When is the best time to visit Cuba?
Perhaps you’re lured to Cuba by the promise of sun-kissed beaches, and snorkeling or diving at Cuba’s world class diving sites. You may be enticed by Cuba’s colourful and time-warped colonial towns, its lively atmospheric cities, its beautiful mountain landscapes. Maybe it’s the sensuousness of salsa that attracts, or the intoxicating carnival celebrations. Or perhaps you just want a glimpse into the unique Cuban way of life. Chances are it’s a combination of these. So for a bit of everything that covers the island, when is the best time to visit Cuba?
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Climate in Cuba
First of all, there is no wrong time to visit Cuba, as such. But there are a few factors to take into account, chief among them is the weather. Cuba has a hot and sunny tropical climate, with dry and wet seasons: the dry season runs from November to April; the wet season from May to September. However, even during the wet season, you can still expect balmy temperatures, and the downpours never last that long. But assuming you want the least amount of rain, and the most amount of sunshine, the dry season is generally the best time of year to visit Cuba.
Best month to visit Cuba
Broadly speaking, in terms of rainfall and temperature, the dry season months of March and April are the best months to visit Cuba. It’s dry and warm during this time, with average temperatures sitting at 27-29˚C during the day, and comfortable at night around 19-21˚C.
Other considerations affecting when to go to Cuba
There are factors besides the weather to take into account for figuring out when to visit Cuba. The peak tourist season in Cuba runs roughly from mid-December to mid-March, and all of July and August. Prices are highest and crowds thickest in summer, when the holiday season for Cubans gets under way.
As much of the atmosphere of the smaller resorts is generated by tourists, Cuban and foreign, out of season they can seem somewhat dull – although you’ll benefit from lower prices. The cities, particularly Havana and Santiago, are always buzzing and offer good value for money throughout the year.
Compared to the all-out celebrations in other countries, Christmas is a lowkey affair in Cuba, with the emphasis on private family celebration. New Year’s Eve, also the eve of the anniversary of the Revolution, is much more fervently celebrated. And if you’re going to base your trip around one key event, carnival in Santiago, held each year in July, is unmissable.
Playing guitar in Trinidad, Cuba © Ellie Matsanova/Shutterstock
Visiting Cuba in the dry season
The dry season in Cuba falls roughly from mid-November to April. This is when dry weather matches sunny days and warm temperatures across the island. So if it’s wet and cold where you are and you’re looking to thaw out, this is the best time to travel to Cuba.
Visiting Cuba in December – February
In the winter months of January and February the mercury can drop as low as 15˚C, and even lower at night. If you intend to go into the mountains it’s advisable to pack something warmer than a T-shirt. The cooler temperatures make for good sightseeing though, although it’s perhaps less ideal for sun worshippers hoping to bake on one of Cuba’s soft sandy beaches.
January and February are great months to visit the sixteenth-century town of Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus, and Santiago, with temperatures sitting around a not too fierce 28˚C.
Bear in mind that prices spike over the Christmas period and you’ll need to book well ahead if planning to travel to Cuba at this time.
In terms of cultural events happening around now, there are a few biggies. The ten-day film festival (Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano Festival) kicks off in Havana in early December and is one of Cuba’s top events, and the Bienal de la Habana (Havana biennale) showcases the best in visual arts. Cubans go all out for New Year, which also celebrates the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and mid-January sees the excellent Havana International Jazz Festival. Find out more about festivals in Cuba.
Visiting Cuba in March – April
March and April are the best months to visit for long days of sunshine and dry weather. It’s the perfect time to lay down your towel on one of Cuba’s picture perfect beaches, such as Playa Ancón, or Playa Los Pinos on Cayo Sabinal – or if you’re after a livelier scene, Varadero.
Those wishing to try diving at some of Cuba’s top diving spots will enjoy optimum conditions, such as those around the Jardines del Rey, María La Gorda and Cayo Largo.
It’s also an ideal time to explore inland Cuba, such as the Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt, which has ideal trekking conditions in March. The idyllic eco hill resort of Las Terraza and the surrounding hiking terrain also make for a wonderful stopover at this time of year. And the Viñales valley and the peaks of the Sierra Maestra would be great additions to your itinerary.
It’s worth considering it’s also peak season in Cuba – reflected in the rise in cost of flights and accommodation, especially during the Easter holidays, so we advise booking ahead as far as possible.
Production of handmade cigars © Tatiana Gordievskaia/Shutterstock
Visiting Cuba in the rainy season
If you visit in the summer, and more broadly between May and October, considered the wet season, expect it to rain on at least a couple of days over a fortnight. Don’t let this put you off, though. Although it comes down hard and fast, rain rarely stays for very long in Cuba, and the clouds soon break to allow sunshine through to dry everything out. There’s also perhaps a good trade off: rain means fewer visitors – so you can be more spontaneous when it comes to booking tours, accommodation and so on. And if you prefer a quieter time during your trip, it’s a win-win situation.
Eastern Cuba tends to be hotter and more humid during this part of the year, while the temperature in the area around Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus also creeps above the national average.
Visiting Cuba in May – August
The rainy season is just beginning in May, but doesn’t really get underway until the end of July or early August. Even then, you’ll most likely still get plenty of clear days. And if you want to get in some beach action you’ll most likely avoid the rain if you get there earlier in the day. May and June temperatures make for comfortable travel.
July through September sees temperatures soar to around 32˚C in Havana and Pinar del Río. Eastern areas, such as Santiago de Cuba, experience sweltering heat of around 33˚C.
If you don’t mind a little rain and potential sogginess you can seize the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in June and July – before temperatures soar in August. Visitor numbers are fewer and it’s easier to find good casa particulares. Horseriding in the Viñales valley is a great way to explore the area at this time – horses make light work of the mud!
For festivals, July and August are the best times to be in Havana and Santiago. Both are settings for the vibrant annual carnival, and worth organising your itinerary around these lively, joyous events. Santiago is also host to the Fiesta del Caribe Santiago de Cuba, a week-long celebration of Caribbean music and dance, at the beginning of July.
Prices rise in July and August and it gets noticeably busier, as this is when Cubans traditionally take their holidays. However, the more low-key resorts come to life during this time, whereas off season the cultural activities and liveliness generated by visitors tapers off.
Visiting Cuba in September – November
September and October are the most threatening months of the annual hurricane season that runs from June to November, particularly in coastal areas. Compared to other Caribbean islands and some Central American countries, however, Cuba has so far held up relatively well even in the fiercest of hurricanes. Bear in mind though that rural areas are more vulnerable and hurricanes can cause some mountain trails and national parks to close.
Wet weather, humidity and hurricanes aside, if you’re keeping an eye on the cost and perhaps want to experience Cuba during the quieter months, September and October are good times to visit. You can dig out decent deals on everything from flights and accommodation, to tours.
Street musician in Trinidad, Cuba © Delpixel/Shutterstock
When to go for Festivals
Cuba is brimming with festivals and cultural events, celebrating everything from music and dance, film and theatre, the Cuban revolution – and cigars! Basing your trip around one of these can help you decide when to go to Cuba.
Here are just five of Cuba’s standout festivals:
- Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (Havana film festival). One of Cuba’s top events, combining Cuban, Latin American and Western films with the classics, plus networking opportunities. Ten days in December
- Havana International Jazz Festival. Pulls in huge talent and combines large concerts with impromptu street jams. Mid-January
- Carnival, celebrated in small towns and big cities alike. The biggest, and not to be missed, is in Santiago de Cuba – a riot of colour and music and partying into the small hours. July
- The Festival del Habano (Cuban Cigar Festival) in Havana and Pinar del Río. The opportunity to visit cigar factories and tobacco plantations – as well the chance to sample the goods! February
- Bienal de la Habana (Havana biennale). Month-long series of exhibitions celebrating work of Cuban, Latin American, Caribbean, African and Middle-Eastern artists. April–May
Read more on festivals in Cuba.
Top image: Playing trumpet in Viñales © Nadezda Murmakova/Shutterstock