Cuba has beautiful beaches, but when I was there, I think I preferred spending time in its beautiful colonial cities. And I fell in love with Remedios. It is the kind of place that makes you want to take your time and sit down to watch people go by.
Remedios is a small town of just over 40,000 inhabitants located in the province of Villa Clara, in the center of the country. Remedios proudly proclaims itself Cuba’s eighth-oldest city (although many historians believe that it was founded in 1513, making it actually the second-oldest city in the country after Baracoa).
Remedios celebrated its 500th anniversary a few years ago and the city took the opportunity to restore its colonial buildings and its beautiful public square. With its tranquil air, its colorful houses and its old yellow churches, Remedios almost look like a smaller version of Trinidad, with a small difference however: tourists are still rather rare here.
What is there to see in Remedios? The main attraction of the city is without doubt its church. The Church of St. John the Baptist (Parroquia de San Juan Bautista) is not quite the oldest in the country (this honor goes to the Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo in Sancti Spiritus), but it is probably one of the best known in Cuba.
Built in 1550, the church of San Juan Bautista has a magnificent gold-plated altar. since the city was completely at the mercy of pirate raids in the 16th century, the altar was painted white to hide the gold and prevent it to being stolen. The gold under the layers of paint was only rediscovered in the 1940s. The altar has since been restored to its former splendor.
The church is also worth visiting for its magnificent carved ceiling from Spain. The various statues found there are also from Spain and are among the oldest in the whole country.
Remedios has another church (the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Buen Viaje), which was closed for restauration during our visit. In front, there is a small market and a beautiful big rock statue called La Libertad.
Remedios is also known for its Las Parrandas festival at Christmas, one of Cuba’s oldest celebrations. It seems that on December 24th the city goes berserk and transforms into a joyful chaos of costumes, floats and fireworks. Unfortunately for us, December is still a long way off, and we had to content ourselves with exploring the city while the pace was a little slower.
But we didn’t mind. In fact, this is the main reason why I enjoyed visiting Remedios. It feels good to hang out there. We took advantage of our visit to have a drink at El Louvre, which apparently is the oldest bar in the country, and we had lunch in one of the beautiful restaurants around the public square.
Then we went to sit on one of the benches of the public square and we let time slip by. And for me, this moment was more worth it than all those spent at the beach of Cayo Santa Maria not far away.
Remedios is located about an hour from Santa Clara and 45 minutes from the touristy area of Cayo Santa Maria. A taxi from Cayo Santa Maria costs about 40 CUC.