There is no time like autumn to enjoy all that Havana has to offer. From cultural festivals to sport events and even religious festivities, the capital of Cuba bursts with energy, music and colors during this season. Everyone is welcome to the celebrations, and the locals will happily share with the visitors their culture, their art and their way of life. It is the perfect time to pack your bags and travel to the Caribbean country, where an adventure with Espíritu Travel’s local guides awaits you.
Travel to Havana and discover Cuban culture
Havana has a lot of secrets to discover. There is always an art exposition, a poetry slam, an art and crafts market, a interesting museum or a dance competition somewhere, you only have to find it. Our local guides know everything that is happening in Havana and they can take you there at the best time possible, so you can share with Cuban people their way of life and learn about their culture. Here are some of the cultural jewels that are happening this fall in the Caribbean capital.
For those eager for Cuban art, the festival Habanarte, that allows young Cuban artists to show their work in different disciplines in mid-September, is a must. Starting on September 8th, the festival is ten days long and only takes place in Havana every other year. Certainly, an excellent opportunity to visit the island this fall. From cinema, literature and visual arts to live theatre, music, typical dances and audiovisual arts and even master classes, conferences and workshops about Cuban art and its situation on the Caribbean country, the festival will give you a sense on how young artists live and work in the capital.
This year, due to the 25th anniversary of Ada Elba Pérez’s death, a recognized Cuban writer, poet, composer, painter and sculptress, the visitors will also be able to attend at Casa de la Poesía -Poetry House- the Bienal Identidad from September 13th to September 16th. This event will be a meeting point for Cuban artists and there the visitor will find poetry slams, concerts, workshops and conferences to honor the artist and the art of Cuban people.
For cinema lovers, the Lumière Cinematograph will hold a film cycle regarding “The cinema and the city environment” during the month of September. In it, the viewer will be encourage to wonder about the relationship of the seventh art with its context and, specifically, with the city of Havana.
If what you long for is classical music, Havana is also the right place for you. The start of the season will take place in the Church of Paula with Baroque September, a series of concerts to welcome the new music year. During the month of September, this church will hold on Fridays and Saturdays concerts from different authors played by Cuban and international musicians.
But the talent of the island does not end there. From October 20th to October 27th, the 17 Theatre Festival of Havana will fill the streets of the capital with performances and theatre pieces, workshops and master classes. Cuban and international artists meet in the city every other year in a festival of international renown that has been consolidated as a meeting space for different theatre tendencies, putting itself on the top of the contemporary scene. It is a recommended encounter for all travelers who enjoy art and love theater.
If what you want is to be part of the Cuban art scene, then Baila en Cuba is what you are looking for. This international meeting for dancers and dance academies takes place in the capitol from November 12th to the 17th, and reflects one of the most cherished arts of the country: dancing. More than 700 Salseras and Salseros from 45 countries will be filling the streets of Havana with life, dances and music. It constitutes a great opportunity for travelers who want to get to know better all the facets of the island and enjoy Cuban music with the locals of Havana. Six days of Salsa concerts in the streets, workshops and dancing competitions that will make everyone feel the rhythm of the Caribbean and blend in with one of the most dance-lover populations in the world.
Nevertheless, the end of autumn is when Havana is more filled with cultural festivals and activities than at any other time of the year. This year there are no less than two international festivals taking place in the city within the first two weeks of December, which in addition to the warm climate of the island makes a perfect opportunity to visit the Caribbean country.
Thereby, the visitors would be able to experience the 39th International New Latin American Film Festival, which takes place in Havana from December 8th to December 18th. This international festival has a section of various categories for films in contest, a section of selected Latin American movies from classics to contemporary pieces, from Cuba, other Caribbean countries, continental Latin American or from indigenous communities, a section of films from other parts of the world, a section for specially important pieces or artists and, lastly, a section with master classes, conferences and workshops about the cinema industry. After all, a really complete festival where everyone who is interested in cinema in general, and the Cuban industry in particular, will be able to learn, enjoy and share with professionals from all over the world.
On the other hand, the International Handicrafts Fair, FIART 2017, takes place in the capital from December 5th to December 17th. This year, the event will be dedicated to the province of Santiago de Cuba and the art of glass work, although the visitors will be able to find a big variety of handcrafts from different art disciplines. The fair aims to highlight the presence of manufactures in the present socio economic scenario and its role in development, as well as the importance of crafts as expressions of cultural identity and a connexion to the past and heritage from different regions of the world. After all, a great opportunity to see for yourself a beautiful selection of Cuban crafts that show the heritage of different cultures the island has while bearing the imprint of the Caribbean and other Latin American cultures.
If you like photography, visiting the School of Creative Photography is a must. This school for young and experienced artists has, besides from the workshops and the classes, a space to hold original expositions. This season, the exhibit “Habana de mis sueños” -“Havana of my dreams”-, by Cuban photographer and director of the School Tomás Inda Barrera, shows the visitor the capital of the Caribbean country from an angle that will make them re-think the way they see the city.
And for those who love music and dancing, the autumn highlights do not end here. Havana is the place to be if you want to blend in with the Cubans at the local pubs and cafés while dancing salsa or casino, two of the most popular dance styles on the island or maybe having a mojito or a piña colada. You cannot miss one of the famous Buena Vista Social Clubs, where people from Havana go to dance and listen to live music while drinking a mojito, and the world famous La Bodeguita del Medio, where people from Ernest Hemingway to the Chilean president Salvador Allende went to have a drink and smoke a cigar.
Havana: a city of movement
If, on the other hand, you like the atmosphere of sporting events, this season is also perfect for you to visit the capital of the Caribbean country. From children playing and running on the streets to teens playing basketball or baseball in the neighborhood’ squares, Cuba is always filled with movement. So if you want to feel part of that spirit, Havana is the place to be in the fall.
If you travel at the end of October, you will be able to witness the great Gran Fondo Tour, an international cycling tour with 500 participants that will go through all Havana. You can wander around the city while discovering the two paths of the Tour: the 2.48 miles circuit that goes through the world famous Malecón, by the Caribbean sea, on October 21st, and the 40.38 miles circuit that takes place on October 22nd, starting at the Malecón and traveling around all Havana before finishing next to the historic Hotel Nacional.
But if what you want is to become part of the celebration, you can still sign up for the Marabana, a marathon for experienced and amateur athletes that will light up the city on November 19th. The Marabana has different categories, including for blind and deaf runners and athletes in a wheelchair, and various modalities, such as the whole marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K. Everyone is welcome to participate and while exercising, runners will be able to enjoy the views of the Malecón and beautiful Old Havana, where the colonial and colorful buildings make this neighborhood a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Altogether, a great way to celebrate Cuba’s National Day of Physical Culture and Sport.
Join the locals on the popular fall festivities
However, no matter what activities you like, experiencing the popular religious festivities and the climate they create all around the city is always one of the most amazing things to live and share with the locals in Cuba.
At this time of the year, Havana celebrates the Virgen de la Regla or Yemayá on September 7th, one of the most spectacular celebrations due to being the patroness of the capital. This Virgen is special because it is a figure where the christian virgin blends with the Yoruba tradition, originating a female saint, maternity goddess and madame of the sea, that joins the Spanish and African heritage of the Cuban culture. On this date, the people of Havana like coming together on the Malecón and celebrating with fresh fruit or flower offerings and music by the sea.
Another big religious autumn festivity is the day of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, on October 8th. On this day, the people of Cuba celebrate the patroness of the island with religious services and a festive atmosphere that all visitors are welcome to join.
Whatever kind of Havana you want to experience, autumn is the perfect time to do so. Whether you prefer to learn more about the Cuban art, music and culture, their sport events or their popular festivities, or even all of it, planning your trip to Cuba during this season is the perfect idea for getting to know better the island and its people, their charm and their way of life.
How to get to Cuba: a guide for American travelers
Travel to Havana from the US
If you have read this article imagining yourself in Havana, enjoying the warmth of fall on the Caribbean Island and discovering the city through outdoor theater plays, marathons, religious festivities, dance competitions, bike tours and art craft markets while getting to know the locals at the typical bars and restaurants, now it is time to plan your trip.
Let’s start with the flights. There are several international airports throughout the island, and Havana, José Martí International Airport (HAV) is the busiest. Several american airlines fly to the island, such as Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines. Not to mention that JetBlue has direct flights from JFK and United has direct flights from Newark.
We are happy to advise you about booking your flight.
Is Havana tourism legal?
This is another popular question for American travelers. The US Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Affairs (OFAC) does not allow trips with exclusively tourist activities for American citizens. Although there are still restrictions for US nationals, OFAC rules still allow visits to Cuba if the trip is framed within one of the following 12 general categories:
1. Family visits.
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations.
3. Journalistic activity.
4. Professional research and professional meetings.
5. Educational activities: People to People tours.
6. Religious activities.
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions.
8. Support for the Cuban people.
9. Humanitarian projects.
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes.
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials.
12. Certain authorized export transactions.
Most of this categories are hard to fulfill for most people. This means that the majority of Americans need to go with a People-to-People tour, like what Espíritu Travel offers. The all Cuba tours have unique cultural experiences that enrich the traveler’s visit and help to understand the way of life of Cuban people. At the end, it is a way to enrich your trip to Cuba.
American travelers need to get a Cuba Tourist Card (visa) before traveling, which several airlines provide the tourist card or you can obtain them through a travel agency like Espíritu Travel. Other requirements are a valid passport with 6 months validity.
If you have a valid Cuban passport or if your passport shows that you were born in Cuba, you will need to contact the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. for more details about other documents you will need besides your passport. Please take into account that the process with the Cuban Embassy could take a few weeks.
You will also need medical insurance to enter Cuba. That should not be a problem since most airlines include Cuban medical insurance ($25 per passenger) in the total cost of the ticket. ESICUBA provides Cuban medical insurance and it is valid for 30 days. If you are planning on staying in Cuba for more than 30 days, you will need to purchase additional insurance to cover the rest of your stay. You are also able to check with your own medical insurance provider to know if you would be covered in Cuba or you can purchase travel insurance which we always highly recommend.
Discover the real Havana, travel with local guides
One of the many benefits of booking your trip with Espíritu Travel is that we work with local guides, people who live on the island and know all its secrets. In this way, in are able to get an in depth experience while sightseeing and visit places that otherwise you wouldn’t have seen. If you want to get to know the true Cuban way of life, we encourage you to go with someone who can show you what the island is really like. Anyone who travels this way gets a much better sense of the island than they would have experienced on their own.
In addition, Espíritu Travel works almost exclusively with paladares and casas particulares. The paladares are privately owned restaurants (i.e. not owned by the government) which their numbers keep growing. These establishments are usually located in a family house and /or run by the members of the family, and offer delicious meals prepared with fresh produce of the region that combines the taste of the Caribbean with the blend of cultures of the island. This gives the travelers a unique opportunity to have a conversation with Cubans who know better than anyone the daily life on the island. Cubans are usually look forward to speaking to foreigners and sharing their experiences, answering any doubts that they may have about their way of life, telling stories about the island and its history, asking travelers about their country and their culture and, why not, practice their English.
Espiritu travel also uses casas particulares which are the way to stay in Cuba without staying in a government owned hotel. They are houses owned by families that invite travelers into their homes, kind of like a small B&B, but with all the charm that Cubans give when taking care of their guests. That way, visitors are able to see the way a normal Cuban family lives while helping their economy and bonding with the local community.
Stop dreaming about a travel to Cuba and plan your trip to Havana this autumn. Discover the city, its culture, its rhythm and enjoy the Cuban way of life and the charm of Cuban people with the locals. Fall in love with this jewel of the Caribbean and make friends and memories that you will never forget.