When the annual Santiago de Cuba Carnival comes to town, it’s time for the city to turn into a party. This is the most famous of all the carnivals in Cuba, as well as the most traditional. If you’re lucky enough to be on holiday while it’s taking place, you’re in for an absolute treat. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.
The amazing atmosphere
Vibrant colours, contagious drum rhythms, and dancing in the streets. It’s a big part of the reason why the Santiago de Cuba Carnival is so popular, and you won’t be able to resist joining the fun either.
The Santiago de Cuba Carnival is also a time for Cubans to come together and remember their history, community and culture.
Find a spot to watch the parade
If you’re in the festival spirit and fancy following the parade all over town, then by all means go for it! You’ll start off at the Trocha Avenue, called Avenida 24 de Febrero by the locals, and from there, you’ll dance and conga-line all the way to Paseo de Marti on the other side of the city. It’s the best way to get the complete carnival experience.
If you prefer to sit back and watch with a chilled drink in hand: sounds good, doesn’t it? Then grab yourself a bench in Avenida Garzon or Cespedes; the parade is guaranteed to make its way down here. If you arrive early enough, you could bag a seat on the stands opposite the make-shift stage at Avenida Garzon.
Beautiful food and drink
After all that excitement, you’ll be ready for some refreshment. There’s no shortage of food and drink to be enjoyed during the Santiago de Cuba Carnival. Look out for the wooden kiosks with thatched roofs, they’re made from guano leaves, that line the main streets; you can grab a quick drink or snack here to keep you fuelled up until dinner time.
Fancy trying some flavours that’ll give you a true taste of the carnival? Look out for places serving congri a rice and black beans concoction that’s simply delicious, chilindron a spicy local dish made from goat meat with a pepper, tomato and onion sauce and ayaca, which is corn dough filled with meat and wrapped in corn leaf. The local restaurants don’t close during Santiago de Cuba Carnival, so you’ll be free to escape the crowds and enjoy a longer, more relaxed meal if you wish.
You can expect free-flowing beer and cocktails galore, served up from cocktails. And if you’re in the mood for something really strong, then do as the locals do and grab an aguardiente. But be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted!
Once you’ve conquered the conga line, you’ll be ready for another musical treat. You can find pop-up stages dotted all over the city showcasing local bands, which adds to the party spirit. As well as traditional sounds like son, merengue and salsa, you can expect to hear live music from all kinds of genres, from rock to disco.
If you want to explore the nightlife away from the Santiago de Cuba Carnival, then you’ve got plenty of options. Chances are you’ll find local musicians playing in Casa de la Trova in Heredia Street; it’s one of the most popular nightlight spots in town. And then there’s the Iris Jazz Club in Plaza de Marte. If you fancy a particularly quiet spot away from the carnival crowds, make a beeline for the Bello Bar at the top floor of the Melia Santiago hotel. It’s always nice and relaxed here!