Jazz or ballet? Religious processions or fiery festivals? Cheap hotel deals or cool temperatures? The best time to visit Havana depends on your taste, budget and planned activities.
Lapped by the choppy waters of the Straits of Florida, Havana is always warm, but it hits a climatic peak during the Northern Hemisphere winter when the weather is dry and not too humid. If it’s culture you’re after, every month has a visit-worthy event with the more prestigious festivals taking place between October and April.
High Season: November to March, July and August
Best time for beaches and baseball
Havana’s high season stretches from November to March when hordes of tourists from Europe and Canada flee snow and freezing temperatures and decamp to Cuba. While many head to the all-inclusive resorts that line the north coast, a good proportion spend at least part of their time in Havana.
Prices for flights, hotels and packages start going up from early to mid-November and nudge even higher (as much as 25%) over Christmas and New Year. The busiest month in terms of tourist numbers is January, closely followed by February and March when the weather is dry but not too hot and tempered by the occasional frente frio (cold front). Crowds aside, this is the perfect time to visit the beaches of Playas del Este and partake in a range of water activities. It’s also the conclusion of Cuban baseball’s National Series and a potentially exciting time for fans of Havana’s Industriales team.
The mini-high season of July and August is when Cubans go on vacation. This two-month-long summer spike affects the country’s cheaper hotels and rural campismos (cheap rustic accommodations) but has less of an impact in Havana, except during the city’s annual carnival in August.
Shoulder Season: April and October
Best time for post-Easter deals and fall festivals
Foreign visitors begin tailing off in April, and prices start to fall after Easter. Despite waning tourist numbers, the weather remains good: April is the second driest month and the least humid.
Conversely, October can be wet and stormy, although early fall delivers some excellent annual events. Havana’s internationally acclaimed theater and ballet festivals are both worth planning a trip around.
Low Season: May, June and September
Best time for budget travelers
Low season is prime time for budget travelers, crowd-avoiders and those not averse to getting a little wet. Bear in mind that Havana’s showers – even in the June to November rainy season – are usually short and heavy with the rain rarely lasting all day.
While there’s not a ton of quirky festivals to savor during the off-season, Havana never lacks life, and all the best museums and sights remain open year-round. Accommodations wise, you’ll pay cheaper rates and find better availability in the low season. Similarly, travelers will enjoy shorter lines, less crowded beaches and a quieter, slicker airport experience.
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The tourist season hits its apex as the new year dawns. January is Havana’s busiest month, lending the city a palpable buzz starting with New Year celebrations, which in Cuba are far feistier than Christmas. Sporadic cold fronts keep the weather fresh: January is Havana’s coolest month with average daily temperatures of around 22ºC (72ºF).
Key events: Festival Internacional de Jazz
The peak tourist season continues in February, and high demand pushes up hotel prices and can lead to occasional shortages, particularly for rental cars. Calm seas and less fickle weather make this an ideal time for water sports, especially diving from one of the city’s two marinas, Tarará and Hemingway.
Key events: Feria Internacional del Libro, Festival del Habano
In March, the high season draws to a close with dry, coolish weather and relatively low humidity. Sharp-eyed travelers should look out for migratory birds that congregate in some of the city’s large green spaces including Parque Lenin and the Jardin Botánico Nacional.
Key events: Havana Rhythm and Dance Festival
High season often extends into April, especially in years when Easter is late. Wait until it’s over and then hunt around for bargains. With good weather (it’s the sunniest month) and less crowded beaches, April is a good time for fishing in the Gulf Stream and kitesurfing at Tarará.
Key events: Bienal de la Habana
Ranking as one of the cheapest months, May marks a sweet spot between the crowded winter season and the domestic barrage of summer. It also offers a potential weather window. While black rain clouds amass in the east, the rain hasn’t yet reached the high deluge levels of June. Look out for special deals at resort hotels and slightly cheaper prices all round.
Key events: Cubadisco, Día Internacional Contra Homofobia, Transfobia y Bifobia
The Caribbean hurricane season usually starts with a whimper as opposed to a bang. Big storms are an exception rather than a rule in June, although it’s the wettest month for all-round rainfall. Prices are still low, and with heat and humidity rising, travelers from Europe and Canada tend to stay away. June is the height of mango season – reason enough to visit!
Key events: Torneo Internacional de la Pesca de la Aguja
July kick-starts the Cuban domestic vacation season with families heading to the coast and countryside. Expect the beaches of Playas del Este and its cheap hotels to be mobbed. The month is invariably hot, sunny and humid leading up to the political polemics of the July 26 public holiday.
Key events: Día de la Rebeldía Nacional
Scorching temperatures are guaranteed – August is the city’s hottest month – and Havana turns the heat up further as it prepares for its caliente (hot) carnival. Playas del Este still heave with holidaying Cubans, and the city sees a small influx of visitors from Mediterranean Europe enjoying their annual summer vacation.
Key events: Carnaval, Festival Internacional de Rap
September is the quietest month in Havana unless you’re talking wind noise. It’s peak hurricane season when the outside chance of a “big one” (usually every four to five years) keeps many Cuba-philes at bay. The advantages? Cheaper hotel prices, near-empty beaches and plenty of elbow room in the city’s forts and museums.
Key events: Procesión de la Virgen de Regla
Continuing storm threats, oppressive humidity and persistent rain dampen tourist numbers, and Playas del Este’s resorts remain in a post-summer lull. Meanwhile, Havana’s cultural life begins an end-of-year surge, hosting ballet and theater festivals of international caliber.
Key events: Festival Internacional de Ballet de la Habana, Festival de Teatro de la Habana
When snow starts falling in Canada and Europe’s temperatures get too cold for T-shirts, Cuba’s big tourist invasion moves into high gear with an accompanying hike in hotel rates. More than a quarter of Havana’s winter tourists come from Canada, and they start arriving in early to mid-November. As the rainy season draws to a close, temperatures become more bearable, and acclimatized runners line up for Havana’s annual marathon.
Key events: Marabana
December brings one of Havana’s biggest international festivals (dedicated to film) and its most devotional religious procession (dedicated to San Lázaro). Christmas celebrations have been reignited in the last two decades after practically dying out during the early years of the revolution. Price wise, the Christmas-New Year period is the most expensive time to visit.
Key events: Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinamericano, Procesión de San Lázaro