There’s something about warm sunny weather that can easily put you in the mood for a good festival. Whether it’s a celebration of music, dance, or food – there’s just something magical about wandering around in glorious weather while indulging your senses. This is why the wide variety of festivals in Cuba are just so darn enjoyable. To start with, there are rather a lot of them, and since it’s warm and sunny for most of the time, you don’t need to wait for the summer months to get your festival groove on. There are so many Cuban festivals on offer, that it can actually be difficult to decide which ones are worthy of your time. Not to worry – we’ve got you covered, and so let’s take a look at some of the best festivals on offer in Cuba.
1. It’s Carnival Time!
Rio de Janeiro might have the best known carnival in the world, but Cuba’s carnivals are better in so many ways. There are crowds, but you won’t feel like a sardine when you’re enjoying a Cuban carnival. There’s everything you would expect, with street floats, spontaneous dancing, and music everywhere. The biggest (and arguably best) carnival takes place in Santiago de Cuba in late July. If you still have carnival fever, then head straight to Havana afterwards. Their carnival starts in early August, almost immediately after the festivities in Santiago de Cuba come to an end.
2. Definitely Not Hollywood
There’s Cannes, Toronto, and Berlin, and yet one of the most remarkable film festivals in the world is one of cinema’s best kept secrets. The rustic town of Gibara is home to the annual “Festival of Poor Cinema,” a festival that showcases low budget independent movies. You’ll see weird and wonderful movies all produced on a shoestring budget – films that definitely won’t be competing with Hollywood blockbusters at your local cinema.
3. All That Jazz…
You wouldn’t necessarily associate jazz with an island paradise, but Cuba does it amazingly well. The Havana Jazz Festival is in fact one of the most popular festivals in Cuba, playing host to both local and international artists. Held each December in venues across the city, the festival is basically a celebration of all things jazz, and you can see dozens of performances during its four day run. There’s a lot of traditional jazz, as well as numerous artists who specialise in Afro-Cuban jazz, which is jazz intermingled with seductive Cuban beats.
4. Ballet in a Beautiful Building
Dance aficionados flock to Havana every two years for the ballet festival, held in the transcendent surroundings of the Great Theatre of Havana (Gran Teatro de La Habana). One of the few festivals in the world dedicated exclusively to ballet, it’s also the oldest, having been around since 1960. Dance companies from across the world perform in the festival, which is held in October and November. The next scheduled festivals will take place in 2016 and 2018.
5. A Brilliant Biennial
Not everything has to be a competition, although most global biennial art exhibitions seem to be. This is not the case with the Havana Biennial, which is amongst the most prestigious festivals in Cuba. It’s a non-competitive event, simply designed to showcase artworks from artists who are traditionally underrepresented on the the global stage. Artists from anywhere can submit work, although the festival places an emphasis on arts practitioners from Latin America and Africa. The festival is held roughly every two years, just like the ballet festival, although the months and years can change. The festival has experienced issues with funding in the past, although hopefully it will be around for many years to come.
6. Festivals in Cuba Can Be Magic
Cuba can be both figuratively and literally magical, especially if you happen to visit the town of Las Tunas in November. There’s an annual magic festival where both amateur and professional magicians from the world demonstrate their skills. It’s amazing that festivals in Cuba can involve watching a woman being cut in half, before you head outside to enjoy a cold mojito.
7. Theatre in Havana
Havana can come to resemble Broadway or the West End in October. The hottest tickets in town are for the Theatre Festival, a vibrant celebration of acting and stagecraft. Tickets are cheap, meaning many performances sell out rather quickly. It’s a truly international festival, so it’s not as though you need to speak Spanish in order to see a production that will be engaging and perhaps even haunting. The overall standards of the festival are high, so if you’re not able to get tickets for your first choice, why not take a chance on whatever still has available seats?
8. Light Up
No look at the best festivals in Cuba is complete without a celebration of cigars. Havana lights up each February for the annual Habanos Cigar Festival. “Habanos” is what the locals call Cuban cigars, and the festival is also a trade show. You might rub shoulders with professionals whose family have been making cigars for centuries, or dedicated cigar fans looking to stock up. There are all the expected activities, such as a look at the history of cigar making and tours of both major and boutique facilities, but the real joy of this festival is to sample the cigars themselves.