Through war, austerity, rationing and hardship, the Cubans have always retained their infectious joie de vivre. Even during the nation’s darkest days, the feisty festivals never stopped — a lasting testament to the country’s capacity to put politics aside and get on with the very important business of living.
Time your trip to Cuba to coincide with any of these festivals, and you’ll learn a thing or two about having fun!
Fiesta de la Toronja (March)
Famous for its citrus plantations, Isla de la Juventud celebrates the annual grapefruit harvest with this animated excuse for a party in Nueva Gerona, where the guachi (grapefruit schnapps) flows freely.
Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre (April)
Seaside Gibara – Cuba’s antidote to Hollywood – is where mega-poor film makers come to see mega-good movies made on mega-low budgets. Hook up with some of Latin America’s cash-strapped but talent-rich movie guerrillas and leave your teary Oscar acceptance speech at home. Inaugurated in 2003, the Cine Pobre was the brainchild of late Cuban director Humberto Solás, and lasts for a week.
Día de los Trabajadores (May 1)
Hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Cubans converge on Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion on Labor Day to witness military parades and listen to impassioned annual “worker’s day” speeches. It’s a fantastic spectacle, even if you’re lukewarm about the polemics.
Jornada Cucalambeana (late June)
Cuba’s celebration of country music and the witty 10-line décimas (stanzas) that go with it takes place about 3 km outside unassuming Las Tunas at Motel Cornito, the former home of erstwhile country-music king Juan Fajardo “El Cucalambé.”
Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba (July)
Draw a line between New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro and chances are you’ll pass pretty close to Santiago de Cuba, the home of Cuba’s colorful carnival and, in many minds, the country’s most “Caribbean” festival. Held in the last week of July, it’s a scorching affair, with open-air grandstands erected along Av Garzón. Floats, dancers, rum and rumba – all the ingredients are there for maximum mayhem!
Read more: Lonely Planet