Santiago de Cuba’s famous carnival

photo by Carlos "Chacho" Pacheco on Flickr

Carnivals in Caribbean nations are always colorful affairs filled with fun, music and dance, and if the locals think that these are the best days of the year, so should you. Cuba has several yearly events that allow locals to get out of the routine of day to day life, and for tourists to experience Cuban culture at its best. One of the best events you can attend during your visit is Santiago de Cuba’s famous carnival, which takes place at the end of July in 2012. For hundreds of years, this has been the most exciting and most beloved festival in Cuba, when everything becomes an explosion of sound and color, and people reinvent themselves in novel way while reminiscing about their past and celebrating their culture.

History

The Santiago Carnival is one of the oldest carnivals in Cuba, whose origins can be traced back to the 17th century, and started out as a midsummer celebration, Fiesta de Mamarrachos, where the religious aspect was just an excuse to sing, dance, eat and drink. By the 19th century, people were already used to a carnival when they could dress up in masks and costumes, attend processions, feasts, dances and parades, all of them liberally laced with aguardiente, rum and other alcoholic beverages.

Carnivals programs

photo by Leandro's World Tour on Flickr

The carnival might start only around midsummer, but preparations already begin in June. Like in the case of larger carnivals like the one in Rio, a lot of effort and preparation is put into the programs and main events, especially the dance group performances. The choreography must be perfect for the carnival, so don’t be surprised if you stumble upon some group of dancers already practicing their steps in June! Days before the carnival, the whole city is already sizzling with excitement, and you might notice that some people have already started to celebrate ahead of time. Even if there are no official events yet, Santiago de Cuba’s famous carnival has already spread the festival cheer among the locals and tourists.

The carnival starts with a parade dedicated to children, the Carnaval Infantíl, but that doesn’t mean that the adults don’t enjoy it just as much as the kids. The kid’s time is followed by paseos, or walks, in which groups of fabulously costumed performers parade down the streets to the sounds of music and drums. The paseos are an occasion for dancers to demonstrate their dexterity and carefully synchronized choreography. But the congas are not the only activity that tourists can enjoy during the carnival, because the celebration doesn’t stop at the streets. Restaurants, nightlife venues and even small kiosks are decorated in festive style, and the entire city feels like one big party. Don’t miss out on the various carnival foods, like congrí, goat chilindrón and ayaca that you can buy at street stalls and kiosks.

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