Seasonal Planning for Cuba Travel
Cuba has two distinct seasons: November-April (dry, with more sunshine) and May-October (wet, albeit still with considerable amounts of sunshine too). Rain can fall even in dry months and in the wet season, mornings are often dry with thunderstorms coming later in the afternoon. Temperatures in dry season average 75°-80°F (24°-27°C) with wet season temperatures actually slightly warmer on the whole.
The high season runs from December to March, with December and January the busiest months. At these times, key cities on the normal traveler routes, including Havana, Viñales in the heart of tobacco-growing country, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba, as well as the resorts are crowded, although even at these busy times, travel elsewhere in the country does not see hectic levels of tourism.
During the high and dry season, occasional cold fronts do sweep into western Cuba, making temperatures drop significantly and often bringing rain. Another smaller high season, coinciding with vacation periods in North America and Europe, happens in July and August.
Additionally, June to November is hurricane season. In hurricane season, hurricanes do not occur daily but the chance of them is much higher, with September and October having the highest likelihood of hurricanes. August is the hottest month (and, coming in the midst of wet season, the most humid) while October is almost universally the wettest month.
Of course, on top of these general weather patterns, Cuba is a big enough island to have some regional variations. Temperatures are on average 2-3°C hotter in eastern regions, for example, while despite the onset of dry season, the Baracoa region in the far east experiences its highest rainfall of the year.
|Season||Months||Pros||Cons||Best For||Where to Visit|
|Winter (High season)||Nov-Feb||Dry season, great festivals||Biggest crowds of the year. Cold fronts can bring unexpected rain.||Festivals, hiking, diving, beaches||Havana, Viñales/Pinar del Río, Trinidad, Sierra Escambray, Remedios|
|Spring (Shoulder season)||Mar-May||Mostly sunny weather, fewer crowds than high season, bargains on hotels/activities||Crowds still linger in key destinations.||Hiking, Birding, Diving, Beaches||Havana, Viñales/Pinar del Río, Trinidad, Sierra Escambray, Eastern provinces|
|Summer (Mini high season)||June-Aug||Generally few visitors (except late Jul/Aug).||High rainfall. Insufferable heat in eastern provinces.||City activities, fishing, carnivals||Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba|
|Fall (Low season)||Sept-Nov||Few visitors, bargains on hotels/activities||High rainfall. Hurricane season.||City activities, music/film festivals||Havana, Pinar del Río province, Santiago de Cuba|
Winter (November to March)
From late November through to mid-March, Cuba enters its high season, as the wilder rainy weather of September and October clears to leave the sunniest, driest weather of the year. The temperatures average between 75° and 80°F (24°-27°C) in this period, but there are the most drastic temperature swings of the year too when cold fronts blow in (generally affecting Western Cuba only).
Do expect crowds though. This is by far the most popular time to visit Cuba, although it is key destinations like Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba only where the high visitor numbers are really obvious.
Havana, as in every season, should feature on your itinerary right now, where bright sunlight accentuates the city's vivid colors and where streets are that little bit cooler and fresher for walking around. The popular Havana-Viñales-Cienfuegos-Trinidad circuit is at its most popular at this time of year, and no wonder, with fantastic festivals in Havana and Cienfuegos, tobacco season in full swing in Viñales and dry sunny weather for hiking around Viñales and Trinidad.
All outdoor activities are great to try at this time. The best hiking of anywhere in Cuba is in Sierra Maesta, where the Castros and others had their hideout during the Cuban Revolution. Besides the hiking, try horse-riding in Viñales, diving on the Península de Guanahacabibes or Isla de Juventud, snorkeling off the north coast cays (sandy islands, linked by causeways) in Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila provinces and beach-going at Varadero in the west or Guardalavaca in the east.
For festival-lovers, if your visit is in December, visit Remedios in Villa Clara for one of Cuba's best parties and factor in the Circuito Norte—the north coast road—with forays across the pedraplenes (causeways) to the Cayerias del Norte.
Further east, explore the Oriente (eastern provinces) before the heat of summer descends.
Festival Internacional de Música Benny More, Cienfuegos. The Caribbean port city of Cienfuegos goes wild in late November with all manner of celebrations honoring impresario composer and singer Benny Moré, considered one of the all-time greats of Cuban music.
Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Havana. Cubans are avid moviegoers, so much so that many take their annual vacation during the New Latinamerican Movie Festival in late November and the first half of December, which screens avant-garde movies from throughout the Americas. Other cities also participate in the festival.
Procesión de los Milagros, San Antonio de las Vegas. Held each December 17 in San Antonio de las Vegas (southwest of Havana), this is Cuba’s largest religious procession when thousands of pilgrims walk or crawl (often dragging rocks tied to their ankles) to the Sanctuario de San Lázaro to beseech the saint for miracles they imagine his effigy can fulfill.
Las Parrandas, Remedios. This late-night celebration during Christmas Week in Remedios, Villa Clara, features carnival floats plus a crazed firework competition that is not for the faint of heart—in fact, it can be considered darn dangerous! Other towns and villages in Villa Clara province also hold parrandas.
Havana Jazz Festival, Havana. Cuba’s top jazz musicians are joined by international stars at this multi-venue, week-long festival. Although it has previously been held in November and December, January is now the preferred month.
Fería Internacional de Libro (International Book Fair), Havana. Cubans are avid readers and flock to Havana’s Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña in February for this popular annual fair, which includes lectures, readings, and—this being Cuba—music and dance. The event also occurs on a smaller scale in other major cities.
Festival del Habano, Havana. The capital hosts Cuba's most important festival for cigars, attracting aficionados eager to smoke Cuba's most famous brands in February. It ends with a spectacular one-of-a-kind gala at the Tropicana cabaret.
Generally speaking, the sunny drier weather lingers through most of the spring, March to mid-May, and is in fact often more agreeable than in high season months, with temperatures on the increase but rainfall still low. Come May, the rains pick up a little as the transition to wet season begins but overall this period is many insiders' top time to visit, with the pleasant bright weather accompanied by a gradual greening of the landscapes after the dry season and also many fewer visitors than in high season.
This is overall another brilliant time of year for outdoor activities. Try horse-riding or climbing in Viñales, diving on the Península de Guanahacabibes or Isla de Juventud, snorkeling off the north coast cays (sandy islands, linked by causeways) in Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila provinces and beach-going at Varadero in the west or Guardalavaca in the east.
Havana is once again shown off in all its color during this season and yet (until May) remains sunny and with agreeable, fresher temperatures for exploring the streets.
Viñales is a great base for hikes and horseback rides, with lots of farms that offer meals and educational tours and sublime hiking, as well as some of the country's most idyllic beach destinations in Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutías. Trinidad, too, has great nearby hiking and beach life. In the east, once again try to explore the region at this time, before the heat of summer descends. Base yourself in Gibara in April, enlivened by a film festival this month and with brilliant access to some little-known beaches. Holguín is a happening city at this time too, with a week-long cultural festival in May.
Havana World Music Festival, Havana. This popular festival held in Havana late each March spans the spectrum of Cuban musical genres, from traditional to the latest sounds.
International Cuban Dance Festival, Havana. Another Havana-hosted event, this one features performances and classes by a cross-spectrum of Cuban and international companies and genres.
Semana Santa, Trinidad. Easter Week is a big thing in Trinidad, and the Way of the Cross Procession on Good Friday evening is a spectacle not to miss as a cross is borne through the cobbled streets.
Festival Internacional del Cine Pobre de Humberto Solás, Gibara. Coastal port Gibara hosts this annual festival or 'poor' or low-budget film every April.
Día de los Trabajadores (Labor Day), Havana & other cities. Ever May 1—a national holiday—Cuba sees its largest political rally, marked by massive processions in every provincial capital city. The biggest event, by far, is in Havana, when up to a million people parade through the Plaza de la Revolución.
Romerías de Mayo, Holguín. Holguín is a feast of cultural activity for a week in early May. Originating as a Catholic pilgrimage (romería) to the Loma de la Cruz, the event is today a celebration of the arts and Cuban cultural heritage... and for the locals, a great excuse to party!
Summer (May to August)
Summer in Cuba is a very wet time of year, although it does ironically see some of the year's highest temperatures too. August is both the hottest and most humid month overall in Cuba. Looking on the bright side, the rain is not continual and days often fall into a pattern of staying dry in the mornings before thunderstorms commence in the afternoons. Tourism is right down in Cuba at this time, although there is a spike in late July and August which coincides with key vacation time in North America and Europe.
It is a good time of year to factor both cultural and outdoor activities into your itinerary, basing yourself in a city like Trinidad in the west or Santiago de Cuba in the east, both of which have many cultural attractions, then making a break for the stunning nearby countryside close to these cities should weather permit.
Wonderful museums, galleries and historic sights in Havana, Matanzas, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba offer absorbing refuges from the wet weather. And despite the often oppressive heat in the eastern provinces at this time, Santiago de Cuba offers this season's biggest party for pretty much all of July for its carnival (Cuba's biggest) and the build-up events.
Hemingway Sportfishing Tournament, Havana. The author himself established this event in the 1950s and it still draws international competitors keen to win one of the world’s premier prizes for sportfishing. It’s hosted at Havana’s Hemingway Marina in June.
San Juan Camagüeyano (Carnival), Camagüey. Camagüey hosts its carnival in late June. It’s not quite equal to that of Rio de Janeiro, or even Santiago de Cuba, but the city resounds to conga rhythms and locals partying like there’s no tomorrow.
Festival del Fuego (Fiesta del Caribe), Santiago de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba hosts this week-long festival in early July as a celebration of pan-Caribbean music and dance. It features comparsas (carnival troupes), music concerts, and plenty of general street festivities.
Santiago de Cuba Carnival, Santiago de Cuba. Cuba’s largest and most flamboyant carnival spans the week of the 26 July celebrations, culminating in a cacophonous climax as the main parade winds down Avenida Jesús Menéndez.
26 of July Celebrations (Dia de la Rebeldía Nacional), Santiago de Cuba & other cities. No other date on Cuba's revolutionary calendar is as important as the Day of National Rebellion. Every city celebrates at this time in July, with the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba as the epicenter of activity. However, the main televised celebration rotates between cities every year. This being Cuba, you also get music concerts and plenty of street festivities wed to political speechifying.
Fall (September to November)
The weather stays very, very rainy in fall in Cuba, with September and October additionally the most likely months to experience hurricanes (although it should be said that hurricanes rarely affect visitors to Cuba too much). There is little escape from the rain either, as every part of the country pretty much suffers torrential rains.
The mountain regions of Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo receive the highest rainfall of all. Temperatures are coming back down after their highs in the summer, with average highs in Havana no more than 86°F (30°C) in September/October, and often a lot lower. Continued rain, hurricanes, and cooler weather keep the visitors away: traveler numbers are at their lowest levels of the year in September and October, and only pick up again into November.
These months are good for lingering in the bigger cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba, with their wealth of indoor and cultural activities, and this sentiment is echoed by the fact these destinations have the best festivals of this season. See here for how to spend a perfect day in Havana. If you do choose to head to the countryside this month, Pinar del Río province might be the best bet. It is the driest part of a rather wet country right now, with tobacco planting in full swing, making this an interesting way to gain an insight into Cuban cigar making. If the rains come here, the area around Viñales has Cuba's most extensive caves: it could be time for a trip underground!
Festival de Son, Santiago de Cuba. Santiago de Cuba is the birthplace of son, the most quintessential and well-known of Cuba's traditional music genres. So, fittingly it hosts this annual October festival, when the nation’s top performers are joined by international artists. It also encompasses concerts and competitions spanning cha-cha-cha, danzón, mambo, and salsa.
Havana Ballet Festival, Havana. Cuba’s ballet corps are world-renowned, so count yourself lucky if your visit coincides with this October festival beloved of Cubans and held every two years. The main venue is the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso de La Habana.
Havana Classical Music Festival, Havana. Concert halls, churches, and cultural centers throughout Havana in the middle of November host classical and chamber music in memory of 18th-century Cuban composer Estebán Salas.