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!
Legal Travel to Cuba from the U.S.
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.
6 Non-News Related Things Cuba is Known For
Cuba has been the subject of news coverage for many reasons, such as current events, travel policy changes, and its administration. There is so much more the island of Cuba has to offer. Much more than what many of us may have seen in the media. Have you ever wondered about where Cuba’s cuisine gets its influence from or how its popular salsa music came about? Are you curious to learn more and see Cuba as it stands today?
The city of Havana recently celebrated its 500th Anniversary! This celebration was a milestone that not many cities in the American continent are close to reaching. Havana has undoubtedly seen a lot since its beginnings. There is certainly more to it than headlines and travel policy changes!
Get to know a different side of Cuba. We should also know Cuba for the warmth of its people, its history, its culture, the history behind its food, and many other reasons that make Cuba a unique place to visit. From its majestic Capitolio building to its vintage cars, jovial music, and historical past, Cuba has something for everyone to explore. Let’s go over six of the highlights Cuba is known for and why it continues to be a great place to visit.
Cuba is known worldwide as one of the top producers of fine cigars and tobacco. The City of Havana opens its doors every year for the International Habanos Festival. Aficionados, connoisseurs, industry professionals, and visitors fly in every year to attend the festival. Even if you are not a smoker, the Habano culture is fascinating. Get an Insider’s Look At Cuba Through Rum & Habanos.
During a visit, I also had the opportunity to tour a cigar factory in Havana. It was fascinating to see how methodical the process is and how each one of the expert cigar rollers has honed their craft. Learning about the different vitolas or cigar shapes is very interesting. Lighting a cigar also requires careful handling to get the most flavor.
Habanos can also pair well with smoked meats, mature cheeses, nuts, chocolate, and even tomato-based pasta dishes! To learn more about the types of cigars, pairings, and more, check out the blog A Constellation of Cuban Cigars Part 1 and Part 2. If you would like to visit Cuba and attend the Habanos Festival in February, contact OnCuba Travel for more details.
2. Salsa Dancing
Traditional Cuban dances originated in the outskirts of the city with the son. This dance started as a cross-pollination between the African influence in Cuba and Caribbean vibes. Today, Cuba is not only known for its vibrant music, but also for hosting dance festivals, such as the annual Festival de La Salsa and the Habana Ballet Festival. Dancers, students, teachers, and in general, those who have a passion and a joy for dance attend to learn from Cuban dance experts.
For those of us who are not experts, but just enjoy shaking our bones occasionally, there is something for us too. Whether by visiting the Callejon de Hamel, attending a street festival, or watching Compás Dance Company, there are many reasons and zero excuses not to dance in Cuba. The rhythms are contagious, and the light breeze, plus maybe a daiquiri or two, makes for a fun foray in Havana. If you prefer just to sit back and enjoy a Vegas-style performance, you may also want to visit the famous Tropicana Cabaret or the Parisien Cabaret.
3. Mojitos & Daiquiris
Cuba is known as the birthplace of the famous Mojito and the Daiquiri. One of the famous quotes credited to acclaimed American author Ernest Hemingway is, “My mojito in La Bodeguita. My daiquiri in El Floridita.” These two rum-based drinks are popular across the globe and have special meaning in Cuba. La Bodeguita and El Floridita are both in Havana, Cuba, at a walking distance from each other. La Bodeguita is a tiny spot, full of memorabilia, vintage photos, and the names of some of its many visitors scribbled on its walls. The Floridita, on the other hand, has a long bar and a slightly larger than life statue of Ernest Hemingway at the end of the bar. It’s a great spot for fun pictures with Hemingway while sipping an authentic Cuban daiquiri.
Cuba is also known for being home to Havana Club Rum. The Rum Museum in Havana offers a memorable guided tour. Part of the tour covers the history of rum-making in Cuba, as well as a film documentary viewing with more interesting facts.
Rice and beans for you? Oh, but there is so much more than that. Cuban food has a fusion of Spanish, African, Caribbean, and other international flavors. Some of the most famous Cuban dishes are of course the Arroz con Moros (Rice and beans), lechón (Pork, especially if cooked inside a Caja China), yuquitas con mojo (By far, one of my favorites), and for dessert, the traditional flan with caramel sauce.
While on the island, the options for food and dessert are plenty. It’s helpful to know the difference between a restaurant and what Cubans know as the Paladar. A Paladar is a privately-owned restaurant, as opposed to a government-owned establishment. Some of my top choices in Havana are Doña Eutimia for traditional Cuban cuisine and El Cocinero for fusion cuisine.
El Cocinero is also a top recommendation due to its ambiance and décor. The Paladar has a beautiful rooftop in eclectic style. It is also located just around the corner from the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a mixed-use space, club, and art gallery – all rolled up into a unique people-watching experience.
5. Vintage Cars
Cuba is known for its famous vintage cars! Today many of these roam freely across the Cuban capital, driving visitors across the famous Malecón de La Habana. Agencies such as OnCuba Travel, offer panoramic tours in classic cars in Havana. This experience is a must when visiting Cuba. The vintage cars are a real car lover’s delight.
Even if you are not a car lover, seeing so many of these beautifully preserved cars is an experience on its own. During a visit, I made it a point to take as many pictures as possible of all the different models and colors I saw. My favorite was a two-door red car that looked like a Porsche. The vintage vehicles also photograph beautifully and will certainly be the focus of many clothing-coordinated pictures during a visit to Cuba.
6. Nostalgic Architecture
Going to Havana is like stepping back in time. Many of the buildings in Havana still have a coat of their original paint, which gives the city charm and an air of nostalgia. When visiting Cuba, it’s essential to walk the sites and tour places of interest with a professional guide. Excursions such as Havana Highlights, are led by an expert guide. This type of package allows you to visit the top sites in Havana, such as the Morro-Cabaña Complex, El Cristo de La Habana, the Vedado district, Plaza de la Revolución, the Cristobal Colón Cemetery, and many other essentials.
If you count with a little more time and want to make a long weekend out of a visit, you can also explore the Cuba At A Glance itinerary. This 3-day/2-night all-inclusive program includes a tour of Old Havana, a farm-to-table dining experience, and even the chance for casual dancing at the Callejón de Hamel. The convenience of this type of program is that flights, transfers, and most meals are taken care of for the duration of the trip. The other plus is that this and other multi-day and multicity programs have been carefully curated by experts who ensure that all travelers experience Cuba like locals. Another added benefit is that the all-inclusive programs include a local guide to make sure that visitors see and understand every step in the itinerary.
Are you ready to visit Cuba?
Some of the requirements for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba legally include a visa/travel card, a valid passport, one of the 11 approved reasons for travel, and an itinerary that aligns with your chosen legal category for travel. Let a professional agency, such as OnCuba Travel, help simplify the process by gathering your documents and making the experience to travel to Cuba easy!
professionals at OnCuba can also help you select from your bucket list to prepare the ideal itinerary to meet your schedule, interests, and budget best.
What are you waiting for to visit Cuba?
Cuba is a unique destination with great things to see and experience. Cuban people are warm, helpful, and very hospitable. Start putting your ideas together today and speak to a travel expert to book your first or next trip to Cuba. If this is your first time visiting, don’t worry. The team at OnCuba will provide you with helpful tips to prepare for the trip. They will also make available educational materials about the destination that will help you know what to expect. Make sure to pack comfortable shoes if your trip involves a lot of walking and, of course, a sense of wonder. See you in Cuba!
Something to Love in Cuba This February
Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching! Do you know what you will be doing to celebrate? Maybe you are planning a romantic dinner or a special gift. Why not spend Valentine’s weekend exploring Cuba? Whether you are planning a romantic Valentine’s Day getaway or would like a few days to explore or see something new, there is something for everyone this February in Cuba!
Cuba has no shortage of beautiful skies, enchanting views, romantic sunsets, and delightful cuisine. It is also an ideal place for dancing to the beat of salsa or contagious tumbadora drums. It is also perfect for getting lost, walking down the streets of beautiful Old Havana, and making memories that will last a lifetime. You may also want to check out the blog 10 Most Romantic Things to Do While in Cuba for more great ideas!
Something is always happening in Cuba, and February is no exception. Amongst the highlight events coming up next month are the Havana International Book Fair and the International Habanos Festival. These events usually draw visitors from all over the world to La Habana. In this blog, learn more about these essential annual festivals, as well as other activities you can explore with your loved ones or special someone in Cuba. There is something for everyone.
Cuba for Book Lovers
If you and your main squeeze share a love for literature, you may want to visit the Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana. Also known as the Havana International Book Fair, this event draws an international crowd to the Cuban capital every year. The festival welcomes vendors, publishers, international authors, and book lovers. Activities around the festival include art exhibits, children’s events, musical performances, and poetry readings, amongst others.
This year, the Havana International Book Fair will be taking place from February 6th – 16th, 2020. Literacy is of utmost importance to Cubans, and they take great pride in it. The festival had its beginnings in 1982. It was initially held every other year but has been an annual event since the year 2000. The fair has been drawing an international crowd ever since. It also one of the most well-attended events in Havana.
The hosting venue for the event 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 Cabaña fort is also the grounds for the traditional Cañonazo or Cannon Ceremony. The ceremony is held nightly at the site. It involves a group of soldiers dressed in 18th-century garb who march inside La Cabaña with torches. Once at the top, bayside, the group fires a fake cannonball at 9 pm.
Back when the tradition started, the ceremony marked the closing of the city gates for the evening. The Morro-Cabaña Complex is one of my favorite places to explore in Havana. I enjoyed the drive towards it, as well as the daytime and evening views of the City of Havana. It was also interesting to learn how the city grew from the area around the harbor to the sides. Participating in an excursion with an agency, such as OnCuba Travel, has the advantage of getting to know the city with a knowledgeable guide. A guided tour is the best way to gain insights for every important landmark, such as the Morro-Cabaña Complex, as well as other historical facts.
You may also know that Cuba was near and dear to the famous American author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula, Finca Vijía, still stands today. Three of the author’s famous works, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and The Sea, and A Movable Feast, were said to have been written in this house. The estate has been turned into a museum and is open to the public. Although direct access to the home and tower interior is not available, many windows are open to peek into the life and world of the sometimes-eccentric author.
Many are the stories of skinny dipping in his pool, wild parties, and celebrity guests. Hemingway’s famous boat, Pilar, also sits in the back of the house today. Follow Hemingway’s steps by visiting the famous La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana. Walk down Obispo Street to El Floridita, home of the daiquiri, and enjoy the Papa Hemingway Cocktail. Tour the town of Cojímar and enjoy a traditional Cuban lunch in the rustic Café Ajiaco. Follow in Hemingway’s footsteps and feel inspired.
Cuba is for Cigar Lovers
If cigars are your passion, join the thousands that visit Cuba every year to attend the Festival Internacional del Habano in Havana. This annual event is a gathering of visitors, connoisseurs, aficionados, exhibitors, and trade professionals. In addition to cigars, attendees can also expect to see humidors, expert cigar rollers, special tastings, pairings, and classes. Exhibits may also include market premiers during the festival, music performances, and special artifact exhibits. Other special events include behind the scenes tours of cigar factories and even guided visits to tobacco farms.
This year, the festival will be taking place from February 6th – 16th in Havana. You can visit the festival multiple days or choose an all-inclusive program like the Cigar & Rum Tour by OnCuba Travel. The tour includes roundtrip tickets Miami – Havana, accommodations in a hotel or private home, tickets for one day at the festival, visits to Viñales and Varadero, as well as stops in multiple Casa del Habano shops across the city. What better way to relax and enjoy the festival than when every detail is taken care of for you?
If you prefer to take a short excursion instead, you can also look up a Cuban rum, cigars, and art experience. Over this four-hour excursion, you will learn about the history of rum, tour an authentic cigar factory, and take a panoramic tour of modern Havana. You will also experience culture and art with a stop at the Kcho Gallery and a visit to the famous and colorful Callejón de Hamel. The Callejón, which translates to an alleyway, lights up with a diverse crowd dancing to the beat of live music. The setting is pure creativity and artistry. It goes from poetry on the walls to unusual art pieces in every nook and cranny.
Cuba is for Art Lovers, Too!
Cuba’s art scene is thriving! With so much history and culture, Cuba is a fertile ground for talent and creativity. During a visit, you could meet established artists such as Michel Mirabal, discover up and coming artists in their studios, or visit art collectives. Take advantage of a unique opportunity to get to know artist Michel Mirabal while in Cuba. The artists open the doors to his home and his studio/gallery for an unforgettable experience. Michel’s warm, friendly, and welcoming personality will make you feel right at home. His compound sits on a hilltop with views to the beach. During the experience, Michel may play the drums, cook, entertain with his stories, or even create art during the visit! He is undoubtedly a genuinely multifaceted artist and a gifted human being.
If you would like to deepen your understanding of the Cuban art scene, you may also want to take a contemporary art tour of Havana. Experience up close the influences that make Cuban art come alive. Walk around the National Museum of Fine Arts and visit artists’ in their studios. Get a little closer to works by Kevin López Nieves, Mabel Poblet, Flora Fong, Jorge Otero, and Octavio Irving. Pedro Pablo Oliva, one of the most outstanding creators in the Cuban art scene for more than four decades, is also part of this contemporary tour. His work incorporates masterful technique, depth, surrealism, and whimsy.
If you would like to learn more about art programs on the island, you may also want to consider visiting the Muraleando Community Art Project. This program was created with the mission to teach children about art and music. As part of the project, artists also dedicate their time to teach children how to make art with the option to sell it. Learn more about this initiative, which is part of the Classic and Modern Art excursion in Havana.
Legal Travel to Cuba
U.S. citizens can still travel to Cuba under one of the 11 approved reasons for travel. One of the most popular reasons is Support for the Cuban People. In addition to that, travelers will also need a valid passport and a visa/tourist card. One crucial factor to consider is that travelers also need to have available an agenda with their plans during their stay. The schedule, accommodation information, and other details may be solicited at the airport as a requirement to enter the country.
OnCuba Travel Can Help
International travel can be a bit of a hassle for anyone! However, working with an experienced agency like OnCuba Travel can take a massive weight off your shoulders. Since their area of specialty is Cuba, their travel experts are well-versed in the latest updates regarding legal travel to Cuba. The agency can also help travelers select from many choices for accommodations. A variety of hotels and trusted private homes are available. The options range from 5-star hotels with white-glove service to simple, private rooms in a local family’s home. There are many options by location, group size, taste, and budget. The team can also support you and your party to book transfers and car rental services to and from the airport in Havana. The clock is ticking! Let your heart take you to Cuba this February.
Discovering Cuban Food in Cuba
Cubans enjoy the experience of cooking and sharing with others. It is ingrained in their culture that where two can eat, so can three. Food and cooking are at the center of a lot of their interactions, whether it is about spending time with family, friends, and even in more professional settings. Cuba is generous to share its cuisine with the world. It hosts various large-scale events throughout the year that range from workshops such as the Taller Culinario Cuba Sabe to festivals such as Culinaria.
Cuba is a bona fide destination for foodies and those who just want to learn how to make Cuban dishes in its authentic Cuban setting. Eateries abound in the Cuban capital of Havana. Across the various offerings, one can appreciate the blends of styles and influences that played a role in developing what is known today as Cuban Cuisine. In this blog, we will explore the origins of popular Cuban staples, what they are today, and how anyone can take part in the joys of learning more about Cuban Cuisine.
A Brief History of Food Arrivals in Cuba
Just as it is with culture, Cuba has Spanish, African, Taino, and Caribbean cuisine influences. Although Spanish and African were the biggest influences in Cuban, it also had influences from the Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, and French cuisine. We must remember that Havana was a trading port during the colonial era. Many immigrants passed through the island, starting with the discovery of Cuba in 1492. The largest groups were the Spanish, the African, and later the Chinese. All brought with them a variety of plants, animals, spices, cooking techniques, and more, which contributed to what is known as Cuban food today.
Early Cuban inhabitants were Taino natives. They had an organic style of living and sourced their food by hunting, gathering, and fishing. Their crops included maize, black beans, cassava, and yams. Upon the arrival of the Spanish, a vast majority succumbed to new diseases and forced labor. The Spanish brought with them their ingredients too. Citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges, arrived in Cuba during this time, as did Spanish rice. Amongst the animals to enter during colonial times were pigs and cattle. You will find that both sources are still palpably present across Cuban cuisine today!
African groups were then brought to Cuba as slaves to perform hard labor in mines and plantations. Although they were not able to bring much with them to Cuba, they did bring their ingenuity and cooking styles, using ingredients like okra, plantains, and cassava. After the abolishment of slavery during the late 1800s, there was an influx of Chinese laborers on the island. At the time, Chinese immigrants took on the work that was formerly done by African slaves. Amongst the elements brought by the Chinese were rice and soy sauce. Since then, rice has been a staple in Cuban cuisine.
Around the time of the Cuban revolution in the 1960s, Cubans changed the way they ate once again. Many chefs and restaurant owners also fled the island, giving way to more simple foods and methods of preparing them. As relationships grew closer with the Soviet Union, products like yogurt and wheat came into the Cuban diet, giving way to foods like pasta and pizza. The time during the Cold War also played a role in the availability of goods for Cubans, since they could not import from the U.S. It is the reason why today there is very little U.S. influence on Cuban food.
Popular Cuban Staples & Dishes
Cuba’s climate and soil have played a role in what we have come to know as the Cuban staples. Tropical fruits, such as pineapples, and root vegetables, such as yucca, boniato, and malanga, are widely used in the Cuban diet. Anyone who knows a real Cuban has likely heard that malanga – whether boiled, creamed, or mashed – helps relieve many ailments! Rice and bananas are other popular staples.
Combinations of root vegetables and fruits such as yucca, pumpkin, plantain, and boniato are sometimes called viandas and used together in soups and stews. The traditional Ajiaco Cubano has such a combination of viandas. This dish is said to have been around since before the Spanish arrived in Cuba. The combination of ingredients, including the viandas, have changed throughout history to what it is today — a hearty dish served with corn in a generous bowl.
A ubiquitous dish for Cubans is Arroz congrí, also known as Moros y Cristianos. It consists of mixed black beans and rice. This dish is a combination of the rice that came from the Spanish and African cooking techniques. Congrí is often a side dish. Other popular sides include cut and fried plantains, plain white rice, and a simple salad with olive oil. One popular Cuban side dish, tostones, are made with plantains that are flattened and fried. Tostones resulted from the African influence in Cuba.
Chicken is a popular base for many Cuban dishes. One typical chicken-based dish in Cuba for gatherings is Arroz con Pollo. Most families have their way of making this creamy chicken and rice dish. The essential ingredients are chicken thighs, peas, and red peppers, with salt, garlic, and pepper to taste. The chicken comes out very tender. The dish often gets its yellow coloring from an annatto-based food powder. Do not ask me why, but I tend to add ketchup to mine! The well-known Fricasé de Pollo is popular too. The ingredients may vary from place to place, but the essential checklist for the Fricasé includes chicken, potatoes, tomato puré, white wine, oil, and other spices to taste.
Another prevalent dish in Cuban cuisine is the traditional Ropa Vieja, which translates to old clothes. This dish combines shredded beef and a sauce consisting of natural meat juices, onions, and garlic. Another famous meat-based dish is Picadillo. It often consists of ground meat with olives, peppers, and raisins. Note that all recipes may vary by the cook or chef, who tends to add their flavor to every recipe.
Some of you may have also heard about the famous Caja China, which translates to the Chinese Box. This style of cooking inside a box was influenced by the Chinese, as they used to cook inside wooden boxes. Cubans then adopted the Caja China. It is still widely used today to cook pork, as it leaves the skin crispy and the meat tender.
Although Cuban food does not generally employ a lot of spices or spicy condiments, Cubans do enjoy their sauces and bases, such as the sofrito. It consists of chopped peppers, onions, and tomatoes, or tomato paste, all lightly fried in olive oil. Cubans also make a sauce called Mojo. Mojo (p. moho) is a combination of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Sometimes the garlic is lightly fried first. The sauce is poured over root vegetables like boiled yucca or to dip fried yuca bits. To learn more about traditional Cuban dishes, visit the Essential Guide to Eat Food Like a Cuban.
Cooking Classes in Cuba
If you would like to learn how to make a Cuban Mojito and Ajiaco, there is a great excursion you can take! Out in the fishing town of Cojímar, in the outskirts of Havana, rests Café Ajiaco. It is a rustic place, with wooden chairs and ceilings, clay bowls, and authentic Cuban flavor. The staff at this establishment is very attentive and welcoming. During a visit to Café Ajiaco, travelers can put on their aprons and learn how to make authentic dishes such as Ajiaco Cubano, Ropa Vieja, Enchilado de Langosta y Camarones, Black Beans, and White Rice. This chef guided cooking exploration will also leave participants with a background of Cuban Cuisine, ingredients used, and how food became such an essential part of the Cuban culture.
The experience also includes a welcome beverage and a demonstration on how to prepare a Mojito Ajiaco, the house signature drink. This traditional Cuban cocktail combines the right amounts of honey, aged rum, mint, and soda water. It is then garnished with ají chai. Participants also receive an apron as a souvenir to remember the experience.
If your main goal is to sample delicious cuisine in Cuba, you can also try a Farm-to-table experience. A restaurant paladar called Mediterráneo Habana was the first to introduce the farm-to-table experience in Havana. This style of cooking fosters to use of organic and locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant’s ambiance resembles an al-fresco dining experience. The menu excels in flavorful meats and cheeses, delicious sauces, and superb desserts. To learn more about culinary adventures in Cuba, contact the knowledgeable team at OnCuba Travel to find the right gastronomic match for your palate.
Preparing A Custom Trip to Cuba
Cooking is just one of many exciting activities you can do while visiting Cuba and an often-overlooked one! Cuban food is very flavorful. If you would like to learn more about how to plan a custom trip to Cuba around your interests, contact the knowledgeable team at OnCuba Travel. They can assist you with planning and agenda full of activities like Havana vintage car tours across Old Havana and the historic Malecón de la Habana.
Another daylong or half-day excursion could be about discovering Havana Highlights. Over 3.5 hours, you could explore el Cristo de la Habana and its scenic hilltop views, the historic Cementerio de Cristobal Colón in Havana and its famous marble sculptures, tour the landmark Malecón, view the city and the bay from the Tres Reyes del Morro Castle, and more. Travelers may also enjoy visiting the best of Cuban rum, cigars, and art with a carefully curated 4-hour excursion. There is something for everyone.
The knowledgeable team at OnCuba Travel can help you select the best itinerary for your schedule and budget. They can also help you plan legal travel from the U.S. and Cuba. The team can facilitate getting your visa to travel to Cuba, selecting your reason for travel, booking roundtrip flights to Cuba from Miami and other cities, renting a car for pickup at the airport in Havana, and so much more. OnCuba Travel also takes great care in educating travelers before a trip with informational materials based on their selected excursions or all-inclusive programs in Cuba. They go the distance to give travelers exceptional customer service and enjoyable overall travel experience. Learn more about OnCuba Travel to start planning your first or next trip to Cuba.
All That Jazz in Havana
Growing up multicultural, it became very evident early on know how important music is to Cubans. There was never a birthday party or holiday celebration without music during my winter visits to Miami. My big Cuban family always managed to work in dancing and celebration into everything they did. As I have become more familiar with Cuban culture, I also have a better understanding of how important culture and education is to Cubans.
Cuba has an endless supply of talent in the realm of culture, especially when it comes to music and art. Music for Cubans is second nature. Whether it’s Afro-Cuban Jazz, Salsa, or Punto Guajiro, there is always a form of foot-tapping taking place. In Cuba, it is widespread to find street musicians playing a single instrument or an ensemble playing a full set alongside stilt walkers at one of Havana’s famous squares. In honor of the upcoming Havana Jazz Festival, in this blog, I’ll share with you a little more about the history of Afro-Cuban Jazz.
Beginnings of Afro-Cuban Jazz
Afro-Cuban Jazz is considered one of the earliest forms of Latin Jazz. In the beginning, Afro-Cuban Jazz was more popular in the United States than in Cuba. Sources say that both Jazz in Cuba and Afro-Cuban Jazz in the U.S. developed parallel to each other. Some of the early adaptations of Afro-Cuban Jazz went down in history as originating in New York.
Mauro Bauzá and his band, Machito and his Afro-Cubans, are considered pioneers of the genre. The group adopted the musical style in the 1940s. Bauzá’s band also received credit for the first Afro-Cuban Jazz single called “Tangá.” The song has several musical improvisations. Because the genre originated during the time of segregation in the U.S., the band often received requests to remove Afro-Cuban from their references. They always declined the requests and preferred not to play at these venues. The catalysts of Afro-Cuban Jazz, however, date further back.
Slave owners were afraid their slaves would start uprisings, so they were allowed music as recreation. Many may not know that once slavery became abolished in Cuba during the late 1800s, many black Cubans migrated to New Orleans, LA, in the United States. During a period, people could also commute between Havana and New Orleans by ferry. This exchange originated many musical collaborations and blending of sounds.
Some of the instruments used for earlier Afro-Cuban Jazz were the drums and the bongo. Later, through more exchanges, other instruments like the congas and saxophone were added. Rhythms for Afro-Cuban Jazz come from the clave, which is a rhythmic pattern, and the habanera, the first written music rhythmically based on an African motif. The habanera has been credited to Cuban musician Miguel Failde and dates back to the late 1800s. Cuban motifs were incorporated in African-American music when the habanera gained international popularity during the 19th century.
Cuban Jazz, meanwhile, was also forming in Cuba during the 1920s. In the beginning, the bands played North American Jazz and popular Cuban music. The first contributor to the Afro-Cuban Jazz movement was a band called Irakere. Amongst its members were pianist Chucho Valdéz who served as director, and Paquito D’Rivera, a saxophonist who also served as Assistant Director.
An interesting fact is that some of the members of Irakere did not like the mix of Afro-Cuban elements and Jazz. They felt they were covering up their real love for Jazz. Other famous Cuban jazz musicians include pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist Tony Martinez, drummer Dafnis Prieto, and award-winning Afro-Cuban jazz singer Daymé Arocena.
If you would like to learn more about the African influence in Cuba, you may want to consider an Afro-Cuban Cultural Immersion Tour. This 5-day/4-night, all-inclusive tour in Cuba includes visits to the slave routes and an exploration of Afro-Cuban dance, music, religion, and culture. This type of program also consists of the top Havana highlights, cuisine and cigar samplings, and a panoramic tour of Havana on a classic convertible. It is the perfect blend of culture and attractions on the beautiful Island of Cuba.
Coming up in January – Havana Jazz Festival
This year the 35th Havana Jazz Festival will be taking place from January 15th – 20th, 2020. The festival saw its origins in the late 1970s, as a group of Cuban musicians performed in the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza in Havana. Based on the success of the first iteration of the event, the festival continued. Eventually, Cuban musician Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, better known as Chucho Valdés, became the artistic director of the festival, as well as president of the organizing committee.
The festival now takes place across several concert halls in downtown Havana. Impromptu performances also take place along the Malecón and other venues. Some of the famous musicians who have visited Cuba for the festival include composer, conductor, and singer David Amram, who composed the soundtrack for the movie Manchurian Candidate. Three-time Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer-songwriter and actress, Dee Dee Bridgewater, also frequents the festival. The Havana Jazz Festival 2020 lineup includes Chucho Valdés, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cimafunk, Carlos Varela, Anders Osborne, The Soul Rebels, Tank and the Bangas, amongst other artists scheduled to perform at the festival.
Other Famous Performances in Havana
If you are musically inclined and would like to learn more about other famous performances in Havana, you may also want to visit the Tropicana Cabaret, the Parisien Cabaret, or the Vista Social Club. The Tropicana Cabaret continues to be reminiscent of the era of euphoria and excess of Cuba from the 1950s. Over 200 hundred performers – dancers and musicians – get onstage in full costume. The beautiful and historic outdoor venue has seen performances by Nat King Cole and Josephine Baker. Celebrities such as Rita Hayworth, Marlon Brando, and many others also frequented the Tropicana. For another spectacular performance, you may also want to visit the Parisien.
The Cabaret Parisien has some similarities with the Tropicana in that it also has a full cast in elaborate costumes. The Parisien is on the grounds of the historic Hotel Nacional in Havana. The venue is very charming when compared to the Tropicana, but it is still a Vegas-style performance in a more intimate setting. If you prefer live music and perhaps some dancing, you may also consider visiting the Buena Vista Social Club.
The Buena Vista Social Club is within the centrally located Meliá Cohiba Hotel. It is a highly interactive show. The performers are a combination of a full band with singers, a host, and a lively dance group with animated choreographies. The ambiance is relaxed and casual. The venue has several vintage artifacts, airplanes, and even a motorcycle. The walls of the club are also lined with portraits of famous people that have graced the club. If you want to dance, this will be a fun experience, since the dancers may invite the audience onstage to join in on the fun.
Getting to Cuba can be easy
As with any international travel, traveling from the U.S. to Cuba has specific requirements. U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba legally by purchasing a tourist card/visa, by selecting one of the allowed 11 reasons for travel, and by having available a full agenda that is relevant to their reason chosen for travel. Gathering these documents and selecting the right category can seem complicated. The process can easier and much more straightforward by working with a professional agency specialized in travel to Cuba like OnCuba Travel.
OnCuba Travel has a team in the U.S. and a local office in Havana, Cuba, close to the Malecón. The travel agents can also guide you to select excursions and other activities to meet your travel goals, with both your budget and timelines in mind. The agency can also help you arrange a car rental for pickup at the airport in Havana or transfers from the airport to your accommodation. The experienced agents at OnCuba Travel can also assist you in booking single services like hotels in Cuba or private homes called casas particulares, round trip flights to Cuba from Miami or other cities across the U.S., and other services. Contact the agency to get started with your travel plans.
Reminder! Don’t forget that the 22nd Habanos Festival is coming up in Cuba from February 24th to February 29th, 2020. Travelers can take advantage of available cigar and rum tours, like the one available through OnCuba Travel. The tour includes a day at the Habanos Festival, a behind the scenes tour of a real cigar factory, visits to the Cuban tobacco region, and a discovery of the history of tobacco production in Cuba. The all-inclusive adventure includes visits to several cigar Casa del Habano shops, including a stop at the majestic Hotel Nacional in Havana, and fabulous Cuban cuisine. It is a terrific opportunity to enjoy Old Havana, the resort town of Varadero, the verdant Viñales, Matanzas, and so much more. Contact OnCuba Travel to learn more.
Fancy a mojito?
Longing for some Cuban rice and beans? Are you looking forward to sinking your teeth into a piece of flan? Next time in the blog, we will do a culinary tour of authentic Cuban cuisine. I will go over some essential Cuban foods, drinks, and sweets a traveler must have during a visit. The history behind the origins of different plants and foods to Cuba is fascinating, and I cannot wait to share more with you. I will also include some recommendations of privately-owned restaurants called paladares to try for different types of cuisine and how to make the most out of an upcoming visit to Cuba.
Insider’s Look at Cuba Through Rum & Habanos
Cuba is an extraordinary and unique country in many ways. Two of its fine gifts often stand out amongst the best in the world. These are Cuban rum and Cuban cigars. Cuba is known as the birthplace of the Mojito and the Daiquirí, both rum-based drinks whom American Author, Ernest Hemingway, was known to have mentioned in one of his memorable quotes, “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.” The country is also a top producer of Cuban cigars, often referred to as habanos. Connoisseurs, aficionados, and celebrities gather every year in the City of Havana to attend the Festival del Habano. In 2020 the City of Havana will be hosting the 22nd edition of the Festival.
The team at OnCuba Travel has prepared an immersive and all-inclusive 5-day and 4-night itinerary for the Cigar and Rum Tour of a lifetime, which includes admission to the 22nd Habanos Festival. The program will also include an exploration of Cuban culture, Havana highlights, exquisite cuisine, tastings, and many opportunities to sample cigars. The hosts of the program are the ladies of Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars, dynamic twin sister duo Yvonne and Yvette. For 2020, the Festival will be taking place from February 24th to the 28th.
Festival Internacional del Habano
Upon arriving in the Cuban capital of Havana, your OnCuba Travel host will welcome you. Then, you will travel by car to the Festival Internacional del Habano. Here you will have an opportunity to meet cigar experts and aficionados from all over the world. Take advantage of this experience to the fullest. Engage in conversations with the knowledgeable and experienced staff from the Festival and the many exhibitors. Last year I had the opportunity to speak to a gentleman who started as an apprentice cigar roller. After years of training and experience, he mastered the skill. He then became the master who trained apprentices in the art of cigar rolling.
During the Festival, visitors will be able to watch expert cigar rollers at work and learn about every stage of cigarmaking. The Festival will have demonstrations, but also previews of exclusive products and is often a platform for product launches. Visitors can also take this opportunity to explore different types of humidors, unique vitolas, collector’s and one-of-a-kind items, carved figures, and even rare vintage items from the time before the Cuban revolution.
There is an international culture surrounding habanos, from how to light them and savor them to how to pair them with food and beverage successfully. To learn more about the different types of vitolas (or even what these are), read an overview of how to light a cigar correctly, and how to pair them to get the best flavor, visit the blogs A Constellation of Cuban Cigars With Style – Part 1 and Part 2.
Backstage Tour of a Real Cigar Factory
Walking the hallways of a real cigar factory is a unique experience. Being able to watch these artisans at work and learning about the step-by-step process of cigar making allows for a deep appreciation of this art form. Workers have different stations, from separating the types of tobacco leaves to rolling cigars to the desired sizes, compacting them, cutting, and packaging requires a disciplined and coordinated effort. The guide that accompanies the group also offers lots of detailed insight into the art of cigar making and the history of tobacco in Cuba.
Participants will also visit the Montesino Tobacco Farm in Pinar del Río as part of the experience. The farm is about an hour from Havana. This area is well-known for being one of the top producers of quality tobacco leaves in Cuba. Here you will be able to piece together the process, from how tobacco is grown, to how it is processed before it makes its way to a factory, and finally to shops for consumers.
As part of the itinerary, there will be several stops in Casa del Habano shops like the one at the Museo del Tabaco, the shop at the Habana Libre Hotel, and the shop at the famous Meliá Cohiba Hotel. Other cigars shop visits may also include Hotel Parque Central Tobacco shop, the Partagás shop, and Hotel Conde de Villanueva Tobacco Shop. Another stop will be at the Casa del Habano in the historic Hotel National de Cuba. The view from the back of the hotel, towards the Malecón, are breathtaking. It’s one of the many spots that make you truly appreciate what makes this trip worthwhile, all while you sip cocktails and perhaps enjoy a cigar. Group members will also have opportunities to buy cigars, rum, and other items for personal use.
History of Rum in Cuba
The itinerary will continue with the history of rum in the Museo del Ron in Old Havana. The museum tells the story of rum, and more specifically, the tale of Havana Club Rum. It offers a unique and detailed insider’s look at how this rum came to be.
The inside of the museum houses memorabilia from the stages of rum production to items of nostalgia, such as a giant train set, and a film that includes several vintage elements. Towards the end of the tour, visitors will also have an opportunity to taste and shop the famous rum in many sizes and packaging options. One of my favorite parts of this visit was the very animated and multilingual tour guide that hosted our group.
Tour Old Havana in a Vintage Convertible
In addition to the walking portion of the tour, which will include parts of the famous Prado Avenue, one of the best ways to tour Old Havana is in a vintage car! Enjoy the City of Havana with a panoramic and unobstructed view. Take in the sights of the Malecón, drive in front of the famous and recently restored Capitolio building, see the José Martí Memorial and other parts of the city in this unique mode of transportation. The vintage cars come in many models and colors. Some of the vehicles are worthy of a showroom and a collector’s dream, yet they are driven freely in Havana. The vintage cars are also much fun when taking colorful pictures of the experience to share with friends and loved ones back home.
Within Old Havana, you will also visit La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places and the birthplace of the Mojito! There will also be opportunities to shop for souvenirs at stops like the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market and El Palacio de la Artesania, set in an old mansion on the water. These crafts markets will give all just a glimpse of the talent and skill level of Cuban artists and artisans.
Discover Exquisite Cuban Cuisine
During the visit to Cuba, in this tour, you will visit several established and independently owned Cuban restaurants called Paladares. These will range from traditional to modern fusion cuisine. One of the places you will visit will be the Mediterráneo Havana, which is a farm-to-table restaurant with the freshest ingredients, all locally sourced. The restaurant is known for its natural meat and cheese boards, flavorful sauces, and dairy fresh ice cream.
In this culinary adventure, you will also visit Paladar Doña Eutimia. This traditional restaurant is in Plaza de La Catedral, one of the highlights you will explore on a walking tour of Old Havana. The restaurant is famous for its flavorful cuisine in a relaxed and casual setting. L’Atelier Paladar Restaurant is another highlight in this tour. This restaurant offers Cuban fusion cuisine in a beautiful old house converted into a restaurant. The ambiance helps set the tone for dinner in this artistically inclined and delicious culinary experience. Food truly becomes an art form here!
This journey of flavors also includes San Cristóbal Paladar. This establishment became more broadly known after it received a visit from former U.S. president, Barack Obama. The restaurant is full of details and collections of items such as clocks, religious figures, antiques, and many other rare items. The presentation of their food is as elaborate as their décor. One of the things I appreciated about this restaurant was the level of attention to detail the staff went into when serving and presenting each provocative course.
Tour Old Havana in a Vintage Convertible
In addition to the walking portion of the tour, which will include a part of the famous Prado Avenue, one of the best ways to tour Old Havana is on a vintage car! Enjoy the City of Havana with a panoramic and unobstructed tour. Take in the sights of the Malecón, drive in front of the famous and recently restored Capitolio building, see the monument a Martí, and other parts of the city in this unique mode of transportation. The vintage cars come in many models and colors. Some of the vehicles are worthy of a showroom, yet they are driven freely in Havana. The vintage cars are also appealing when taking colorful pictures of the experience to share with friends and loved ones back home.
Within Old Havana, you will also visit La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places and the birthplace of the Mojito! There will also be opportunities to shop for souvenirs at places like the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market and El Palacio de la Artesania, set in an old mansion on the water.
Delve Into the Slave Route in Cuba & The City of Matanzas
A visit to Cuba would not be complete without an immersive view of its culture. Matanzas is a city located about 55 miles from Havana. It is known for its connection to Afro-Cuban history and culture. One of the stops of the Cigar And Rum Tour is the San Severino Castle in Matanzas. This castle once served to protect the city. It was destroyed in the 1700s in a drastic attempt to prevent it from being taken over by the British. The castle was rebuilt later, once Havana returned to the Spanish. Today, it is part of the Slave Route Project and houses the Museum of the Slave Route, which demonstrates the influence of Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean in the local culture.
This cultural experience will also have a visit to The Casa de Africa Museum. The museum houses several artifacts that tell the stories behind the African influences on Cuban arts and culture. Another essential stop is at the Museo de Los Orishas in Havana. This unique museum, also a temple, offers excellent insight into the history of the Yoruba religion and the Orishas – the Yoruba deities – in Cuba. The museum has several full-size figures that represent many of the Orishas. Each deity has a collection area for gifts, called ofrendas, that visitors bring. These are usually in the form of the shapes, elements, and colors that each one of the Orishas represents.
Explore Viñales & Visit Varadero
Last, but certainly not least, the group will visit the Valley of Viñales and the resort area of Varadero. The UNESCO has recognized the beautiful and almost undisturbed area of Viñales as a World Heritage site. Is it an eco-friendly paradise. While in Viñales, travelers will also visit the Mural de la Pre-Historia, an almost 400-foot-long painting on the side of a cliff. The painting depicts the theory of evolution. To round up the tour, the group will enjoy an afternoon in Varadero, overlooking its natural beauty and crystalline waters.
Ready to get started?
Hopefully, I have managed to pique your interest in visiting the beautiful Island of Cuba. This program covers a lot of areas of interest over a relatively short period of time. The team at OnCuba Travel handles the logistics flawlessly, making the travel experience very enjoyable. The best part is that an all-inclusive program will include roundtrip flights, accommodations, several meals, and transportation. It is a great way to minimize worry and maximize the experience. If you would like to learn more about this and other all-inclusive programs, contact OnCuba Travel. If you prefer to make a custom program, their knowledgeable team can also assist you in finding the best flights to Havana, accommodations in Cuba, airport transfers in Havana, a car rental for pickup at the airport in Havana and other locations, as well as specialized half and full-day excursions. Don’t take risks and work instead with a professional agency specialized in legal travel to Cuba, like OnCuba Travel.
Can I still travel to Cuba in 2020?
While 2019 has been a year of tense relationships between the United States and Cuba, yes, U.S. citizens can still travel to Cuba from the United States. Although regulations have changed throughout 2019, Cuba is still a destination that U.S. citizens can and should consider going to Cuba. The country offers many opportunities for education, information, and awe. Cuba is a destination rich in history, architecture, gastronomy, beauty, diversity, and local warmth.
As you plan your upcoming trip to Cuba, it is to your advantage to gain an understanding of the most recent changes in travel policy. Here is a recap with some of the most impactful changes regarding travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens established this year, as well as some helpful lists and articles about planning a legal trip to Cuba. The changes are relevant for ways to travel, points of arrival on the island, where to stay, and more.
Travel to Cuba – Changes in Transportation and Reasons for Travel
In June 2019, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, also known as the OFAC, made effective significant changes to travel to Cuba policy. The first change was that use of the “people to people exchange” reason for travel was no longer allowed. Despite this change, 11 categories for travel still remain a possibility to go to Cuba. The Support for the Cuban People category is one of the broadest available. By traveling to Cuba, having exchanges with Cuban people, eating in privately owned restaurants (Called paladares), and staying in privately-owned casas particulares travelers can help satisfy this category’s requirements. The OnCuba Travel blog offers some great ideas on how to plan a Support for the Cuban People trip to Cuba, as well as a list of the top 10 things to do in Havana.
The other significant change the OFAC brought about was that travel to Cuba was no longer allowed by private vessels, such as private airplanes or boats departing from a U.S. port. This tightening in the regulations also limited travel by cruise ships to Cuba from U.S. ports. Although these changes affected pre-booked travel plans for many, U.S. citizens could still travel to Cuba by commercial airlines.
Flights to Havana are available from multiple destinations. One popular point of departure is the City of Miami in Florida. Flights from Miami are relatively short as the flight is roughly 45min., perfect for a weekend or holiday trip. Several carriers currently offer flights to Cuba. To learn more about flights to Cuba, visit the flights page offered by OnCuba Travel. To learn more about the June 2019 changes, you may also visit the blog Travel To Cuba For Americans Series – Traveling To Cuba Under New Policy.
Flights to Cuba – U.S. Airlines Can Only Fly Into Havana
As of December 10th, 2019, the latest change affects the points of arrival in Cuba. Travel by U.S. airlines is now only allowed into the City of Havana. Although this may represent some detours for travel plans, there are many ways to continue your scheduled activities in other regions in Cuba. U.S. citizens are still able to hire a car service for transfers to other planned activities or rent a car at the airport in Havana.
Alternative ways to get around in Havana include the charming Almendrones, which are the popular vintage cars, and the creative Coco Taxis, named this way because their shape resembles a coconut. A professional agency such as OnCuba Travel has an extensive network of local contacts with trusted and reliable resources for transportation. To learn more about other unique forms of transportation, visit the blog Take a Ride on One of These in Cuba!
Restricted Hotels & Other Entities in Cuba
The U.S. Department of State also makes available for travelers a list of hotels and other entities with which U.S. citizens should not make any direct financial transactions. Areas with restricted properties include Old Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Varadero, Pinar del Río, Baracoa, Cayos de Villa Clara, Holguín, and other cities in Cuba. The list also includes stores in Old Havana. The list is available for review in the U.S. Department of State website. Even with the restrictions, there are still many accommodation options for U.S. travelers in Cuba.
OnCuba Travel has curated a list with a wide range of hotels, ranging from those with the necessary amenities to all-inclusive hotels and resorts offering a white glove, personalized service. Some of the properties available for U.S. travelers include the 5-star Meliá Cohiba, located across from the historical and famous Malecón de La Habana, and the Hotel Saratoga, also known for its celebrity guests which include Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Other carefully selected properties are available across Cuba in Havana, Cienfuegos, Varadero, Pinar del Río, and many other locations. Visit the hotel page on the agency’s website to learn more about the range of hotels in Cuba, each with a brief overview of amenities and available services.
Travelers also have the alternative to stay at one of the many casas particulares across the island. Options can vary widely, since these private homes could range from entirely independent apartments to individual efficiency units within homes, to private rooms within the host family’s home. The accommodation may also be inside a more modern house or in a charming historic home. The locations may also vary from the downtown city center to more distant, but still accessible.
Some of the private homes may include a private bathroom, a kitchen with some basics like plates and cups, towels, and other amenities. Additional appliances and toiletries may also be available by asking the host or for a nominal fee. Some of the casas may also include or offer a daily breakfast with basics like eggs and coffee, to fresh fruit, ham, warm bread, and other food varieties.
A private home accommodation may be more convenient or preferred by someone who seeks a more authentic experience. It also presents a terrific opportunity to speak to locals about life in Cuba. If the traveler selects the Support for the Cuban People reason for travel, staying at a local home and having a conversation with the hosts would help fulfill this reason for travel, as it promotes intellectual exchanges with locals and helps support the host family’s economy. Learning about the locals’ way of life and outlook can be very enlightening and informative. They may also offer suggestions on specific things to see and do, in line with your daily agenda. I will forever be grateful to the host that helped me with a quick wash and iron for a dress during a recent visit.
Why Should I Travel to Cuba With an Agency?
Working with a professional travel agency has many benefits. The first and likely most significant advantage is that an agency that specializes in travel to Cuba will be aware of all the changes to travel policies. They will ensure an optimal and compliant travel experience for both their solo and group travelers. As you prepare for your trip to Cuba, a specialized agency such as OnCuba Travel can be a tremendous asset to meet all the requirements to travel to Cuba.
OnCuba Travel is a Miami and Havana based travel agency. It supports its travelers with gathering all the visa/travel card requirements and completing all required forms. The agency can also assist with the selection of flights, transportation, and accommodation for their travelers. They can also help you plan a full agenda of activities in line with the purpose of your trip. OnCuba Travel offers a variety of half and full-day land excursions to meet a broad range of interests and desired levels of activity. They also have a selection of all-inclusive, multi-day programs that already include travel and transportation.
If you prefer to create your own experience, the agency’s professional team of travel agents can also help you customize your program to travel to Cuba with hotel bookings or accommodation at a casa particular, car rental needs, airport transfers, and customized activities to best meet your trip’s purpose and budget.
How Can I Create A Custom Trip to Cuba?
The reasons to travel to Cuba can be many. Maybe it’s part of your heritage and you would like to connect more with your roots. Perhaps it’s that one destination you want to check off your bucket list with an opportunity to give back to the locals. It may also be the once-in-a-lifetime trip a loved one would like you to accompany him or her on or the trip you want to make before a major life transition. Whichever your reason for travel is, there is always a good reason to travel to Cuba.
On the next blog, I will share the best tips and tricks to create a custom group program to travel to Cuba for two or more people. We will explore together some of the most important considerations to make when visiting Cuba – from how to select your daily activities to how to get around. I will also cover those top places to see and things to do during your stay, as well as some top recommendations on what to eat and where to dine while in the island.
The experience is also more relaxed by working with a knowledgeable partner by your side, such as an experienced travel agent from OnCuba Travel. Knowing the ins and outs of the destination and the customs of the locals can enrich and enhance the travel experience. The travel agents at OnCuba are available to assist you with any questions and to help you plan your dream trip to Cuba.
What You Can Expect in Cuba In December
Once again, we are at the end of the year. Have you made it to Cuba yet? You do not want the year to end without visiting this tropical paradise. There is still time to make it a December to Remember in Cuba. In this blog, we will learn more about some of the upcoming events in Cuba. You will also learn more about the local weather, how to plan for a trip to Cuba this time of the year, required documents to travel to Cuba as a U.S. citizen, what to expect upon arrival at the airport, and more.
Cuba: More Than Just Mojitos & Vintage Cars
Although Cuba is mostly known for its mojitos, charming facades, and vintage car rides across Havana, Cuba is also host to many educational and scientific events. During December, in addition to the traditional Parrandas de Remedios, Cuba will also be receiving visitors from all over the world to cover topics such as film, tobacco research, meteorology, coastal ecosystems, organic chemistry, and many others. Take a look below to learn more about upcoming events in Cuba.
Upcoming Events in Cuba
10th International Meeting of Researchers & Students of Information and Communication / ICOM – December 2nd to the 6th
Some of the topics to be discussed at this event will be communication and information as cultural processes for the development of society towards the year 2030. Researchers from all over the world are invited to attend the event. The Faculty of Communications from the University of Havana and the Palacio de Convenciones are organizers of the event. The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana.
10th Cuban Meteorology Congress, 3rd Seminar-Workshop of Atmospheric Pollution, and the 2nd Climatology Seminar / X Congreso Cubano de Meteorología. III Seminario-Taller de Contaminación de la Atmósfera. II Seminario de Climatología – December 2nd to the 6th
This event, organized by the Cuban Meteorological Society, is open to meteorology professionals and enthusiasts. It is also for those who are involved in the development of contingency plans for extreme meteorological phenomena. The event seeks to open the doors to discussions, debates, and exchanges over available knowledge and interdisciplinary research about the laws and dynamics of Atmospheric Sciences. The event will be taking place at the Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo in Havana and the Tryp Hotel Habana Libre.
International Symposium of Integrated Management and Environmental Handling of Beaches & Coastal Ecosystems / X Encuentro Internacional De Investigadores Y Estudiosos de La Información y La Comunicación (Varaplayas) – December 4th to the 6th
The event will be covering five workshops with topics on geomorphology, vegetation, environmental education, community participation, and more. The items on the agenda will include subjects such as methodology for scientific research, management, and integrated diagnostics in beaches and coastal areas, amongst others. The symposium will also host the first Varadero Nature Photography Contest. This activity will be taking place at the Barceló Solymar.
4th Ibero-American Symposium of Organic Chemistry December / IV Simposio Iberoamericano de Química Orgánica 4th – 8th
The event is open to scientists and professionals in the industry, as well as to students. The event will cover various aspects of organic chemistry to include natural product chemistry, medical chemistry, computations organic chemistry, and more. The event will be taking place in Santa Maria Key, Villa Clara, Cuba.
41st Edition of the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano / Habana Film Festival – December 5th to the 15th
This festival, also known as the Habana Film Festival, is a gathering of Latin American talent. The festival’s full agenda includes screenings, workshops, and other events that promote networking and the exposure of top industry talent from Latin America. Famous directors, such as Pedro Almodóvar, and actor and director Robert Redford have been known to attend the event. The event also hosts an award ceremony for Premios Coral, which recognizes awardees in several categories. Screenings and activities will be taking place along several movie theatres and venues in Havana.
1st Congress for Tobacco Research in Cuba December / Primer Congreso De Investigación Tabacalera En Cuba (INVESTA) – December 9th to the 13th
Cuba is one of the world’s top producers of quality tobacco leaves in the world. This year, the country will be hosting its first congress for tobacco research. The event will also focus on the topic of Cuban black tobacco. The event aims to increase the reach of tobacco research and build awareness of the science behind tobacco at the local and international levels. The event will be taking place at the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana. It may be a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of tobacco from one of its most important sources, taking a Segway to visit a Havana cigar lounge or two.
Las Parrandas de Remedios
December also brings to Cuba Las Parrandas de Remedios, one of the country’s most rambunctious 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! This celebration and many others, are just a preview of how Cubans celebrate the holidays and how you, too, can enjoy Cuba in December and welcome the new year.
Tips for Easy Travel to Cuba in December
Weather in Cuba In December
Cuba is privileged with reasonably good weather almost all year round. The average temperature in Cuba in December runs from highs around 81oF to lows of about 64oF. The best time to visit Cuba is now! December through May. Just another reason to plan a trip to Cuba this time of the year. To adjust to the weather, plan to dress comfortably during the day, with closed-toe shoes. In the evening, carry a cardigan or jacket with you to adapt to the weather fluctuations. Layers are great to take into consideration when packing.
Requirements to Travel to Cuba from the U.S.
There are specific basic requirements that need to be met to travel to Cuba from the U.S. The first is a valid U.S. Passport. The second is identifying the right reason for travel from the 11 categories approved for travel to Cuba established by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Support for the Cuban People is one of the broadest reasons for travel and frequently used. The third requirement is a visa/tourist card, for which you will need to have determined your cause for travel. Then, you need to have planned a full agenda of activities. Explore the many excursions and all-inclusive programs that are available to help you prepare a full agenda.
What to Expect Upon Arrival at José Martí International Airport in Havana
As it is customary with international travel, you will be asked to provide your customs forms as you meet with the immigration officer. It will be helpful to have all the accommodation information available, as well as your detailed itinerary, in the event you are asked to provide information about your trip. If you are traveling under the Support for the Cuban people, note that you will need to keep your agenda and receipts of all expenses incurred during your trip to Cuba. This documentation is required up to five years after the trip. Your luggage will also be scanned right after passing through immigration.
Before exiting the airport, you will also pass by representatives from the health department to provide one final form. After completing this step, you will be able to head towards the exit. Depending on the number of people in line, this process may be prompt or may take a little longer. Taking into consideration that Cuba has a different currency, you may want to pass through the currency exchange house at the airport. Use all your local money before leaving the country, as taking local currency outside of Cuba is not allowed.
Whether it is your first time or your seventh time visiting Cuba, it is essential to work with a professional agency that specializes in travel to Cuba, such as OnCuba Travel. Check out the many testimonials, including mine, from customers who have worked with this experienced team. One other benefit of working with OnCuba is that they have both – a local U.S. office in Miami, FL, and a centrally-located office in Havana, Cuba. I can say from experience that their team is very hands-on and efficient.
When I was planning my first trip, they took the time to send not only recommendations to prepare for the journey, but also images of the casa particular (Private home) where I was staying. I also received a detailed breakdown of the day-by-day itinerary with educational information about each landmark and activity we were having on a specific day. Having all these materials was extremely helpful in preparing for the trip. I felt like I was not going in blindly and had a great idea on what to expect. I had a fantastic trip with their help.
Lights, Camera, Havana!
Cuba is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Historically, it is also extremely familiar with visits from international celebrities. Before the revolution, Cuba was a playground for the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, and others who frequented its popular local spots, such as the famous Tropicana Cabaret, the Floridita Bar, and more. Although the country seems to have frozen in time with its rich architecture, history, varied scenery, and diverse topography, it continues to thrive in ingenuity, talent, and creativity. In this blog, I will be sharing more about the history of film in Havana and the beginnings of what is known today as the Habana Film Festival.
Introduction of Film in Cuba
Like many Latin American countries, Cuba lived the introduction of cinema in the 19th century. The first arrival of the cinematograph took place in 1897. The device was a film camera, projector, and printer. It was invented and disseminated by French brothers Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Lumiére. Early cinema locations opened their doors in Havana along the famous Paseo del Prado, one of Havana’s most beautiful streets, set between Downtown Havana and the historic Old Havana. Other locations, such as the Panorama Soler and the Vitascopio de Edison hosted viewings for film enthusiasts. At the time, films mostly originated from Europe and North America. These were available sporadically before the development of significant motion pictures.
Cinema Before the Cuban Revolution
Before the revolution of 1959, approximately 80 films were on record as produced in Cuba. Some notable films that emerged during this period were La Virgen de La Caridad, a product of the silent era, and Romance del Palmar. During the period, Cuba also served as a location for several films. Some examples are To the Ends of the Earth in 1948, We Were Strangers in 1949, A Lady Without A Passport with Hedy Lamar in 1950, The Old Man and The Sea in 1958, and Our Man in Havana in 1959 amongst others. This period also proved vital for Cuban talent, which gained recognition in countries like Argentina and Mexico. Some examples are multitalented artists René Cardona and Rita Montaner.
Film Industry After the Cuban Revolution
In early 1959, the Cuban government created a new cinematographic department. This department preceded what is now known as the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). The following organization, in turn, created the quarterly periodical Cine Cubano in 1960, still in circulation today. Until 1965, the ICAIC ran all aspects of film production, distribution, and exhibition in the country. The first ten years of the ICAIC were known as the Golden Decade of cinema in Cuba. Two notable films were amongst the output during this period, Lucia in 1969 and Memorias del Subdesarrollo in 1968. Highly regarded filmmakers Humberto Solás and Tomás Gutiérrez directed these films, respectively.
The Beginnings of The Festival Internacional Del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano
In 1979 the ICAIC was involved in the creation of the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, offering a broader platform to Latin American films. The City of Havana has been hosting the festival every year since 1979. Cuba is also home to The Escuela Internacional de Cine, Televisión y Video de San Antonio de Los Baños, located close to Havana. The university, with its television, video, and film focus, is supported by the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Father of the New Latin American Cinema, Fernando Birri. At this school, hundreds of Latin American students have attended this school to learn direction, scriptwriting, photography, and editing.
Post-Cold War Special Period in Cuba
The post-Cold War became known as the “Special Period” in Cuba. This period represented many financial challenges and setbacks for Cuban people and the film industry alike. One of the most famous films to emerge during this period was Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), a film that treats the topic of intolerance and the exciting friendship between a gay artist and a young communist man. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1994, amongst other international nominations and recognitions. The film also went on to win a Goya Award and a Special Mention at The Sundance Film Festival in 1995. During this period, the Cuban film industry also took a different turn. It now had more considerations, such as budget and promotions of films, to appeal to larger international audiences.
Cuba As A Film Location
As relationships between Cuba and the United States broadened, Cuba emerged as a location destination once again. Today, celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the Kardashians and Kanye West, Rihanna, and many more continue to visit the Island of Cuba. The film industry has also taken notice. Movies with star power such as The Fate of The Furious in 2017, starring Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and Dwayne Johnson, as well as Guava Island, starring Donald Glover and Rihanna, have been shot on locations in Cuba.
Cuba is a paradisiac island. The diversity of its population, tropical setting and charming backdrops, variety of destinations, and natural beauty make it an idyllic location for film production. Cuba is also home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Valley of Viñales, Santiago de Cuba, and the City of Havana, amongst other natural and historical landmarks. The industry also finds that production and labor costs are lower when filming in Cuba. By producing movies in the Island, the film industry is also contributing to the local Cuban economy by hiring staff, enjoying at onsite eateries, staying in local hotels or private homes, and utilizing other available resources.
Cuba As Inspiration
Cuba, its history, and its people have also served as inspiration for films. Some examples are Our Man in Havana, Guantanamera, and Viva Cuba. It has also been the influence behind other films like The Perez Family with Marissa Tomei, Anjelica Houston, and Alfred Molina, as well as the famous Scarface, starring Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The famed Brian de Palma directed the latter film.
41st Habana Film Festival
This year, the City of Havana will be hosting its 41st Habana Film Festival, also known as the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano. This event draws thousands of professionals from the film industry each year, promoting the latent talent originating from Latin America and the Caribbean. The festival is also frequented by renown film and artistic figures such as Spanish Director Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Talk To Her), actors and directors like Robert Redford (Out Of Africa, A River Runs Through It), and Francis Ford Coppola (Patton, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby), and Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, known for his famous works such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and many more.
The Habana Film Festival Then & Now
The Habana Film Festival had its origins in 1979. It began as a continuation of other neighboring artistic festivals in Venezuela and Chile, such as the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. The Habana Film Festival is a meeting of the minds, a magnet for artists and creators from the performing arts and film industry. The agenda for the festival includes events, tributes, special presentations, screenings, training seminars, professional networking opportunities, and an award ceremony.
Recipients of the awards are recognized with 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.
Travel Planning for Cuba
This year, the Habana Film Festival will be taking place from December 5th to the 15th in Havana. To plan your legal travel to Cuba from the U.S., it is highly recommended to work with an experienced and professional Cuba travel agency in Miami such as OnCuba Travel. The agency has locations in Midtown Miami and a centrally located office in Havana, close to the Malecón in the Vedado neighborhood. Both offices have local teams available to assist travelers with their plans and questions. The agency’s professional staff can help you select from the 11 approved reasons to travel to Cuba to best meet your professional and educational activities. They can also help you navigate the latest changes regarding the people to people exchange category for travel and understand the shift in policy to travel to Cuba by cruise and private vessels.
While in Cuba, it is also essential to maintain a full agenda of activities to meet the minimum travel requirements to visit the Island. The expert team at OnCuba Travel can help travelers create a program with compliant activities to best enjoy your interests and bucket list items in Cuba during your stay. They can also help you obtain your visa and roundtrip flights, following the most recent travel restrictions and regulations to travel to Cuba.
While you are there, why not enjoy flavorful Cuban cuisine, visit a Vegas-style show like that at the Club Tropicana, or take car tour with a ride in a classic car across the Malecón in Havana? If you prefer to drive, the helpful team at OnCuba Travel can also help you to rent a car at Havana airport with pick up at the location or facilitate all airport transfers with a safe, private, and reliable car service. Learn more about available excursions and group programs in Havana and contact OnCuba Travel to start your travel plans.
Havana’s 500th Anniversary Celebration
On November 16th, 2019, the Cuban City of Havana will officially be celebrating its 500th foundation anniversary. It is a momentous milestone that very few cities in the American Continent have been able to observe. In preparation for the milestone festivity, the City of Havana has undergone extensive renovations in crucial city landmarks. Havana is also brimming with excitement and an agenda full of events, important visits, and other happenings to welcome residents and visitors during this crucial moment in Cuban history.
A Brief History of the City of Havana
The City of Havana was founded in the 16th century as San Cristóbal de La Habana by Spanish conquistador, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar. Although the location of the city changed strategically throughout history, it finally settled in its current area in 1519. Today, what was once known as Puerto de Cardenas is what we know as Havana Harbor or El Puerto de La Habana. As a port city with a privileged location, it was instrumental in the Spanish conquest of other American territories. Havana was granted the title of “City” by King Philip II of Spain in 1592.
Today, Havana stands as not only the largest city in the country but also as the main province, principal port, and center of trade in Cuba. It has a remarkable cultural blend that combines its European, Asian, African, and Caribbean roots in aspects such as culture, architecture, cuisine, music, and religion. The architecture on its own is an awe-inspiring blend of neoclassical, colonial, baroque, art deco, eclectic, and modern. From castles to present-day hotels, the richness and depth of its history permeate the city.
Areas such as Old Havana (La Habana Vieja) received recognition as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. The City boasts charm and nostalgia. It tells a story with the intricacy behind its architecture, its art, and its history. Even its modes of transportation are intriguing. To take a ride through Old Havana in a vintage car and delighting in a panoramic tour is an exquisite and unique experience! To walk through Old Colonial Havana is to step back in time, also getting a glimpse of its golden peak in the 1950s.
For centuries and more recent decades, the country has seen affluence, lack, and periods of transition. However, Cuban people continue to be spirited, resilient, and proud to be Cuban. Now, on the eve of the 500th Anniversary, Cuban people are ready to remember Havana’s history, restore the city’s beauty, and celebrate it.
Preparing for the Celebration – El Capitolio
One of the iconic buildings undergoing extensive renovations in preparation for the 500th Anniversary celebration is the majestic and symbolic Cuban National Capitol Building, El Capitolio, one of Havana’s main landmarks. The construction of this opulent structure started in the early 1900s but paused for changes. Once construction resumed, the building was completed in only three years – between 1926 and 1929 – during a time of affluence in Cuba. Then-president, Gerardo Machado, commissioned the construction under the guidance of Cuban architect Eugenio Rayneri Piedra.
The Capitolio is an impressive representation of neoclassical architecture. A 56-step staircase, known as La Escalinata, commands the entrance. Beyond the stairs, stand large bronze doors with images that represent the history of Cuba. Upon entering, the view is all about the breathtaking, bronze, marble, and hardwood interiors and impressive cupula. Beneath the cupula is also the third-largest indoor sculpture in the world, called la Estatua de La República (The Statue of the Republic). The nearly 50-foot bronze, gold leaf statue was achieved by Italian artist Angelo Zanelli. The sculpture represents a young woman holding a shield and a lance. Then, on the ground where the longitude and latitude lines meet at point zero, is a replica of what was once a 25-carat diamond. Rumor has it that the diamond once belonged to Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The story says that once in Cuban soil, it was stolen in March 1946. It was then mysteriously returned to President Ramón Grau San Martín three months later in June 1946.
The National Capitol Building was first constructed to house Congress. After the Cuban Revolution that began in the late 1950s, the Capitolio went through a period of abandonment. Now, following a long season of political changes and renovations, it is slowly transitioning to become the home for the National Assembly. It is truly a majestic sight to behold — Unique in structure, level of detail, and lavishness. In the present day, the staff at the Capitolio is very knowledgeable and can provide tremendous insight into the history of the building, from the elaborate table settings to the ceremonies and events that once took place within the beautiful marble and hardwood walls.
Saturday, November 16th will mark the opening of the south wing of the Capitolio and two important halls, the Constitution Hall (Sala de La Constitución) and the Símbolos Patrios (Patriotic Symbols) Hall. At 9 p.m., the cupula and the exterior of the Capitolio will light up in all its splendor. It would also be a magical time for an evening stroll through the historic center of Havana. The Capitolio is in a centric location, across Paseo Martí, popularly known as Paseo del Prado and streets Dragones, Industria, and San José in Havana.
During the recent opening of another renovated landmark, the Convento de Santa Clara, renown Havana historian, Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, announced the inauguration of other initiatives and edifications in observance of the 500th Anniversary, such as the Museo de Los Bomberos (Fireman Museum), the Museo del Ferrocarril de Cuba (Railroad Museum of Cuba), the Museo del Automóvil (Automobile Museum), and the Castillo de Atarés (The Atarés Castle), amongst others.
Royal Visits to Cuba
2019 brought high-ranking Royals from England and Spain to Cuba. Earlier in the year, Cuba welcomed Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, from England. This week, the Cuban capital is enjoying an official Royal visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain. All visiting monarchs have made history for being the first to set foot from England and the first in 500 years to visit from Spain, respectively.
Goya in Cuba
In preparation for the celebration and Royal visit, the prestigious Museo del Prado in Spain allowed the transport of a self-portrait of romantic artist Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, known as Goya, to Havana due to the artist’s close ties to the art movement in Cuba. The Spanish painter was highly influential during the late 18th and 19th centuries. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the San Alejandro Art Academy in Cuba. The painting will also be in exhibition during the visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain. Goya’s self-portrait will be on exhibit for a month on the fourth floor of the Universal Art Building in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, starting on November 14th, following the Spanish Royal visit.
Events Across Havana
Friday, November 15th, 2019, will see the event Noche Habanera (Havana Night) on the eve of the 500th Anniversary. The event will take place along the famous Malecón de La Habana, a nearly five-mile and waterside stretch that serves as the main roadway. Fireworks and great fanfare will resonate during the event!
At the stroke of midnight on November 16th, Cubans will also make their wishes at the famous Ceiba tree, located in Plaza de Armas in Havana, by El Templete. Following tradition, people must wait until midnight to walk three times, counterclockwise, around the Ceiba tree, and make one wish. This ritual is said to have religious origins, as the tree represents the souls of the ancestors. Attendees tend to leave “ofrendas” or gifts at the base of the tree.
Another timely event is scheduled to take place at the San Salvador de La Punta Fortress. The fortress was built in the late 1500s to protect the entrance to the City of Havana through the port. The upcoming event will feature performances and live classical music. Celebrities and notables are expected to attend this event on November 16th.
Another music festivals taking place will be the Festival Internacional de Música de Cámara Habana Clásica, taking place from November 10th to the 24th. Calle Obispo, known for its stilt walkers, is also expected to have a vibrant street party and a large crowd. Festival-goers will surely get their music and dancing on!
Celebrate Havana’s 500th Anniversary in Cuba!
There is still time to book an all-inclusive vacation to Havana to celebrate the Anniversary of this lively and historic City’s foundation. With the recent changes to the travel policies, it is a perfect time to find a trusted Cuba travel agency. A professional and law-abiding agency, such as OnCuba Travel, can help you simplify the process to travel legally to Cuba from the U.S. OnCuba Travel can help you choose your reason for travel to Cuba and buy your visa.
Although there is a recent travel ban to arrive in Cuba by cruise ships, you can still travel to Cuba by plane. OnCuba can help you book your roundtrip flight to Havana, coordinate airport transfers in Havana from José Martí International Airport, or rent a car in Havana to drive across Cuba! The knowledgeable staff at OnCuba Travel can also help you plan your full itinerary in Cuba, book daylong excursions to places like Old Havana, or prepare a custom program for you and your group. They can also guide travelers to the best hotels in Cuba or find apartments for rent in Cuba to meet your plans and needs. Whether you want to visit a real Havana Cigar Lounge in the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba and attend the 2020 Habanos Festival, see artists’ studios in Cuba alongside art professionals, or learn how to cook Cuban food, OnCuba Travel can help!
You are one step closer to an unforgettable vacation in Cuba. Contact OnCuba Travel’s team by phone at (305) 602-0219, email at [email protected], or by Live Chat during business hours to get started.