Museo Del Carnaval
Santiago de Cuba's carnival - held every year in the sweltering July humidity - is one of the longest-established and most famous in Latin America.
The roots of the Carnival
The carnival has its origins in a desire on the part of slaves of African origin to celebrate their cultural roots and religious practices as a counterbalance to Spanish religious processions and saint-worship. Legend has it that once the solemn Spanish had wended their way through the streets to the Cathedral to venerate Santiago (St. James), the slaves took to the streets to celebrate in their own fashion. The festival of music, dancing, singing and ritual even earned the name Los Mamarrachos (The Mad Ones). Santiago's carnival is unique in Cuba in the breadth of its roots; it features influences from Spanish, African, Caribbean and French-Haitian cultures.
The Carnival today
The spectacle of Carnival has been preserved and promoted as a means of conserving the heritage of Cuba but also as a means of carving a post-Colonial, inclusive identity for Cubans. Today, much organisation goes into the annual event, including the preparation of floats, posters, folkloric dance demonstrations and processions and the selection of the Carnival Queen. However, there is still plenty of room for Cuban spontaneity, not least in the conga parade in each neighbourhood on the first day of the festivities. Everyone joins in - from kids to housewives in their hair curlers and slippers!
The Carnival Museum
The Museum building, in downtown Santiago, dates from the late 18th century and as such is an example of the Spanish colonial style. It has been the headquarters of the carnival organising committee since 1981. In 1983, the Museum opened with seven halls exhibiting more than 250 pieces. These include photos, costumes, trophies, banners, effigies, floats and musical instruments from through the ages. If you are lucky, you may catch a folkloric dance display by one of the local dance companies in the shaded patio. There is also a display of the carnival posters through the years and copies can be purchased at the shop as a colourful souvenir of your visit.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
Christopher Columbus Cemetery (or Cementerio de Colon in Spanish) is generally recognised as the most historically and architecturally important cemetery in Latin America. Home to over a million interred bodies including politicians, musicians, writers, artists, military heroes, and religious figures from both Cuba and around the world, this landmark of the Vedado neighbourhood is worth a visit for any culturally- or historically-inclined traveller.
Two young members of the Sarra family emigrated from Spain to seek their fortune in the Cuban colony. The museum at the Drogueria Sarra charts their huge success as they and their descendent created a pharma business, which by the turn of the 20th century was the second biggest worldwide.
For visitors interested in Cuba's history, Chorro de Maita is a popular day excursion from nearby Holguin and the resorts of Guardalavaca. The archaeological site, reconstructed Taino village and museum offer a vivid insight into the lives of indigenous Cubans around the early years of the Spanish colonisation.
Explore cuba your wayTailor made cuba holidays
For those who prefer to travel at their own pace or to explore places not included in the brochure itineraries, we have years of experience at organising tailor-made holidays.
Create the perfect trip with the help of our specialists
Our expert tour consultants will be pleased to suggest ideas to complement your own and to organise the most appropiate programme to suit your interests, time and budget.