroque architecture. It was designated as a National Monument in 1977.
In addition to its 103-step staircase and 40-meter height, it has a chapel that was attacked by pirates in the second half of the 17th century. They stole holy vases and other religious items, as well as the famous golden pigeon. (It was a golden cockerel donated by Don Luis del la Corcha to decorate the main altar).
According to a well-known tale, its main entrance is also known as the Forgiveness Gate. Legend says that a grumpy woman was buried here, having requested it on her deathbed in the hopes of obtaining God’s forgiveness for one day by having visitors trample over her corpse.
Visit the Serafin Sanchez Birthplace Museum
The Casa Natal de Serafn Sánchez Valdivia Museum is a well-known house in the community of Sancti Spiritus because of its blue and white paint scheme and colonial design dating from 1825 to 1830. The museum is now housed in a one-story structure that opened on November 2, 1990.
This museum has seven permanent display rooms as well as a temporary show. Its collection includes priceless artifacts from the Sánchez Valdivia family and other patriots during the War of Independence. It also offers a documentation center with important documents concerning Cuba’s history.
Visit the Sancti Spíritus Colonial Art Museum
The Colonial Art Museum (Museo de Arte Colonial) is housed in a completely restored 17th-century palace formerly owned by the Valle Iznaga family. It has undergone various renovations and now has architectural features from the nineteenth century. Because it has many apertures, including doors and windows, this two-story structure is known as the House of the Hundred Doors. Ceramics, furniture, marbles, cabinetmaking, and paintings from colonial periods are displayed at this museum, aside from priceless decorative arts collections.
Check out the Casa de Los Refranes (House of Aphorisms or sayings)
If you find yourself north of downtown, pay a visit to the so-called Casa de Los Refranes, a curious structure (House of Aphorisms). Hundreds of sayings and phrases, some simple and others profound, are written on the bricks that make up the small roadside house’s facade (they seem to be graffiti, but they’re really baked in a ceramic-like process). Tomás Alvarez owned the property, but since his death, his niece has been renting it out on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s on Carretera Central, right past the bus stop and up the road from Villa Los Laureles hotel.
Visit the Biblioteca Provincial Ruben Martinez Villena
The Biblioteca Provincial Rubén Martnez Villa Library is located in the city’s historic center and is notable for its architectural importance. This is a Neoclassical building, which was built in the early part of the twentieth century. In December 1963, it was designated as a library. The name of the library comes from a deal made by librarians to honor Rubén Martnez Villena, who was an intellectual and a revolutionary.
This institution has a special position among the Espirituanos (natives of Sancti Spiritus) because of the architecture, the community connections, and the variety of bibliographic content with over 100,000 samples.
Visit the Fundación de la Naturaleza y el Hombre
Take a visit and discover the famous 13-metre canoe that visited over 10 countries in the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Fundación de La Naturaleza y el Hombre. The Fundación de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Mankind Foundation) is a civil Cuban non-profit organization formed in 1994 by Antonio Nez Jiménez, a biologist and writer. Its goal is to help people develop an environmental conscience that sees nature as an important part of their own identity.
It features the Canoe Museum, which has a small exhibit of Antonio Nez Jiménez’s extraordinary 17,422-kilometer canoe expedition from the Amazon to the Caribbean in 1987. From Ecuador to the Bahamas, he traveled through ten nations. 432 soldiers and two twin ships, the Bolvar and Hatuey, aided him. The show features the final one, a 13-meter-long boat.
Go to the Casa de la Guayabera in Sancti Spiritus
Sancti Spiritus claims to have invented the Guayabera shirt. A guayabera shirt is a collared shirt with pockets stitched on it, for anybody unfamiliar with this fashion statement, as I was before. Local women created pockets to keep their husbands’ working tools, and lunches close to hand.
The guayabera shirt was made popular by Latin American politicians, like Fidel Castro, despite being initially designed for farmers. The Casa de la Guayabera (free) puts on exhibit what is perhaps the world’s biggest guayabera shirt. A bar, a collection of shirts worn by well-known people, and several women in the process of manufacturing them are also to be found here. You’ll find the museum located on the Yayabo River in the old Quinta Santa Elena Restaurant, in the city’s historic quarter.
Go to the Casa de la Trova in Sancti Spiritus – the House of Music!
The Casa de la Trova House is a wonderful spot for a tasty drink while listening to the greatest Cuban music. The structure was given to the public for cultural delight, eventually becoming what it is today: a meeting, gathering, and entertainment center for troubadours. It was enjoyable to listen to and dance to the music. The beverages are pretty affordable. It’s a beautiful spot to hang out with friends or meet new people. The Casa de la Trova House first opened its doors to the public in 1974. Many initiatives have extended and supported the city’s musical growth, which is an essential aspect of its identity. The Casa de la Trova House is also a museum with a collection of national and local recordings and artifacts of high cultural worth and decorative purposes.
Take a trip to the Alturas de Banao near Sancti Spiritus
Relax in this natural setting in the province of Sancti Spiritus, allowing the wildlife and luxurious vegetation to steal your breath away as you enjoy the calm waters of the Rio Banao. The Alturas de Banao is an ecological reserve in Cuba that is 20 kilometers from Sancti Spiritus. It’s a section of the Sierra de Escambray where streams, mountains, and valleys combine to create an almost lyrical beauty. This is an excellent area to go trekking while listening to unique bird songs and watching the river and streams pass. Hidden within the dense greenery are native species such as the Santamaria snake and the tocororo, the country’s most famous bird.
Essential Resources for Exploring Cuba
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Final Words on the Best Things to do in Sancti Spiritus
Sancti Spiritus is one of the smallest cities in Cuba. Yet, it has a rich history with hundreds of magnificently preserved sugar industry residences, mansions, and other buildings from the height of the business. You’ll find one of Cuba’s most iconic bridges here, the Puente Yayabo, and at just about an hour to get to Sancti Spiritus from the more touristy Trinidad, it’s a great spot to come for a little bit of a real Cuban environment. I loved this city. Sancti Spiritus is really a peaceful and chilled-out spot with friendly people, making it a fantastic destination to come to if you want some alone time or simply to relax and think while on vacation. Come on by and tell me whether you adore Sancti Spiritus as much as I do.
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