2017 is going to be an interesting year for Cuba. It will be the first year without their iconic former leader, Fidel Castro. Whether you agree with his politics or not, his presence dominated the island nation for more than half a century, and his death has left a gap in the country’s political and cultural landscape. Sure, that certain reality TV star and business mogul is now the President of the United States of America (again, whether you agree with his politics or not), but his predecessor was the one who restarted formal diplomatic relations with Cuba after decades of frostiness. And who needs frostiness in a tropical paradise? If 2017 is the year when you make the entirely appropriate decision to visit Cuba, there are some things that you simply have to see and do… And seriously, the sooner the better. Even though Cuba is now more open to US visitors than it has been in decades, it’s not going to change to any major degree. But still, why wait? So what are some of the things that you simply have to see and do in Cuba in 2017?
November 25, 2017
Let’s get the first, most obvious one out of the way first. Fidel Castro passed away on November 25, 2016 at the grand old age of 90. This means that if you happen to be in Cuba around November 25, 2017, there will be a time of remembrance and mourning. It will be the first anniversary of his passing, so nobody knows what form this will take. But you can expect something to commemorate the date, and it might not be a night for major partying. And yet it will be interesting to see how the nation marks the anniversary of the man who made such a mark on the country.
Somewhat More Festive Occasions
While the Cubans might spend a period of November 2017 to mourn their former leader, there are a number of more festive things to do in the country. So what is the best of the best?
- Smoke Em If You’ve Got Em!
The 27th of February sees the start of the annual Cuban cigar festival in Havana (until March 3rd). Just think, a festival devoted to one of things that Cuba is most famous for! There will be multiple samples and chances to buy… Even if you’re not a smoker, it’s a great chance to pick up some premium cigars to take home as souvenirs.
- Read, Read, Read
Cuba has an astoundingly high literacy rate, and this is reflected in the popularity of the annual Feria Internacional del Libro (also in Havana). It runs from 25 April until 8 May, so there’s plenty of time to check out the multitude of literature on offer. Yes, most of it is in Spanish, but there are a number of English language titles amongst the sensational selection on offer.
Esteban Salas Early Music Festival
Esteban Salas was a Cuban composer of music that was religious in theme. Each February his work is celebrated across Cuba, particularly in churches (unsurprisingly). It’s not just something for the spiritually minded amongst you, and the music is truly uplifting and distinctively Cuban. And isn’t this why you are in this sensational country? Try to see some of the festival in the biggest sites on offer, such as the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Havana (or La Catedral de la VirgenMaría de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, if you prefer).
International Pepe Sanchez Trova Festival
It’s time to head to Santiago de Cuba, often regarded as Cuba’s second city (although don’t mention that to the residents). While Cuba might be best known for salsa, it’s important that you don’t disregard trova, a guitar-based style of music that was born in Santiago de Cuba. This is a soulful, minimalist type of music that is typically Cuban, and yet very far removed from the rhythmic Cuban music you might be used to. It takes place in late March each year, and while you should see Santiago de Cuba when you visit the country, a 20 day tour in Cuba will most definitely have you covered.
- Low Budget Does Not Mean Low Quality
You can keep your Cannes, your Berlin, and your Toronto. For true independent filmmaking, you need to make your way to Gibara, a town in the Holguin province of Cuba. Each April, the town plays host to the Gibara Low Budget Film Festival. Many international films don’t have a Hollywood style budget, and yet the films on offer at the Gibara Low Budget Film Festival show an admirable level of innovation. It’s not as though you’re going to see a succession of low budget, low quality films produced on a shoestring budget, and you will in fact see some remarkable films that were able to tell a compelling story without needing to spend the gross domestic product of a small county.