San Juan is the patron saint of Santiago de Cuba and on June 24th San Juan Day is celebrated. On this day, the people of Camagüey dress up. They make traditional food like Ajiaco and empanadas then dance the day and night away. This celebration is called the Carnival of San Juan Camagueyano and it’s a must see!
The celebrations have changed a lot from their chaotic origins in the 1700s! Back then bonfires, horse races and torchlight pilgrimages through the province were common.
Los Paseos of the Carnival of San Juan
The parades, or “paseos,” celebrate the cattle ranching traditions of the area. In June, cattle were brought into the city to be sold, and a carnival was held to mark the occasion. This carnival became known as the Carnival of San Juan Camagüeyano.
Over time, the parade has evolved so much. Nowdays it includes vintage cars, colourful costumes, congas, and comparsas, (groups of singers, musicians, and dancers). The procession winds through the maze of city streets, culminating at Plaza de la Caridad. Ending in front of the Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, symbolizing the festival’s Christian and secular origins.
On the last final day a mannequin of San Pedro is buried in a symbolic ceremony that includes a funeral procession. One which is made more dramatic by the “weeping widows” who follow his ‘funeral’ carriage. It all culminates in the mannequin being set on fire. This ritual is for the cleansing the community and bringing economic prosperity.
The Carnival of San Juan Camagüeyano is a must-see spectacle! To get the most out of the festival, go with a local guide or Cuban friends. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience.