Forget the mud and camping crowds - Cuba is the real festival destination this year

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As Glastonbury kick-started the UK’s legendary summer festival season last weekend and brought with it the usual festival deluge of rain, responsibletravel.com argues that world-class music doesn’t need to come with muddy camping, festival toilets and thousands of people packed into a field. Instead consider Cuba, where one of the most surprising legacies of communist rule is a state of professional musicians, dancers and artists abound.

Music in Old Havana. Credit: Vicki Brown

What has resulted is almost a year round festival of world-class music, arts and culture played out on the streets of Old Havana

Five decades of self-sufficiency, rejection of capitalism and socialist welfare state has resulted in a virtually classless society in Cuba, with unsurpassed healthcare, free education and access to culture for all. The revolutionary authorities encouraged, sponsored and employed artists, dancers and musicians, and while international headline acts such as Dolly Parton and Metallica may not yet be performing, what has resulted is almost a year round festival of world-class music, arts and culture played out on the streets of Old Havana and in daily shows in Cuba’s National Theatre, Casa de la Musica, Gran Teatro, Casa de la Amistad, the legendary El Floridita and more. It’s a cultural wealth available to all Cubans regardless of background or status for practically nothing and there for tourists to share for a mere fraction of the price of a festival ticket back home.

It is however, easy to idealise. As responsibletravel.com’s new 2 minute travel guide to Cuba (http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/cuba) highlights, despite cultivating huge cultural wealth, communist rule has stripped the country of its material wealth. Almost all Cubans are employed on meagre state salaries, subsidised by state rations, and trade embargos leave most shops standing empty. As tourists enjoying Cuba’s cultural riches it then becomes very important that in doing so we ensure we are also supporting its struggling population.

Here are responsibletravel.com’s tips for connecting with real culture in Cuba, and how to ensure your visit supports local Cubans:

  •     Consider travelling during April to catch "City in Motion" in Old Havana – dancers from across Cuba converge on the city’s streets, plazas and colonial buildings to showcase an incredible array of creative, high-quality traditional and modern dance.
  •     Go with the flow. With art openings on every street corner, and impromptu concerts, book stalls, poetry readings, streetside salsa and theatre performances across the city, Havana begs you to abandon your plans and enjoy whatever you stumble upon as you wander.
  •     Take a salsa class run by professional dancers and follow their recommendations on where to dance the night away. Don’t forget to tip in tourist currency, worth far more than local currency and a welcome boost to meagre state salaries.
  •     Avoid overrated Varadero – Cuba’s beauty lies in its culture and people, and there’s scant chance to encounter either in this enclave of all-inclusives. A stay here will also not contribute to the wellbeing of struggling local Cubans.
  •     Support the casas particulars – local homestays which offer local Cubans the opportunity to own their own business and access valuable tourist currency. Hosts are often highly educated, friendly, open and eager to show you a slice of their daily life. And will be full of great tips on where to go for the best music, art and dance.

Notes to editors:

About responsibletravel.com
responsibletravel.com is the world's leading online travel agent for responsible holidays and a pioneer of responsible tourism. Started in 2001 with backing from Dame Anita Roddick of The Body Shop the site's mantra is 'travel like a local'. It sells holidays that are about more than just a brief stay somewhere - instead it is travel that offers a real connection with the people, the landscape, the culture, the food and the environment. It offers over 7,500 responsible holidays from over 3,000 holiday providers which all support communities and conservation. Handpicked local specialists provide authentic holidays for those seeking adventure, culture, or luxury whether travelling with family, joining a small group or looking for tailor-made experiences worldwide, in destinations as diverse as Costa Rica- http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/costa-rica, Cambodia-http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/cambodia and Catalonia- http://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/catalonia.

In addition responsibletravel.com:

  • founded and organises The World Responsible Tourism Awards, celebrating 11 years at World Travel Market this year.
  • campaigns for positive change in the travel and tourism industry.

CEO Justin Francis has been included in Courvoisiers The Future 500, Thames and Hudsons 60 Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future and taken his place on the Advisory Board of The International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The company is based in Brighton's North Laine district, England.

Contact:
Sarah Bareham
press(at)responsibletravel(dot)com
01273 829 269 (UK)

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Sarah Bareham
@r_travel
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