9 Cuban festivals you don’t want to miss!
When festival time begins in Cuba, politics, poverty and international differences give way to passionate music, dancing and the artistry of the celebration. Cubans love to celebrate and why not? They are good at it!
In Cuba, the Festival has reached an art form. If you can time your visit to Cuba during one of the annual celebrations, you are likely to have an unforgettable trip. What a great way to better understand Cuba’s compelling culture than to share their music, passion for dance and amazing creative talent.
And, if your trip does not coincide with a Festival, fear not because in Cuba every Saturday night is Fiesta de la Cubanía, a celebration where dancers team up with Bayamo’s general population for an unparalleled neighborhood block party. This long-standing Saturday evening celebration is unlike any other Saturday festivities in Cuba. Enjoy a pig-roast, homemade snacks brought by partiers and the very special ostiones, an oyster concoction that gives added pep to the lively street organs.
1 – Fiesta de la Toronja (March) – Famous for its citrus plantations, Isla de la Juventud celebrates the annual grapefruit harvest with this Nueva Gerona party. Watch out for the free flowing guachi (grapefruit schnapps)!
2 – Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre (April) – It’s not Cannes or even Hollywood but if you like low budget films by low-budget directors, this festival on the seaside town of Gibara will keep you entertained. The week long Cine Pobre film festival was the brainchild of famed Cuban director Humberto Solasn and launched to full crowds in 2003.
3 – Día de los Trabajadores (May 1) – Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución revs into high pitch with military parades and speeches by leaders on the national holiday honoring “Workers Day.” Extravagance rules the day and you are forgiven for forgetting the financial plight of the people. No one listens to complaints on May 1st.
4 – Jornada Cucalambeana (late June) – Just outside unpretentious Tunas at Motel Cornito at Motel Cornito, the former residence of Cuba’s country-music king Juan Fajardo ‘El Cucalambé, Cuba’s faithful assemble each year in late June to honor their long history with fantastic country music,. Marked by poignant and often humorous 10-line décimas. This special festival is not in peak season but well worth a trip to witness.
5 – Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba (July) – Also just a bit out of season but always magnetic, Santiago de Cuba’s Carnaval is a personal favorite for Dave and Yordi. Partygoers describe the festivities as a cross between New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. If you like Festivals, this one will not disappoint. Great costumes, terrific music and glorious Santiago hospitality. This is one colorful Festival that is best to come early and stay late. Always held the last week in July, book your flight accordingly. The open air grandstand along Av Garzon will be constantly entertained by wonderful floats, lots of rum and loads of rumba dancing!
6 – Festival Internacional ‘Habana Hip-Hop’ (August) – The Habana Hip Hop Festival is the project of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, a youth wing of Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (Uneac; Union of Cuban Writers and Artists). It is an energetic, ambitious opportunity for Cuba’s many youthful creative artists to the interact and exchange creative processes. Lots of flair, lots of new sounds.
7 – Fiestas de los Bandas Rojo y Azul (November) – The Ciego de Ávila settlement of Majagua divides into two teams, the red team and the blue team. The teams then compete against each other in a fascinating and intense dance and music competition with many different contest. Great fun!
8 – Festival Internacional de Jazz (November) – The sounds of this Festival are uniquely Cuban but might seem somewhat familiar as different strands of international music is adapted to Cuban themes. Intrinsically linked to Cuban jazz maestro, Chucho Valdés, the festival is staged in the Karl Marx, Mella and Amadeo Roldán theaters in Havana. Performers come from all corners of the world to help create unforgettable concerts.
9 – Las Parrandas (December 24) – The last Festival on the annual calendar is filled with fireworks, terrific costumes. It is Christmas, New Years and Carnival wrapped in one blanket. Set in Las Parrandas, this is the one day of the year that the colonial façade comes to life in a monumental celebration of life.