Cuba’s Cultural Highlights: Music, Dance, Rum & Cigars

So many aspects of Cuban culture have become famous around the world, but here, Annika Hipple writes about several iconic and lesser-known cultural highlights to add to your trip.


Photo © iStock/Delpixart

Havana’s Coolest Nightlife

Housed inside a converted cooking-oil factory, La Fábrica del Arte Cubano is the place to go for a night out in Havana.

This multipurpose art space has numerous venues where you’ll usually find a variety of live music, dancing, art exhibits, fashion shows, and other activities. Low cover charges help attract a predominantly Cuban crowd.

Traditional Music

Perhaps the most famous spot in the entire country for traditional music is Santiago de Cuba’s Casa de la Trova – literally, the House of Troubadour Music – a storied 50-year-old institution that has hosted some of the country’s brightest talents.

Stop by in the afternoon to catch intimate acoustic performances, or come in the evening for bigger shows with dancing. 

Cuba’s Evolving Dining Scene

In recent years, Cuba’s loosening restrictions have led to an explosion of privately-run restaurants known as paladares. These establishments now offer some of the finest, most creative cuisine in the country. The paladar scene is ever-changing, so be sure to ask around locally for up-to-date recommendations.

Cuban Rum

No drink is as much a part of Cuban culture as rum, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to down a Cuba libre (rum and Coke), mojito, or daiquiri during your stay.

To explore Cuba’s rum heritage, head to the Museum of Rum in Old Havana, operated by the country’s most famous producer, Havana Club.

You’ll learn about the history of rum and how it’s made, and finish off the tour with a small sample.


Part Gaudí, part pure Cuba, the quiet neighbourhood of Jaimanitas on the western edge of Havana has been converted into a whimsical public art gallery, brimming with colourful mosaics, surrealistic figures, and funky sculpted shapes.

It owes its unique character to the creative genius and community spirit of ceramicist and painter José Fuster, whose studio-workshop forms the project’s centrepiece.

Cuban Cigars

To learn about the process of making Cuba’s world-famous cigars, pay a visit to one of Havana’s cigar factories. The Partagás, Corona, and H. Upmann factories all offer tours, but you should check when you’re there to see what else is around.

In Pinar del Río Province, the heart of Cuba’s tobacco industry, various farms also welcome visitors, particularly in and around Viñales.

Depending on timing, you may be able to see various stages of production, from planting to harvesting, drying, and finally, cigar-rolling.


Cuba’s biggest Carnival celebration takes place annually in Santiago during the last week of July.

It’s a vibrant, colorful party bursting with conga parades and street performances. Be prepared for very hot weather and crowds.

If you’re in town outside of the Carnaval period, you can always visit the Museo del Carnaval, which has displays of carnival masks, instruments, costumes, historical photographs, and folkloric performances.

Jazz in Havana

Usually (but not always) held in December, the annual Havana International Jazz Festival attracts top musicians from around the world.

It can be difficult to obtain in-depth festival information far in advance, but no matter what time of year you’re in Havana, you can always catch some world-class jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo in the Vedado neighborhood.

Santería, the Afro-Cuban Religion

Widely practiced in Cuba, Santería is a religion of Yoruban origin. This syncretic belief system is based on the worship of saints, known as orishas, many of whom are associated with the Roman Catholic saints.

A good place to learn more is at the Guanabacoa Museum, 5km east of Old Havana.

Another community with strong santería connections is Regla, a short ferry ride across the harbor from Old Havana. The church by the port is home to the patron saint of Havana, La Vírgen de Regla, identified with the Yoruba goddess of the sea.

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