As anyone who has been lucky enough to go on holiday in Cuba will probably tell you, the Cubans really know how to throw a party! The island is a vibrant centre of dance, art and music, and the blend of Spanish and Caribbean cultures has given rise to a number of international festivals and annual carnivals that are a real treat for visitors and locals alike.
There are numerous great events going on throughout the year in Cuba; holidays to the island will usually coincide with a festival or two if you are lucky. But there are some events that it is well worth planning your holiday in Cuba around: here are five of the biggest and best...
International Jazz Festival
There are plenty of jazz festivals that you can go to while on holiday in Cuba, but the biggest is the International Jazz Festival, held every February in Havana. Starting out as a little local event at the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza in 1978, the festival now holds events in theatres and nightclubs all over Havana, with the famed Chucho Valdes as its artistic director.
July is Carnival season in Cuba; holidays to the island in this month are very popular for just this reason. Carnivals in Cuba mean street parties, floats, processions, dancing, music, and plenty of Cuban rum! Every neighbourhood in Havana has its own Carnival float and practices for months to perfect their routine, and visitors to the island at this time of year are treated to a riot of colour, sound and all night parties.
Santiago de Cuba Carnival
The Carnival in Havana is a massive event, but its counterpart in Santiago de Cuba is potentially even bigger and better. The whole city seems to turn into one giant conga line in July each year, and the carnival in this city attracts the biggest crowd on the island. The street parties go on all night, and music, dance, traditional Cuban food and spectacular street displays are all there to be enjoyed by visitors on their Cuban holidays.
Las Parrandas de Remedios
Those who go on Cuba holidays at Christmas are rewarded with a unique experience - Las Parrandas de Remedios, a festival on the 24th of December that has been running for almost 200 years. Legend goes that a priest in 19th century Remedios sent children into the streets of the city to make as much noise as they could and drive the locals to mass. The residents took it as a cue to take to the streets and have a good time! Nowadays the festival takes the form of a "parrandas", or competition between the two neighbourhoods of El Carmen and San Salvador. Each neighbourhood competes to construct the most spectacular float, surrounded by lanterns and kites, and on the evening of Christmas Eve the two sides go head to head in a parade, accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display.
International Havana Ballet Festival
Cuba may be more famous for Salsa and Mambo than for ballet, but the International Havana Ballet Festival, which runs from the 24th of October to the 6th of November every two years, is a major international event for ballet lovers. The best companies come from all over the world to perform at the Great Theatre of Havana, which has seen almost 200 world premieres since the festival began in 1960. If you have any interest at all in ballet, a Cuban holiday at this time of year is a must.