Cuba is one of the most enthralling destinations in the Caribbean, an endlessly fascinating island that will definitely get under your skin. The best time to visit Cuba depends on your priorities: come in the shoulder seasons if you prefer fewer crowds and lower prices, or visit in high season for reliable sunshine. The island has a fantastic programme of events that take place throughout the year, from traditional music celebrations to cigar festivals.
Climate and weather in Cuba
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and has a tropical climate. It has two seasons: the rainy season (May to November), and the dry season (December to April).
The high season for visitors runs from December to March: temperatures, although cooler than the rest of the year, are still in the mid- to high-20s, there is little rainfall, and humidity is low. If you visit in January or February, you can still expect plenty of sunshine, and the resorts are slightly less crowded than in December and March, which are the most popular (and expensive) months to visit.
The rainy season begins in May and lasts until November, although rainfall tends to fall in short, heavy bursts, so that you can still count on plenty of daily sunshine: 10 to 11 hours a day between May and July, and 8 to 9 from September to November. July and August are also popular months to visit, although the high temperatures (in the 30s) are matched by high humidity, particularly in cities like Havana, as well as in the south east of the island. Like the rest of the Caribbean Basin, Cuba is affected by seasonal storms and hurricanes, particularly in the months of September and October.
Festivals and events in Cuba
Cigar aficionados won’t want to miss the Habanos cigar festival in Havana, which takes place in late February, and includes tours of cigar factories, tastings, and workshops.
In March, the International Pepe Sanchez Festival takes place in Santiago de Cuba, showcasing the best traditional Cuban folk musicians. In the same month, there is a week-long Celebration of Classic Cars in Havana, with parades of the country’s world-famous cars.
April sees the Havana Biennial, one of the biggest art events in Latin America, which takes place (despite the name) every three years (the next edition will be held in 2018).
The plaintive sounds of bolero fill Havana in late June for the International Boleros de Oro Festival, and in July, Santiago de Cuba hosts the colourful Fiesta del Caribe (also known as the Fiesta del Fuego), an exuberant celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture.
In late July, Santiago de Cuba lights up again for Carnival, one of the biggest street parties in the Caribbean, which is celebrated (although not quite as flamboyantly) in Havana and in Matanzas in August. August also sees the Cuban Hip Hop Symposium festival, held in Havana. The island’s biggest traditional festival, the Fiesta de la Virgen del Cobre, is held on September 8th in honour of Cuba’s patron saint. The week-long Matamoros Son International Festival in Santiago de Cuba showcases the stirring sounds of Cuban son, the root of most salsa music.
In even-numbered years (next edition 2018), the Havana International Ballet Festival takes place in Havana at the end of October, with performances by one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. There are two outstanding cultural festivals in Havana in December: the International Festival of New Latin American Film and the International Jazz Festival. If you’re in Cuba around Christmas, you’ll see colourful celebrations in towns and villages across the islands, particularly on 24th December: the Las Parrandas festival in Remedios is the oldest of these, and the most spectacular.