Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Santiago de Cuba is known as the “hero city” and the birthplace of the Cuban revolution. The Carnival de Santiago de Cuba takes place during the last week of July. The carnival culminates with the Dia de la Rebeldia National public holiday.
Santiago is hot in July. The temperature rises from 25 degrees Celsius at sunrise to 35 within an hour. People seek out whatever shade and air-conditioning in the middle of the day they can find. The Hotel Casa Granda terrace overlooks the Parque Cespedes, a bustling centre plaza with the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion taking centre stage.
The Casa Granda also has a rooftop bar which overlooks the majority of the city and the bay. It’s a brilliant place to watch sunset and prime yourself for the evening with mojitos and pina coladas. I’ve enjoyed walking around the streets of Santiago de Cuba in the early mornings and late afternoons when it has cooled.
The city is an example of when money leaves town. Once opulent, it has a certain old world charm in a gritty modern reality. There are classic American cars and music everywhere in Santiago de Cuba, and it’s not unusual to see live 5-10 piece bands in the parks and plazas playing in the middle of the day.If possible, get some sleep in the afternoon before heading out for the Carnival of Santiago de Cuba, you will need it!
The main carnival and parade takes place on the Av Victoriano-Garson in the evening at 9pm, just to the north east of the Plaza de Marte. It’s Cuban time however, so things happen usually a bit behind schedule.
For every night from the Monday through to Sunday, dancers, floats and musicals make their way down the avenue and towards the military barracks. Tourists can find seating for $5 CUC towards the end of the seated area.It’s a lot of fun watching the parade shimmy with muñecones (large papermache figures).
Within no time, it’s 3am in the morning and the parade is still going! Around town there are street parties everywhere, some small and some not so small like the one on Paseo de Marti which stretches for several blocks.Each of the parade floats is a comparsas (neighbourhood dance groups that choreographs generally related to Caribbean traditions and the daily life of the culture of Santiago de Cuba) in competition for their design theme, costumes and performance.
There is a judging panel and TV cameras along the parade that encourage the dancers and musicians to put on a show.The amount of preparation and thought for some of the costumes starts as soon as the Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba finishes each year. Whole families will contribute towards helping decorate costumes and build floats.
Music is a proud part of Cuban culture that is evident everywhere on the island. The carnival music encourages the parade and audience to dance for hours until sunrise.The Carnival of Santiago de Cuba is safe and family orientated. You just need to be prepared to carry them home once they fall asleep past their bedtime!
The costumes, dancing and even some fire breathing keeps everyone entertained and worth the effort to visit. Food options however in Cuba are minimal. Because of the scarcity of natural resources and embargoes, Cuban cuisine isn’t what it used to be. At the parade there is vegetarian pizza, a roast pig and popcorn. If you have a delicate stomach, I’d suggest looking for other options beforehand.