Not To Be Missed: New Year's In Havana
Cubans, romantic and family-oriented, celebrate hard on holidays and there are no bigger than Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and, of course, New Year’s Eve. There are big turn outs for political demonstrations for May Day (worker’s day) and July 26th (Independence Day), but the heart and soul of Cubans come out on New Year’s. There’s no better day to experience the island and its people!
Cuban families come out in force, roasting pigs, dancing reggaeton, hugging and kissing and wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Phone lines for the state-run telecom company jam up from all the messages and calls of good luck, love and happiness, both within Cuba and coming from Miami and elsewhere. Taxi drivers make big bucks on crowded streets but it’s almost impossible to find a ride because no payday is high enough for a Cuban to leave loved ones alone on this special night. Waiters, bartenders and front desk staff take care of you (kind of), but also tend to their colleagues and the specialness this day represents.
Similar to rest of the world, it’s a party. But Cubans party differently – especially on New Year’s Eve – and the rum, roasted pork and cigars flow widely, while kids and elders in their late years wiggle and twist with Cubans of all ages. There are no politics, reduced concerns about low salaries, limited supplies at the Agro, and relations with US, just a celebration of what Cubans have to be thankful for: themselves and their families and friends. Those that are not physically present are missed, but they’re there in photos and spirit.
Salsa, pop, mariachi, reggaeton, US pop and other rhythms blare from all corners of the city, cool breezes dry the sweat from dancing and talking with body language, habitual for Cubans, and hugs and wishes of a “happy new” year are exchanged amongst friends, family, neighbors and even strangers. The party is at home, in the streets and everywhere in between. It’s a magical demonstration of the perseverance, love and openness of the Cuban people. Family, friends and community is what’s important on New Year’s Eve.
It’s an experience everyone should live. Not only to appreciate Cuba, but to find happiness, value life and come closer to one’s own family and friends.
What you should know about enjoying New Year’s in Havana:
Make them: Cuba’s top restaurants get overbooked and plazas in Old Havana, jazz clubs and cultural centers throw special parties, but you need a reservation in advance. It’s essential to choose wisely and plan ahead or you’ll be running in circles on chaotic evening in the city. CET and other locals throw parties, so reach out to the eyes and ears on the ground for the best offerings (you don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of foreigners at a lame restaurant).
Don’t make them: You might have more fun eating an early dinner at your hotel or paladar and then taking to the streets of Old Havana, Central Havana or Vedado to peek into homes, share a beer in a neighborhood gathering and just see what happens.
There are limited taxis working on New Year’s Eve and the few that are out take advantage of a bidding war for fares and literal pushing to get their attention. Either map out a plan that doesn’t require transportation, hire a driver in advance or be ready to wait and pay high prices for a cab.
The best hotels and B&Bs are booked far in advance and prices spike in the weeks before. Book with plenty of time and prioritize a place in Old Havana or Vedado so that you’re close to the action and don’t have to deal with transportation challenges on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day, when nobody wants to work.
Interacting with Cubans
New Year’s Eve is all about Cubans celebrating with their loved ones and Cubans, always open and welcoming, have their arms, hearts and ears extended even further on New Year’s. Whether you’re headed to a party or roaming the streets of Havana, make New Year’s about interacting with Cubans, who will fully embrace you and share their celebrations with you.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. On January 1, 1959, Fulgencio Batista, the dictator in power before the Revolution, fled Havana and Fidel Castro and his rebel army took over the country. There will be extra celebrations commemorating the anniversary and it’s a pivotal moment in history, marking the longevity of the communist regime and the failure of U.S. policy to topple it.
Soak it all in
Head into New Year’s Eve with expectations to enjoy Cuba and the Cuban people. Whether you party with millennials at the Fabrica de Arte, roam the streets of Old Havana or enter into never-ending conversations with families along the malecon (Havana seawall), make this New Year’s about being a free spirit and soaking it all in.