Cuba Festivals and Events
Go ahead, light up that stogie! At the Havana Cigar Festival (www.habanos.com) held each year in February, highlights include tobacco plantation tours in Pinar del Río, cigar-factory tours, seminars, workshops, and the release of new cigars. Proceeds from the event’s closing silent auction go to the Cuban public health system.
Cuba takes May Day seriously. World Workers Day is celebrated each year beginning early on May 1 when hundreds of thousands of residents march on Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución to proclaim, via chanting and banners, the virtues of the Revolution. Armed with papier-mâché replicas of the tools of their trades—cigars, taxis, musical instruments, barber’s shears—the Cubans’ demonstrations often turn into a street party complete with conga lines and plenty of music.
Every two years the world’s premier festival for non-Western artists of all genres, the Havana Biennale (www.biennialfoundation.org) features fine visual arts, contemporary art and music from across Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The next Biennale will be held in 2017.
Few Cuban festivals compete in color or exuberance with Carnaval in Santiago (www.santiagodecubacity.org). For a week in July an explosion of color, musical rhythms, and dancing fills the streets of this eastern city, Cuba’s second largest. A similarly extravagant Carnaval celebration is held in late July/early August in Havana.
The Benny Moré International Festival (www.cienfuegoscity.org) celebrates the life and music of Cuba’s biggest 1950s-era Big Band leader each September in Cienfuegos. Musicians and singers from across the island and beyond pay homage to this master of all Cuban genres, including son, mamba, and bolero.
World-class dance takes center stage at the International Ballet Festival of Havana. The finest ballerinas and dancers arrive from around the world each October to perform with members of the National Ballet of Cuba.
Although the festivities are strictly regional, little compares with the unique parrandas in Cuba’s Villa Clara Province. Held between Christmas and New Year’s Day in Remedios, Caibarién, and a dozen other Villa Clara villages, the Mardi Gras-style parties involve much song, elaborate costuming, floats and, no doubt, plenty of rum. But the centerpiece of the fun involves massive fireworks competitions between villages. A frenzy of pyrotechnics erupts overhead amid deafening noise, smoke, and frivolity.
The International Festival of Latin American Film (Festival Internacional de Cine Latinoamericano www.habanafilmfestival.com) has become one of the Western Hemisphere’s finest film festivals. Held annually at venues across Havana the first week in December, the event focuses on new cinema and the rising stars of Latin-film directing.
In mid-December world-renowned musicians attend Havana’s prestigious International Jazz Festival (http://jazzcuba.com). Although venues around town stage concerts, the biggest and best are always held at the Teatro Mella with Cuban jazz legend and pianist Chucho Valdés starring in the opening event.