It won't take much more than a morning or afternoon to check out Sancti Spíritus's principal attractions. The old town is very untouristy and unassuming, and perfect for an easygoing stroll.

Calle Llano is the most atmospheric street in Sancti Spíritus, a bent-elbow cobblestone alleyway (one of the only remaining stone streets in town) of pastel-colored and tiled-roof houses. It's often very still, except for a few kids playing stickball. Puente Yayabo, the bridge over the river at the southern edge of the old town, is a 19th-century take on a European Romanesque stone bridge. Locals don't pause long enough to wonder whether a medieval-style bridge built in 1825, in a town not founded until well into the 16th century, looks odd or not; they bound over it at great speed, on bicycles, in horse-drawn wagons, and in 1950s Chevys on their way to and from the Colón residential district.

The main hub of life in Sancti Spíritus is Plaza Serafín Sánchez, a large public square with a handful of fine colonial buildings in various states of disrepair mixed in with bland modern constructions. It certainly doesn't qualify as one of Cuba's most attractive plazas, but it is perennially busy with cars buzzing around and people meeting up. One of the most notable edifices on the square, on the corner of Solano and Máximo Gómez, is the Biblioteca Provincial Rubén Martínez, an early-20th-century library that looks more like the local opera house. The main sights in town are a short walk south of here.


Perhaps Sancti Spíritus's most splendid colonial home, Museo de Arte Colonial, Plácido 74 at Jesús Menéndez (tel. 41/32-5455), is the city's standout attraction. The opulent former palatial mansion of one of Cuba's most elite families, the Valle-Iznaga clan, who fled Cuba after the Revolution, it became the property of the state in 1961. Ninety percent of what you see inside, from furniture to paintings, is original. Though the family obviously kept an impressive collection of Limoges porcelain, French gilded mirrors, Italian marble tables, and Baccarat crystal chandeliers here, this wasn't their primary residence; the house was used mostly to host family members in transit, so the furnishings were rather eclectic. The three bedrooms are decorated in grand style, though, with handmade lace, embroidered sheets, and hand-painted glass. Note the gorgeous and very Cuban leather sillón fumador (smoking chair) and, in the music room, the mid-18th-century American piano, one of only two of its type in Cuba. In the tearoom is the family seal, which says a lot about the arrogance of the rich and powerful: "El que más vale no vale tanto como Valle vale" ("He who has the greatest worth isn't worth as much as a Valle is worth" -- playing off the Spanish word for "worth" with the family surname). The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 8am to noon. Admission is CUC$2 with a guided tour in English, Spanish, or French; there is a fee of CUC$1 to take photos and taking video costs CUC$1.

Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espíritu Santo, Jesús Menéndez between Honorato and Agramonte, is one of the best-preserved colonial churches in Cuba and the oldest building in Sancti Spíritus. A small, faded blue church with a tall bell tower, the austere construction dates to 1680. The church's massive ceiling beams are impressive, as is the blue-and-yellow painted nave. Though the church is unlikely to wow most visitors, it is a quietly evocative, authentic colonial sight that recalls a day when Sancti Spíritus may have looked more like Trinidad. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 to 11am and from 2 to 5pm; admission is free.

If you have occasion to be north of downtown, take a peek at the curiosity that is the so-called Casa de los Refranes (House of Aphorisms). The bricks that make up the exterior of the modest roadside house are covered with hundreds of sayings and slogans, some banal and others philosophical (they look like graffiti, but they're actually baked in a ceramic-like process). The house belonged to Tomás Alvarez but since his death his niece opens the house, on Carretera Central just past the bus stop and up the road from Villa Los Laureles hotel, on Saturdays and Sundays.


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