Do you prefer to dance with pros, see award-winning art, or to run a marathon? The International Cuban Dance Festival, the Havana Biennial, and the Marabana Marathon are just some of the festivals and events exciting, diverse, and culturally rich Cuba hosts year after year. From book fairs to jazz festivals, and rambunctious carnivals, there is never a dull moment. To help travelers plan ahead, here is a guide to some of the most significant events in Cuba, from January through December.
The Havana Jazz Festival
The year of events starts with the famous Havana Jazz Festival, which just celebrated its 35th iteration. Cuban musician Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, better known as Chucho Valdés, is the artistic director of the festival, as well as president of the organizing committee. The festival combines outstanding jazz talent with up-and-coming artists in its showcase. Scheduled events take place across several concert halls in downtown Havana. However, impromptu performances also happen along the Malecón and other venues across the city. The 2020 event wrapped up earlier this year. The next rendition of the event will be on January 12th to the 17th, 2021.
Havana International Book Fair
The Havana International Book Fair is one of the most well-attended events in Havana. The hosting venue for the fair is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabaña, also known as La Cabaña. This 18th-century fortress sits on the eastern side of the Havana harbor. It is also next to the Morro Castle, forming the Morro-Cabaña Complex. The event gathers literary personalities, authors, and visitors alike. The event agenda also includes live performances, exhibits, and other well-attended events. Check back with us for 2021 dates.
The International Habanos Festival
Every year, the City of Havana welcomes visitors from all over the world to the Habanos Festival. Attendees range from connoisseurs and aficionados to celebrities and the curious. The event gathers exhibitors from major cigar companies and vendors for items like humidors and vintage collectibles. There is still time to join the ladies of Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars in the Cigar and Rum Tour, an all-inclusive 5-day/4-night program which includes a day at the festival. The International Habanos Festival will be held from February 24th to the 29th in 2020.
The Havana World Music Festival
The Havana World Music Festival is relatively new. It is organized by the Black Tears rum label, which targets the younger generations of Cubans and visitors. A fun fact is that the rum label bears the name of a popular 1020s song called Lágrimas Negras or black tears by Cuban musician and composer Miguel Matamoros. The music on offer at the festival is also a mixture of traditional and more modern music, ranging from jazz to funk and Afro-Cuban beats. The event will run from March 26th to the 28th, 2020.
International Cuban Dance Festival
The International Cuban Dance Festival brings together top teachers, students, and dance lovers for seven days of non-stop salsa and other rhythms such as bolero, reggaeton, and cha-cha-cha with parties and other festival-related events. The event offers a full schedule of classes and related activities. Students flock from all over the world to have the opportunity to train with the best Cuban instructors to develop or perfect their dance skills. This annual festival will take place from April 20th to April 26th, 2020, in the City of Havana.
The Havana Biennial
The event is a large-scale art gathering. It welcomes over 200 artists from many countries and cultures. It seeks to present and promote art. It is also a platform for emerging and established Cuban artists who get handpicked to participate in the festival. It is a phenomenal opportunity for art lovers, career artists, collectors, and gallery owners to explore this art collective, take in the diversity, and the value the exhibitors have to offer. The Havana Biennial only takes place every two years. The next Havana Biennial will run from April 17th to April 24th, 2021. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until 2021 to sample Cuban art. You may also want to consider a contemporary art tour of Havana, viewing classic and modern art in Havana, and meeting famous Cuban artist, Michel Mirabal.
Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament
This competitive fishing tournament was founded in the 50s by American author Ernest Hemingway. The competition is a recreational catch and release type of event, meaning that the fish are unhooked and returned to the water. Attendees and participants from up to 30 attend the event every year. Hemingway and now his granddaughter have both won the competition that takes place at the Hemingway International Yacht Club in Havana. The 70th Annual Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament will be taking place from June 8th to June 13th in 2020. If you would like to learn more about Hemingway’s life in Cuba during your stay at the tournament, you may also want to follow Hemingway’s steps in Havana with a guided excursion.
The Festival del Fuego
Also called Fiesta del Caribe or Festival del Fuego (Fire Festival), the festival takes place every year in the first weeks of July in the city of Santiago de Cuba. Speakers, guests, and musical groups from around the Caribbean participate in the event. Visitors can expect an exciting array of performances, including deejays, electronic music, and parades with vibrant costumes, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and street fairs celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture. On the last day of the festival, there is a massive parade in honor of Cuban culture and beliefs, which concludes with the burning of a giant devil statue. The event will take place from July 1st to July 7th in 2020.
Carnival of Santiago de Cuba
The carnival of Santiago de Cuba is the largest, most famous, and most traditional celebration in all of Cuba. It takes place towards the end of July. Santiago de Cuba is the second biggest city after Havana. The summer carnival started as a period to celebrate the times when the sugarcane harvest season ended. Today, the festival continues as a tradition. It is an explosion of color, contagious drum rhythms, and congas. The event will take place from July 18th to July 27th, 2020.
Carnaval de la Habana
The Carnaval de la Habana or Havana’s Carnival is one of the island’s oldest and most traditional events. Attendees experience a spectacular display of traditional to contemporary rhythms, dancing, conga lines, fanciful outfits, fireworks, and effigies. Parades are held all along the Malecón. The carnival dates back several centuries to when black slaves held collective marches and dances to commemorate the days of Corpus Christi and the Epiphany. Throughout the carnival’s history, the diversity and evolution of the Cuban culture have been a shaping factor for the celebration. The festival was once canceled during the Special Period in Cuba, during the nineties, but returned once the country’s financial situation improved. Check back with us for 2020 dates.
Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad
September is not a popular month for events in Cuba, given that it is at the height of hurricane season. One of the events held locally is the Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad. It usually starts on September 8th with a religious pilgrimage to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Cobre, close to Santiago de Cuba. This tradition honors Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (Lady of Charity), and her Yoruba counterpart, orisha Oshun.
The International Ballet Festival of Havana “Alicia Alonso.”
The Havana Ballet Festival is world renown and is Cuba’s most important ballet festival. Alicia Alonso, Cuba’s most famous and recognized prima ballerina, founded the festival in the 1960s. It is a gathering of dance companies from around the world, including the distinguished Cuban ballet companies. Venues hosting the event are the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro de La Habana, and the Teatro America. In addition to the ballet showcase, the agenda for the festival includes art exhibits, conferences, and other cultural affairs. The event only happens once every two years. The next festival will run from October 27th to November 3rd, 2020. Cuba is also the home for more contemporary dance companies, such as Habana Compás, which offers performances throughout the year.
The Marabana Marathon
The Marabana Marathon is the biggest in Cuba. The event welcomes locals and foreigners every year. Attendees can challenge themselves with a full marathon and a half marathon. The upcoming Marabana Marathon will be on November 22nd, 2020. Fitness travelers should take advantage of this opportunity to accomplish at least two things, meet fitness goals and take in the scenery. With a few extra days, travelers could visit essential Havana landmarks with a Havana highlights tour by day or an evening stroll through the historic center of Havana.
The Havana Film Festival, also known as the Festival of New Latin-American Cinema of Havana. This event draws thousands of professionals from the film industry each year, promoting the latent talent originating from Latin America and the Caribbean. Famous past attendees of the event include Spanish Director Pedro Almodóvar, actors and directors like Robert Redford and Francis Ford Coppola, and notables like Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Recipients of the awards receive a Premio Coral. The ceremony recognizes top talent in the categories of Best Feature Film – Fiction, Best Feature Film – Documentary, Short Film and Feature Film (Fiction and Documentary), Best Opera Prima, Best Animated Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Poster, Best Postproduction Editing, with other categories and awards for related roles.
Las Parrandas de Remedios
December also brings to Cuba Las Parrandas de Remedios, one of the country’s most high-spirited festivals! The Parrandas typically take place in the days before Christmas. Some of the events happening simultaneously across different cities and towns in Cuba include parades, celebrations, lights, music, and dancing. This festival is said to have started as a way to attract more churchgoers to mass before holidays in the old town of Remedios. Now several cities and towns in the country celebrate Las Parrandas and compete for who has the best and loudest celebration!
As you can see, there is a flurry of events taking place in Cuba throughout the year. To get there, you may want to consider working with an established and professional agency specializing in travel to Cuba, such as OnCuba Travel. Their team will help you with your travel needs and walk you through the requirements – such as visas – to flight bookings, airport transfers in Havana, and trusted accommodation options in hotels or private homes, and more.