Here is the best time
Choosing when to visit any country is dependent on so many different factors; what’s the weather going to be like, will there be anything to do, is it peak tourist season or will we have the beaches to ourselves, etc. etc. With Cuba, this has typical never been an issue before, because it wasn’t a massive tourist destination.
However, with the recent influx in popularity, it’s now very important to learn when you’re going to be overwhelmed by annoying tourists and when you’re not, or when you’re going to get stuck in a rainstorm, or even a hurricane. As well, all of this will depend on what you’re looking to get out of your holiday: do you want to go hiking up the mountains? Or explore hidden beaches, and go diving in some of the best spots in the country?
That’s why we created this handy guide, so no matter what you’re looking for from your trip to Cuba, you’ll know when to go to make sure it’s amazing.
Weather in Cuba
Cuba is one of those typical Caribbean countries with two distinct seasons: the wet season and the dry season. Considering this, the best time to visit is between December and May, when you’re pretty much guaranteed dry, sunny days and blue skies that let you see for miles around. You can visit later in the year, but the wet season typically starts in June, and visitors are advised not to travel; between August and October because of the risk of hurricanes. I know Cuba is a great adventure destination, but that might be a bit too much-unexpected adventure for my liking.
The average temperature during the dry season can be 24°C – although obviously there will be certain times when it’ll get a lot hotter. During the winter months (aka January and February), the temperature can drop to about 15°C – which, to be fair, is still a lot warmer than a lot of places around the world during winter. It’s definitely a lot hotter during the wet season, and as long as you’re not visiting during hurricane season then the rain definitely shouldn’t put you off; it typically only rains intensely for a little while, and then the sunshine peaks back through to dry everything off very quickly.
If you’re a sun seeker, then Easter Cuba tends to be hotter – but also more humid. The temperature in Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus can also creep above the national average, which you’ll definitely notice if you’re walking around soaking up the culture.
Peak tourist season
Tourist season run from mid-December to mid-March, during peak dry season, and then through July and August as well. Because of the inundation of tourist, it’s during these times that prices are highest and crowds are thickest. A lot of the industry in Cuba is reliant on tourists, especially when it comes to the smaller resorts, who rely on tourists for the atmosphere as well as for the income they bring.
If you’d rather go outside of peak season then Havana and Santiago are always pretty vibey and upbeat, with good prices all year round. If you like a big Christmas celebration then Cuba is not the one for you, as there is more emphasis on private family celebrations and the holiday itself is a pretty low-key affair. New Year’s Eve, however, also happens to be the eve of the anniversary of the Revolution, so this is a much, much bigger affair.
Festival de la Trova Longina
During January every year, Santa Clara holds a music festival named after a well-known trova song, composed in 1918 by Manuel Corona, a Cuban musician. Trova is a style of music that is incredibly popular in Cuba, and as part of the festival, there is a walk from Santa Clara to the town of Caibarien to honour the composer’s birthplace.
Havana International Jazz Festival
Another big festival during January, the Havana International Film Festival involves a number of jam sessions and prominent concerts, held in venues that range from big theatres to street corners. The festival is organised by Grammy-award winner Chucho Valdes, and visitors can expect traditional jazz and the funkier Afro-Cuban jazz that is more known to the island.
Habano Cigar Festival
Cuba is famous for its cigars. It’s literally on every traveller’s bucket list to sit in a bar in Havana, watching the classic 50s cars go by, mojito in one hand and a cigar in the other. So, why not take it up a notch and go to a festival dedicated to these famous cigars? In celebration of the country’s most iconic product (except for maybe the rum), Havana’s cigar festival is a myriad of plantation tours, trade fairs, gala dinners, and masterclasses on how to make cigars yourself. And the best bit? You can sample as many cigars are you want. Seriously.
The Santiago de Cuba Carnival
It might be the rainy season, but that doesn’t stop Cuba from hosting one of its biggest festivals smack bang in the middle of July. The Santiago de Cuba Carnival is the biggest festival in Cuba, and one of the oldest in all of Latin America. It pays homage to el son, the traditional Cuban music, and the main genre of the famous Buena Vista Social Club. Think conga parades, over the top mamarrachos, and every colour on the colour wheel.
International Ballet Festival of Havana
Alicia Alonso, a Cuban prima ballerina, is a legend – and still an active dancer at the ripe old age of 96. Which is pretty impressive, let’s be real. Well anyway, given it’s the same country that graced the world with Alicia Alonso, it’s no wonder the Cubans are, in general, pretty great at dancing. So, to celebrate this, they hold a Ballet Festival every two years in the Gran Teatro, making it one of the few festivals around the world that is dedicated exclusively to ballet.
Havana Art Biennial
Occurring every two years, the Havana Art festival is literally an art lover’s paradise. During the month of November, the city showcases the best contemporary art, statues, and sculpture that the country – and the world – has to offer. It’s one of Cuba’s most prestigious festivals, with a big emphasis on underrepresented artists from Latin America and Africa.
Las Parrandas de Remedio
People typically have one thing on their mind during December: Christmas. Which is understandable, but if you fancy getting away from the singing elves, creepy Santa’s, and screeching children, why not try Cuba’s Las Parrandas de Remedio? One of the oldest traditions in Cuba, the festival is basically a carnivalesque party, held every year since 1920 in the week leading up to Christmas. The biggest part of the festival is, obviously, held on the 24th December, but nevertheless, you can expect late-night parades, elaborate floats, extravagant costumes, and fireworks throughout the whole event.
January is peak tourist season, so expect a lot of tourists, and a really great atmosphere. January 1st is the celebration of the triumph of the Revolution, and the anniversary of Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory, while Bayamo remembers the burning of their city in 1869 with a series of musical and theatrical performances, culminating in a massive fireworks display.
Get more information for Cuba in January here.
Still tourist season, still the dry season, still a pretty great time to visit Cuba. The calm February water makes this a great month for any seasoned divers, and there are some great beaches to stretch out and relax on while you’re there.
This is the month of the International Book Fair, which highlights book presentations, special readings, and the prestigious Casa de las Americas Prize, while cigar lovers can enjoy the massive cigar festival in Havana.
Get more information for Cuba in February here.
Any avid bird watchers should head to Cuba during March. Springtime in the country offers the best wildlife watching opportunities, with dryer conditions and warm – but not too warm – weather making it all a great time to hike as well. It’s the month of Carnaval on Isla de la Juventud, with giant puppet0-like heads filling parades, sports competitions, and a lot of drinking. Plus, March is the month of the crossover period, when migrant birds from North and South America meet in Cuba en-route to warmer or colder climates. So, yeah, there’s a lot to see.
Get more information for Cuba in March here.
The Easter holiday is another heavy tourist time – which is understandable, seeing as much of the western world is off school, so it’s a great time to get away for a week or so. Plus, it’s still fairly decent weather in Cuba, and it’s only going to get warmer as the spring fades into summer. Nevertheless, April is still a great time to visit, with good options for fly fishing, an international humour festival in San Antonia and a celebration of low and no budget cinema in Gibara.
Get more information for Cuba in April here.
May is typically pretty cheap, thanks to the imminent onset of the wet season and it being totally out of season for most tourists. As a result, most resorts and hotels will be offering deals, as will Casa Particulares, local restaurants, bars, the lot. It’s also a pretty religious time for the country, with a massive religious festival taking place in Holguin during the first week, which culminates with a procession to the top of the city’s emblematic Loma de la Cruz.
Get more information for Cuba in May here.
June is technically the start of the hurricane season, but it’s rare that a hurricane actually hits now. But it does mean that prices are still pretty low, and there are some cool events going on that makes it worth risking the weather. Case in point, June is the month of Jornada Cucalambeana, the country’s celebration of country music, as well as a feisty carnival in Trinidad that is a showcase for local cowboys who gallop their horses through the narrow-cobbled streets of the city.
Get more information for Cuba in May here.
July is the month when the locals go travelling, and on a staycation – I mean, can you blame them when they live in a country full of countless stunning beaches? However, this does mean that the cheaper hotels will fill up very quickly. If you can be bothered to wade through all of the locals and tourists to find a cheap hotel to lay your head at night, July is definitely a good month to pick. Case in point: this is the month of Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba, the biggest and most colourful carnival in the Caribbean.
Get more information for Cuba in May here.
If you time it right, you can get two amazing carnivals for the price of one. Just as Santiago is finishing up its massive celebration, and sleeping off the inevitable hangover, Havana picks up a gear and begins the preparations for its own festival. Both the Festival Internacional “Habana Hip-Hop” and Carnaval de la Habana happen during August, celebrating the city and everything it has to offer.
Get more information for Cuba in May here.
This is the time when you’re most likely to get stuck in a hurricane, so typically people won’t visit during September. If you fancy braving it though, the prices all absolutely plummet, and the beaches are practically empty – although some places shut down completely for the month due to the lack of business.
Get more information for Cuba in September here.
October is the month of the international ballet festival, which is one of the greatest celebrations of the dance form in the world. It’s also the right time for Festival del Bailador Rumbero when Matanzas celebrates its rumba roots. It’s still hurricane season though, so it’s still pretty quiet wherever you go.
Get more information for Cuba in October here.
The beginning of the dry season, this is when footfall traffic across the major cities will start to pick up – and with it, the hotel prices. You can tell it’s the start of the dry season though to be honest, as there is a lot going on in Cuba in November. For starters, there’s the Benny Moré International Music Festival, which is a celebration of Benny More’s music in Santa Isabel de las Lajas – the musician’s birthplace. There’s also Maraband, the popular Havana marathon that attracts roughly 3000 competitors every year from all over the world, as well as Cuidad Metal – for the edgier people who’d much rather go to a festival dedicated to all things hardcore punk.
Get more information for Cuba in November here.
Christmas isn’t a massive event in Cuba, but that doesn’t stop them from getting a lot of tourism action, most likely from people all over the world that also don’t really care about Christmas, no matter what their country has to say about it. True to Cuban form though, the country still puts on a pretty spectacular show during December, even if hotel and resort prices nearly double to deal with the demand. You can’t miss the Festival International de Jazz, which has attracted people like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach in the past, or Las Parrandas, a massive firework festival that takes places on Christmas Eve and sees teams go against each other to see who can create the biggest floats – and the biggest bangs.
Get more information for Cuba in December here.
As you can see, Cuba is a country where there is literally never a quiet moment. Whether you’re looking for a book fair, or a jazz festival, or just warm but not too warm weather to go hiking in, you’ll be able to find it here in abundance. Enjoy!