International Book Fair, Havana. This large gathering of authors, publishers, and distributors is really only of interest to those who can read in Spanish. But if you can, this is an excellent Latin American book fair. Second week of February.
Habanos Festival, Havana. Cigar smokers won’t want to miss this annual celebration of the Cuban stogie. Run by the official state cigar company, Habanos, S.A., events include lectures, factory visits, tastings, and a gala dinner with an auction of rare cigars. Late February.
International Festival of “La Trova” Pepe Sánchez, Santiago de Cuba. If you like the sounds of traditional Cuban folk music, you’ll want to hit this festival. Buena Vista Social Club member Eliades Ochoa organized a recent festival. Local Santiagueros are the heart of the festival, but singers and groups come from the entire island and throughout Latin America. Mid-March.
Celebration of Classic Cars, Havana. Recognizing the appeal of its huge fleet of classic American cars, Cuba has organized a weeklong celebration of these Detroit dinosaurs. Events include lectures, mechanical workshops, and parades. Owners from other countries are encouraged to bring their wheels to Cuba, and a caravan from Havana to another colonial city is usually orchestrated. Mid-March.
Havana Bienal, Havana. This is one of the premier Latin American art shows, bringing together and exhibiting a wide range of contemporary Latin American artists who work in a broad range of mediums and styles. Havana’s celebrated arts’ fair, forum, and festival takes place across a variety of venues in the capital. Each bienal has a different theme. Occurring every 3 years. www.bienalhabana.cult.cu. Throughout April.
May Day parades, nationwide. If you’re in Cuba on May Day, the traditional socialist celebration of Labor Day, you’ll want to join (or at least watch) one of the many parades and public gatherings. The big daddy of them all takes place at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana, where more than 100,000 people usually gather to listen to the president’s annual May Day speech. May 1.
International Blue Marlin Tournament, Havana. The Marina Hemingway is the fitting site for this annual big-game fishing tournament. Late May.
International “Old Man and the Sea” Billfish Tournament, Playas del Este, Havana. Marina Tarará is the host to this annual big-game fishing tournament. Second week of June.
International Festival “Boleros de Oro,” Havana. You’ll be crying in your mojito (Cuban highball cocktail) . . . and loving it. Theaters, clubs, and concert halls across Havana will be filled with the sweet and melancholy sounds of bolero. Concerts are also staged in Santiago and other major cities. Late June.
Fiesta del Caribe/Fiesta del Fuego, Santiago de Cuba. This event features lectures, concerts, parades, and street fairs celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture. Speakers, guests, and musical groups from around the Caribbean are invited and each year the festival is dedicated to a Caribbean area or country. July 3-9.
Carnival, Santiago de Cuba. The most “African” city in Cuba throws an excellent annual carnival. Street parties and concerts are everywhere, and the colonial city is flooded with masked revelers and long conga lines. Second half of July.
Carnival, Havana. Although not nearly as colorful or charismatic as Santiago’s Carnival, there’s still a good dose of public merriment, street parties, open-air music concerts, and the occasional parade. August 3-15.
Carnival, Matanzas. Although not as massive or elaborate as Carnival celebrations in Havana or Santiago, Matanzas still puts on a good party. The town has strong Afro-Cuban roots, and you’ll experience this in body, flesh, food, and song throughout the week. Third week of August.
Symposia de Hip Hop Cubano, Havana. As Havana sizzles, hot Cuban hip hop music is performed and celebrated at various venues around Havana. The festival is based at the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza, Calzada and Calle 8, Vedado. Third week of August.
Fiesta de la Virgen del Cobre, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba. Cuba’s national saint, the Virgin of Cobre, is revered by Roman Catholics and Santeros alike. There are pilgrimages to her altar in the small town of El Cobre, and celebrations in her honor nationwide. September 8.
Days of Cuban Culture, nationwide. In yet another show of Cuba’s omnipresent anticolonial spirit, the period traditionally marking Christopher Columbus’s stumbling upon the New World is given over to celebrations of Cuban and Afro-Cuban culture. October 10-20.
International Festival “Matamoros Son,” Santiago de Cuba. The silky sounds of Cuban son fill the streets and theaters of Santiago. This is a great chance to hear a solid week of some wonderful music. Third week of October.
Havana International Ballet Festival, Havana. Alicia Alonso, amazingly, is still going strong as the director of the Cuban National Ballet, still one of the most highly regarded troupes on the planet. Alicia uses this cachet to stage a wonderful biennial international festival in the Gran Teatro de La Habana. Occurring in even-numbered years. Late October-early November.
International Fishing Tournament, Jardines del Rey. This event was inaugurated in 2010 on Cayo Guillermo. Captured fish — Blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin fish, and wahoo — accrue points exchanged for silver prizes. Late October.
International Festival of New Latin American Film, Havana. This is one of the premier film festivals in Latin America. A packed schedule of films is shown in theaters over a period of 10 days throughout Havana. For information, visit www.habanafilmfestival.com. Early December.
International Jazz Festival, Havana. This festival is organized by none other than Chucho Valdés. The event usually draws a handful of top international bands and soloists to share the stage and billing with a strong stable of Cuba’s best jazz talents. Visit www.festivaljazzplaza.icm.cu. Third week of December.
Las Parrandas, Remedios. This extravagant public carnival features late-night parades with ornate floats, costumed revelers, and a serious amount of fireworks. The big event occurs on December 24, but between the preparations, practice runs, and smaller imitations in neighboring towns, you’ll be able to catch some of the excitement throughout most of late December. Late December.