Sancti Spiritus Cuba

Sancti Spiritus Cuba is located about 220 miles east of the capital city of Havana. One of the smaller cities in Cuba, it nevertheless has a rich history that attracts visitors curious about Cuba’s past. Part of the history of the town includes strong support for revolutionaries through the years, due to the fact that it is relatively small for a provincial capital, and thus it was often ignored or passed over by the various governments in power. During the 1956-1959 Cuban Revolution, the town contributed hundreds of loyal fighters to Che Guevara's division of the rebel army.

These days, Sancti Spiritus (Latin for Holy Spirit) is a charming colonial town that is a bit off the tourist beaten path, set on the banks of the Yayabo River. One of its important landmarks is a Roman-style stone bridge over that river, built in 1815. The bridge is almost 220 feet long with five graceful arches and is primarily for pedestrians, bicycle taxis, and horse-drawn carriages. Another landmark is the Parroquial Mayor (Grand Church), set in the town's main square. It was built in the early sixteenth century, and thus is the country's oldest church.

Founded in 1514, Sancti Spiritus Cuba is one of the oldest towns in the island nation, and one of the original seven cities founded by the Spanish. Its buildings are very well-preserved. In addition to the grand church, another striking historical structure is the Colonial Art Museum (Museo Arte Colonial), which is one of the town's grandest old mansions that once belonged to the region's richest family: The Valle-Ignaza family also settled in nearby Trinidad, which is much more visited by tourists.

Built in 1750, the opulent mansion boasts hundreds of enormous colonial doors built to let in as much light as possible. For this reason, it is often called "The House of a Hundred Doors." It became the property of the state after the Cuban Revolution (the family fled the country), and opened as a museum in 1967. The house is full of the wonderful antiques left behind by the fleeing family, including furniture, paintings, baccarat crystal, stained glass, handmade lace, and a grand 18th century piano from the United States. The Valle-Ignaza family was prominent in the island's sugar industry, and it's possible to visit their former sugar plantation and estate for cocktails. If you do, be sure to order the island's signature highballs: mojitos.

A stroll through the narrow cobbled streets of Sancti Spiritus Cuba is very rewarding, as there are hundreds of wonderfully preserved villas, mansions, and other buildings dating to the heyday of the sugar industry. Other things to do here include shopping at the colorful street market along Calle Llano. Only a few miles away is Presa Zaza, the largest lake (actually a reservoir) on the island, which is very popular for fishing. In 1980, one of the world's largest fish, the arapaima gigas, was introduced to the lake. Fishing, both leisure and commercial, is also an important activity on the reservoir. This is a living fossil and can reach a weight of up to 220 pounds and reach a length of more than eight feet. This is also a popular place for hunting wild fowl. For accommodations, pick a casa particular from one of the couple dozen in town, or try one of the four Sancti Spiritus hotels.

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