Despite having some of the best weather of the year, with mostly sparkling clear days and delightfully warm temperatures, Cuba is subject to severe drops in temperature whenever cold fronts move in from the north. Prolonged winter rains are often associated with these cold fronts, and even on sunny days nighttime temperatures in January can be cool.
The eastern provinces (Oriente) are less prone to sudden and extreme variations—this is the best time of year to visit central Cuba and Oriente, before the sizzling heat of summer kicks in. Pack your shorts and swimwear, but be sure to add a sweater, fleece jacket, and raingear to the mix.
Crowds & Costs
This is peak tourist season, so airfares and hotel rates spike. Many casas particulares (private B&Bs) also up their rates at this time, but they still offer bargain priced accommodation, especially compared to state hotels. Early planning is advised to secure preferred accommodation, as well as reservations at the most popular paladares (private restaurants) and for car rentals.
Havana’s main plazas can seem crowded. Equally so, colonial Trinidad and the most popular beach resorts catering to Canadian and Northern European snowbirds. But elsewhere the sense of Cuba being crowded is minimal.
Where to Go
With generally sublime weather, this is a month to focus on the outdoors and for exploring Oriente and more off-the-beaten-track destinations. In Havana, the weather is perfect for wandering colonial Habana Vieja and the streets of Vedado (with a focus on the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Museo de la Revolución, and similar indoor venues on rainy days).
Cuba’s Holy Trinity—Havana, Viñales and, Trinidad—are extremely popular destinations and can get crowded in winter months. If you hate crowds, set your sights on lesser-visited destinations, such as Camagüey, with its lovely colonial plazas; and the more easterly cities, such as Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Baracoa.
If you’re fascinated by revolutionary history and Che Guevara, your list of must-visit places should include Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba. If you have an adventurous spirit and more time, then hiking to Fidel’s guerrilla HQ at La Comandancia de la Plata, in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of eastern Cuba, is a great add-on, as is the former Castro family estate at Birán, near Holguín.
What to Do
If you can secure a rental car, there’s no better time for a long road trip. With only one week, head west from Havana to Las Terrazas, the Valle de Viñales, and Cabo San Antonio, at the western tip of the island. With more time, you can even circle the island via Cienfuegos and Trinidad, then along the Carretera Central via Camagüey and HolguÍn to Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa. Return to Havana along the northern Coast.
The warm—yet not unduly hot—weather is perfect for hiking. Cuba is blessed with possibility. Good options include the many trails of the Sierra Escambray, but also consider relatively little-visited Pinares de Mayarí and, for the ultima thule, the overnight hike to the summit of Pico Turquino, Cuba’s highest mountain. You’ll need sturdy footwear, warm clothing (it gets cold at these heights), and raingear.
Havana Jazz Festival. 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, it recently settled on January as the preferred month.
Festival de la Trova Longina. Held in Santa Clara, this celebration of traditional trova (romantic ballads) will immerse you in quintessential Cuban music.
Marcha de las Antorchas. Held at night each January 27, university students carry flaming torches to celebrate the birthday of Jose Marti, Cuba’s National Hero. The procession descends La Escalinata (university staircase) and ends at the Fragua Martiana monument where Marti, as an adolescent, quarried limestone under forced labor.
Traveling to Cuba in January? Check out these great itineraries
Havana in a Heartbeat – 4 Days. Just a few days to spare? Then this quick take on the capital city provides an immersion that connects you to Cuba’s creative culture and lifestyle, plus the top not-to-miss venues.
Western Cuba Journey – 6 Days. Pair up the colorful culture of Havana and the outdoor adventure of the Viñales Valley for an epic tour of western Cuba.