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Catering to tourists in Sancti Spíritus
CubaNews / June 2007

By Larry Luxner

The colonial town of Trinidad, on Cuba’s south-central coast, is one of the island’s most-visited historic attractions.

But few relatively few tourists pass through Sancti Spíritus, capital of the province of the same name in which Trinidad is located.

Perhaps that’s why casas particulares — or private homes for rent to foreigners — are so cheap here.

For only $15 a night, you can stay in a clean room on the second floor of a building right off the main square of Sancti Spíritus. The place is owned by the Rodríguez family. Ricardo, 67, is a retired taxi driver who’s been doing this for 11 years; he has one room and his son, Ricardo Jr., rents out the other.

“I started off renting to Cubans, but one day a foreigner came, and since then, I’m renting to tourists,” explained the older Rodríguez.

“I have to pay the state $100 a month per room in taxes. This gives me enough to live on. At the end of the year, we also have to pay a 10% income tax,” he said. “We live well thanks to the casa particular.”

His only other major expense is the $10 a month he pays the government for a large sign out front that says “Rooms for Rent” in English.

Rodríguez’s wife, Hilda Rosa, is a 63-year-old retired schoolteacher who makes sure her guests have enough to eat. For a measly $3.00, Hilda Rosa will cook up a delicious breakfast consisting of fried eggs, bread, a tomato-and-cucumber salad, french fries, sweet bananas, papayas, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee.

In Sancti Spíritus, there are 13 such casas particulares, and their guests come mainly from Spain, Italy, Germany and Canada, in that order. They generally stay for one night on their way to the much more famous Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For those wanting something a little more upscale than a casa particular, there’s the Hotel Plaza, a two-star lodging right on the main square operated by state tourism agency Islazul. There’s also the Hotel Rancho Hatuey, 3 kms from the center of town.

But the best place to stay in Sancti Spíritus is the Hostal del Rijo, a charming establishment opened five years ago and run by Cubanacan. It has 76 rooms and rates are only $35 for a single, $40 for a double and $60 for a suite. It’s located in front of a lively shoe market that’s strictly for locals.

Sancti Spíritus has a long and interesting past, but don’t expect to get much help from local officials if you need any information.

María de los Angeles Jiménez, sales agent for Havanatur in Sancti Spíritus, offered us a few pamphlets on area hotels, referring all questions to the Ministry of Tourism office down the street, next to the Hostal del Rijo.

That turned out to be a waste of time. The ministry’s local delegate in Sancti Spíritus, Eloy R. Guerra, refused to give CubaNews the most basic of statistics — like how many hotel rooms the city has, or how many tourists visit per year.

When pressed for information, Guerra said he was preoccupied at the moment with more urgent matters and in any case was not authorized to give out confidential statistics.

He instructed us to e-mail him with any specific questions we might have, promising he would eventually get back to us.

We did. Three years later, we’re still waiting for an answer.

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