Posted by: Alex MacGregor | August 14, 2012

Ditching the Gringo Trail in Sancti Spiritus

Trinidad is definitely Cuba’s colonial jewel, and with that position comes all the tourist traffic you might expect. Craving something a bit lower to the ground, we headed to Sancti Spiritus, a medium-sized city in the center of the country. Locals were definitely skeptical of our decision, but some of our best traveling has been done against the advice of well-intentioned locals.

Ditching the Gringo Trail means you also must ditch Viazul, the tourist bus company. (Actually, a single Viazul bus headed to Santiago runs this route every morning, but we chose to do some last-minute sightseeing in Trinidad.) Instead, you get a much more memorable ride. For us, it was a ’52 Cadillac.

When we pulled into our pre-arranged casa in Sancti Spiritus (we were firmly in the grip of a particular “casa circuit” at this point, and each one was calling ahead to a casa at our next destination), an old woman answered the door with an unexpected look of horror. It was quite shocking. She looked like she thought we had come to kill her.

The casa owner soon emerged, and gave an explanation I didn’t understand to some sort of problem that prevented us from being guests in their home. I definitely wasn’t about to argue with the man, considering this woman might have had a hand in preparing our dinner!

Frigid greeting aside, we set about strolling the pleasant and tout-free main square.

No guys hassling us about riding a taxi. No cigar. No caballo. Just chill. Sancti Spiritus turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of our time in Cuba.

The main pedestrian street in SS has almost an Eastern-European feel about it. Definitely one of the nicer places we saw in Cuba to soak up the ambiance.

Sancti Spiritus isn’t much of a tourist draw compared to Trinidad, but that’s not to say it’s without its charms.

Wandering streets in the beautiful colonial section.

Another thing that reminded us of Eastern Europe (or the Balkans, specifically): SS prides itself on its old bridge. Just like every Balkan city. The bridge in Sancti Spiritus is definitely a lot more out of context, sitting on an island in the Caribbean.

A bit down river and it’s back to normal Cuba.

Another addition to my ever-growing collection of train-station pictures.

Here’s something we don’t get very often anymore: Caroline and I got to ride in a brand new form of transport, the bici-taxi. We’ve ridden bike taxis before (long-time readers may recall a certain incident in Mozambique), but this bike is actually modified to have an extra long chain, three wheels, and hold a couple passengers. It’s an exceptionally slow way to get around: any sort of minor rise in the terrain would put us at walking speed. At least it’s more comfortable than walking.

We also stopped by SS’s oldest church (coincidentally, the oldest remaining church in Cuba), where the enthusiastic staff showed us around.

The thing that held my attention the most was the entirely-mechanical clock, still functioning.

The gears turn clocks on both sides of the tower with precision. It’s pretty amazing to think about how substantial of an investment this clock must have represented–a functioning clock must have been point of local pride.

The view isn’t bad, either!


  1. Some great pics. Been in a few bici-taxis myself. I stayed in a number of casa particulars, sometimes with the call ahead. In Trinidad, the system fell apart and they bici-Taxied me to a friend’s spot..who had lots of gates and locks..something I had not seen much of before.

    The blog for the trip in 2008


  2. […] OP truly is spectacular. I’d say it’s the most beautiful small colonial city we have been to–and we’ve seen our fair share. […]

  3. Lovely city Sancti Spirtus, I was there in 2012 and I found that it has much to offer. The bridge does remind me vaguely of Mostar, the modern parts are USSR and the ceiling of the church reminded me of Islamic Spain. Cuba never ceases to amaze jaded world travelers.I love it.Far from the USA.

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