San Juan de Remedios is one of Cuba's oldest towns. Founded in 1515 on the northern coast, it was moved inland to its current location in 1524, after the residents were harassed by pirates. Toward the end of the 17th century, a group of wealthy citizens tried to move Remedios still farther inland, but most of the townspeople resisted; those who wanted to move went on to found Santa Clara, which became the province's principal city. Remedios slipped into its shadow and has retained a sleepy, unspoiled atmosphere.
Though small (20,000-some inhabitants), Remedios is culturally rich and remarkably well preserved. The city is most famous for its Christmastime festival called las Parrandas. Legend holds that the festival began in the 1820s when a parish priest, who worried that not enough people where attending Christmas Mass, sent a group of boys through the streets banging drums and making noise to wake people up and get them into the pews. The tradition has developed into an all-night festival lit by homemade lanterns and fireworks and animated by brass bands; its participants are cheered still more by copious food and drink. These days, the partying gets under way in early December.