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Carnivals, culture and color – here’s when to pack your bags and head to Cuba

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When To Go To Cuba?

The answer is, if you like it hot, visit Cuba In May. It may be the first month of the wet and stifling low season on this colorful Caribbean Island. But there are off-season bargains to be found. What’s more, temperatures don’t get uncomfortable hot until June and heavy rains don’t fall until late July, so it’s a pleasant time to travel.

The lovely culture of Cuba is an intricate mix of different, often contradicting factors and influences. The Cuban people and their traditions have their origination from European, African, and Amerindian influences.

Credit: GQ

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Enjoy the sea breeze driving along Havana’s Malecon from Habana Viejas To Miramar in one of the country’s icons: a classic 1950s American Car.

Credit: MarketWatch

Also Read: Why Solo Trip To Cuba Is Absolutely Mind-Blowing?

Salsa is synonymous with Cuba. Watch or learn the steps in the colonial town Trinidad before it gets too steamy to dance in the street.

Credit: Shadow and Act

Also Read: 11 Best Malaysian Festivals That Defines Its Culture

Check out Varadero for all-inclusive and family- friendly hotels or head to one of Cuba’s quieter white-sand cays. Whether you’re chilling out on a Beach or swinging your hips to an infectious beat you’ll be too busy enjoying the atmosphere here to be bothered by the chance of rain.

The entire city turns into a big celebration spot when the carnival begins in Santiago de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba Carnival is the largest, most popular, and most traditional one in all of Cuba. The celebration is an outburst of color, deadly drum rhythms, and dance.

It’s one time for all the Cubans to re-gather themselves and look back to their history, community, and culture, and is often underlined by the Cuban national holiday of July 26th.

The next and second biggest city after Havana, Santiago is the most happening and exotic city of Cuba, The city has dozens of different ethnic groups being settled here over the centuries, which includes African, Chinese, Indigenous, French Haitian, and Spanish.

The fusion of these beautiful cultures is witnessed in the richness of music and dance; several forms of which originated in Santiago de Cuba, like CongaRumba, and Son (which later advanced into what people call Salsa today).

What’re the most highlighting thing to notice is – The Congos! They can be heard in various areas around the city. Also, famous orchestras find their way to Santiago for the festivities.

History of the Carnival

In most Roman Catholic societies, Carnival is a festival that is held just before Lent and is celebrated in the month of February or March.

However, Santiago de Cuba Carnival is celebrated mostly towards the end of July. The festival is known to have emerged from the summer festivals formerly called as the Mamarrachos. On June 24 (St. John’s Day), June 29 (St. Peter’s Day), July 24 (St. Christine’s Day), July 25 (St. James the Apostle’s Day) and July 26 (St. Anne’s Day), Mamarrachos were held.

Almost in all cases, the way in which Mamarrachos were celebrated actually had something to do with the religion which gave every day its individual name. The inhabitants used these dates of public holiday to celebrate in their own unique fashion.

Mamarrachos are celebrated during summer and winter to celebrate the end of harvest season or the start of the pre-Lenten season.

The Winter Carnival or festival was referred to as Carnaval por los blancos Cubanos” (a Carnival for white Cubans). On the other hand, the Summer Festival was famous as the ‘Carnaval de las classes bajas” (a carnival of the lower classes).

The exact origin and age of Mamarrachos are unknown. The word “mamarrachos” itself is not found in the written records until 1757. The festivals consider themselves to have occurred as early as 1679.

However, it’s recognized that the Mamarrachos of the 1800s were even more passionate and intense than they are today. In the past, they included throwing objects and liquids at other participants (as well as others not participating!), traditional foods -such as ajiacoempanadasomelets, fritters, fruits, fried or roast pork with boiled plantains. 

At that time, the festival also features horse racing, performances by theatre groupspaseo (a parade of animal-drawn carriages), bonfires, carrying torches on pilgrimages to sanctuaries, drinking alcohol like aguardiente and “Yara” rum, beer.

People in the past wore costumes and masks, masked balls. They used to enjoy live music and dancing in the styles of contradanzaDanzadanzonrigadoon, and waltz. But by the end of 1800, the bonfires, horse-racing, torch-bearing pilgrimages have almost vanished.

One of the most demanding things of Santiago Carnival are the comparsasThey are the parades or the street performances comprised of a musical group and connected troop of costumed dancers. Basically categorized into paseos and congas.

Congas comparsas belonged to mainly lower class citizens and were large in numbers compared to paseos when it came to dancing. Whereas, Paseos were more lavish and had more of a modern European style of orchestra.

From the very beginning, with the more conservative elements of society, Carnival has always been criticized within Santiago. They have an objection to noise, alcohol abuse, and general disorder.

However, with other similar traditional festivals such as Charangas de Bejucal in Cuba, officials have always decided to do such celebrations, because they serve as relaxation at the time of tensions for slaves (during the time of slavery) and the lower classes.

In fact, they offer a feeling of entertainment, distraction, and freedom, even though for a few days, and this has contributed in putting spoilers on the desires for uprising and battle against the authorities.

So, if you have plans to visit Cuba, don’t miss the biggest carnival in the Caribbean to take place in Santiago de Cuba between July 21-July 28th.

7 Best Free Things To Do In Havana, Cuba:

  • Visit the Malecón, Havana
  • Explore the Callejón de Hamel, Havana
  • Enjoy at Avenida Victoria de Garzón, Santiago de Cuba
  • Get the feeling of rural at Isla de la Juventud
  • Spend some time at the UNESCO World Heritage site, La Habana Vieja
  • Relax at beaches surrounding the village of Casilda, near Trinidad city
  • Enjoy shopping at Varadero Street Market
  • Marvel at San Miguel de los Baños
  • Let your eyes see the Valley of the Sugar Mills

Best Time To Visit Cuba

December to May is the ideal time to visit Cuba.

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