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tips for experiencing the life and culture of this unique island nation  


Cuban Events

introduction *  when to go * things to do * events * getting there * getting around * food * history * attractions * music * cities * hotels

As you choose when to go to Cuba, it is worth considering a trip to coincide with one of the many Cuban events or festivals. In Cuba festivals and holidays are the best time to experience Cuban traditions and culture. As the authorities began to promote tourism in the mid-1990s, Cuban holidays and celebrations were encouraged as ways to attract visitors. Events like the International Festival of Latin American Film, held annually in December, have brought worldwide acclaim to Havana and Cuba.


The most famous of all Cuba festivals is the carnival at Santiago de Cuba, held annually from July 18 to 27. One of the most raucous of Cuban events the weeklong festival celebrates Cuban traditions dating back hundreds of years. Like many other Cuban festivals, the Santiago carnival began as a religious event: the saint day of Santiago (St. James) is July 25. The festivities became a time for celebration by Santiago’s slaves, who introduced some of the dance, music, and costumes still typical of the Santiago carnival. Over the years, the carnival incorporated elements of African, Spanish, French, and communist Cuban traditions and culture.

Today, the Santiago festival attracts visitors from across Cuba and around the world. The biggest celebrations are on the first day and last three days of the annual event. Hotels in Santiago are generally booked well in advance for the fiesta, so it best to make plans early. The Fiesta del Fuego (festival of fire) in early July, is another exciting Santiago festival.

Cuba’s capital city, Havana, has its own carnival. The second largest of all Cuba festivals, the carnival de la Habana takes place in late July and early August. Top bands and dancers from across the island perform in old Havana and join in lively parades down the historic El Malecon promenade.

Trinidad Way of the Cross

Another celebration of Cuban traditions takes place in the historic colonial town of Trinidad. The way of the cross procession winds through the cobbled streets, past centuries’ old churches and buildings. The Catholic celebration received new blessing from the Cuban authorities after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba and spoke critically of the U.S. embargo.

Cuban Holidays

In addition to local Cuban events, there are several Cuban holidays that are celebrated nationally. Many Cuban holidays commemorate events from Cuba’s revolutionary past. The largest of all Cuba holidays is Revolution Day (July 26), which commemorates Fidel Castro’s raid on the Batista dictatorship’s barracks in Santiago in 1953 and the birth of the revolutionary writer Jose Marti in 1853. Many towns on the island have large celebrations marking the date.

Other major Cuban holidays include Independence Day (May 20), the anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1902; Children’s Day (April 4); and New Years Day, the anniversary of the fall of the Batista regime in 1959. Travelers should note that many stores and government agencies are closed on Cuba during these national holidays.

OVERVIEW for your visit to Cuba:

introduction *  when to go * things to do * events * getting there * getting around * food * history * attractions * music * cities * hotels