The music of Cuba is calling: here is our guide to the Caribbean festivals and rhythms from city to city.
Take a look at our guide to Cuba's events and festivals from March through to the fall. Plan your trip to the Pacific island and relax under unmistakable Caribbean rhythms with our suggestions on where to book your stay. The Cuban lifestyle is inextricably linked to music and other related activities such as singing and dancing. In this article we take you by the hand, helping you discover the long-established bonds between the music and the island. Follow us as we jump from city to city, covering the wide range of events and festivals that the island hosts during the coming months.
♪♫♪♫ “Guajira guantanamera, guantanamera, guajira guantanamera…”♪♫♪♫ - J. Martí, H. Angulo e P. Seeger
The music of Cuba is a long-established tradition that has been built up over time. It has been strengthened over the years as multiple cultures and different backgrounds have contributed to the creation of the island’s unique musical identity. The best time to visit Cuba is the dry season which typically corresponds with the months between November and April. In this period the temperature never drops below 24°C and rain is very rare. However, the Isla Grande is magnificent all year long, blessed by its equatorial position, and every period is as good as any to visit. Maybe you could book your next holiday in alignment with some of the musical events taking place here in order to fully enjoy your trip to the max!
# 1 HAVANA
Buena Vista Social Club is an extraordinary Cuban musical group composed of an ensemble of musicians. The history of this group dates way back to 1996 when it was founded in Havana, named after the homonymous members club in the Buenavista quarter of Havana, a popular music venue in the 1940s. To recreate old, popular sounds of the times they recruit many retired musicians. These super abuelos (super grandparents as they are all aged from between seventy and ninety years) take part with enthusiasm, even though they retired from the music scene years ago! It is mainly down to the documentary by German filmmaker Wim Wenders that the group came to be recognised on an international level, achieving extraordinary success. With over eight million copies sold, it is the best-selling Latin-American record of all time!
Credits: Ice Boy Tell
The Gran Teatro de Havana is an internationally-recognised institution. A building with a Baroque façade which boasts white marble decorations and statues. Night lighting grants the building with its highest form of architectural expression. Visiting the theatre nowadays, it can be found in its maximum splendour because it has only recently been restored in the years between 2013 and 2015. The incredible chandelier hangs above an auditorium which can accommodate more than a thousand people. In autumn there are shows related to the Festival Ballet Biennial of Havana, but if you want to simply visit the building you can always take a guided tour to admire its beautiful interior.
Havana has its own unique artistic hub. At first sight, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano diverges from the typical Cuban structure, looking more like a European underground station! It shares elements with the avant-garde, although in reality the complex has been converted from an old peanut oil factory into a multidisciplinary arts centre. Its audience ranges from intellectuals to tourists as its spaces are divided into various areas not only dedicated to art, but also to entertainment and leisure. It boasts its own restaurant, bar and even has its own corner dedicated solely to cigars, as well as a large patio and auditorium where live performances range from theatre, music and dance. Special features include the capo and contemporary dance classes, to name but a few!
Cuban music is not only heard echoed in the auditoriums and large creative arts centres. The relationship between music and the Cuban people is very strong, and it seems as though the citizens feel the desire to bring the music out of the venues and into the streets, letting it pour out for all to enjoy! During the Annual Festival 'Habana Vieja: Ciudad en Movimiento' an array of artists perform along the city streets, in the squares, in the courtyards and all around. Captivating, overwhelming performances, where hundreds of people perform popular and contemporary dance routines with extravagant, colourful costumes. From children to dancers on stilts (nicknamed Los Gigantes), music of all kinds animates the streets. This year the 'Habana Vieja: Ciudad en Movimiento' will take place between the 3rd to the 9th of April, followed closely by the 'Bienal de la Habana' which runs from the 12th of April to 12th of May... an excellent reason to visit Cuba at the height of its musical potential.
Every Sunday around noon, in the centre of Havana Vieja, between the houses of Callejon de Hamel, the city assumes its voice and the soul of Cuba becomes visible through music. Rhythms and lyrics blend with the typical colours and vibrancy of the city .... and away with the rumba! A party in the heart of the day that has become an unmissable event for visitors on the Caribbean island. The emotional wave sweeps through the air and runs along the streets. Smiles and laughter are everywhere and from locals to tourists, all come together as one. In Callejon de Hamel the colourful murals enhance the atmosphere; from abstract tribal signs to surrealist saint-like figures. Colours and pastels run along the walls and spread everywhere, rising up as far as the highest floors of apartment buildings. Everything here originated from the artistic spark of Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, who prefers to use Salvador as his stage name. An eccentric character who has been able to transform the area, giving free rein to creative inspiration. As well as being a muralist, Salvador is also a painter and sculptor, recognised internationally. His work is called "Afro-Cuban" and he describes his work as a mix of surrealism, cubism and abstract art. Another event not to be missed is the Havana's Rhythm and Dance Festival which runs from the 4th to the 10th of March.
Our handpicked selection of Best hostels in Havana
# 2 MATANZAS
The Sunday noon party of Havana also takes place in the city of Matanzas. For the first time, the 'Bienal de la Habana' goes beyond its urban boundaries, animating other cities such as Matanzas, a place not frequented by tourists who generally prefer the beautiful beach of Varadero. The city is located along the north coast and the music and dance here has been deeply influenced by African culture. This is due to its past history, as slave-workers from Nigeria and Benin would work in the sugar cultivation here. The Timbalaye Rumba Festival is held annually in Matanzas.
Our handpicked selection of Best hostels in Matanzas
# 3 SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Santiago de Cuba is the second most populated city on the island with over half a million inhabitants, and it remains one of the island's richest historical sites. Before Havana was a capital city, it was recognised as holding a significant cultural value through its organisation of many musical activities. Santiago de Cuba is believed to be the home of the Latin American Bolero music genres and is deeply influenced by the African-American component of the population. A very important event of the carnival period is the Festival of Fire from July 19the to the 27th, characterised by music, dances and parades of carnival carts and costumes. A booming party of percussion that is unleashed along the city, even stretching into the evening.
Casa de la Trova is the 'living room of good music' in Santiago de Cuba, brought to the foreground thanks to the success of the Buena Vista Social Club group that has contributed to a real artistic rebirth of many of its members. This music is considered the result of a mixture of styles, obtained by the fusion of the Spanish song and its three-string guitar, with instruments of African origin, such as the bongo and clubs. Santiago de Cuba also organises the Festival de la Trova, with events distributed throughout the year.
Our handpicked selection of Best hostels in Santiago de Cuba
# 4 TRINIDAD
To conclude with a mention of The House of the Music of Trinidad, a great ballroom under the stars, a must-see for visitors of the city, located near the Iglesia de la Santissima Trinidad. A charming and romantic place to spend a couple of nights in the name of music. Even in a group fun is guaranteed, as dancers and musicians perform some of the best pieces of Cuban repertoire, involving people and inviting them to dance.
Our handpicked selection of Best hostels in Trinidad
Without a doubt, Cuba is one of the most active places in the world for parties and music. All these cities deserve to be visited because there is so much more to discover. You can follow our instructions by booking your stay in the best accommodations that Hostelsclub has made available under each paragraph, or you can choose your destination directly by looking in the booking panel that follows. Have a good trip!