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The Havana Tour Company

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A Truly Unique Culture: Traditions in Cuba

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There are some wonderful, beautiful, and just plain weird cultural traditions around the world.

These traditions don’t quite define a culture, but when you hear about them you probably think, “Yeah… that sounds right.”

Australians love the beach so much that it’s quite common to celebrate Christmas day with a beachside BBQ (and December 25th and 26th are about the busiest day on many Australian beaches).

There’s something to be said for having Christmas in the middle of summer! Father’s Day in Germany can take a bit of a hit on your liver.

It’s traditional for fathers and their children to walk around the town, dragging a wagon piled high with beers. Drinking while you walk, you go from bar to bar for yet more beer.

The wagon is then used to transport whoever passes out first.

Happy Father’s Day, huh?

There are a number of traditions in Cuba that come together to give the warm island nation the wonderful unique character it is known for.

So what are some of these traditions that have mixed together in the cultural melting pot to give us the Cuba we all know and love?

Many Cultures, One Cuba

Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonisation, Cuba was inhabited by the Taíno.

The Taíno were originally from South America and settled throughout the Caribbean. As is the fate of many indigenous populations, their population sharply declined as Cuba was colonised.

They didn’t have the natural immunities against some illnesses carried by the Spanish and many became ill and died, although there are still some Cubans with Taíno heritage.

The Spanish spread across Cuba, and a lot of the new territory’s economy was built on the backs of slaves who were brought across from Africa.

Cuba declared independence from Spain, the slaves were freed, and now you have an island with a remarkable fusion of Spanish, African and even some indigenous Taíno cultures.

The Spanish traditions can be seen in the architecture of the cities, the African traditions can be seen in the food, and the Taíno culture can still be found, particularly in the Holguín province of Cuba.

The Culinary Traditions of Cuba

The culinary traditions of Cuba used to have quite a bad reputation.

Restaurants were owned by the state, meaning that standards were not so great.

A restaurant doesn’t need to try so hard (or at all) when it’s not really competing against other restaurants.

This has changed a lot in recent years, and it’s now much easier for Cubans to operate a restaurant.

This is welcome news to the stomachs of visitors and locals alike. The flourishing culinary scene in Cuba allows their traditional food to shine through.

To be honest, it doesn’t sound all that great when you read it on a menu.

Beans and rice?

Not so exciting, and yet when you taste these dishes, their deliciousness is in their simplicity.

Many traditional Cuban dishes have dark origins, and were dishes cooked by slaves for their masters.

For this reason, Cuban food is a sublime Afro-Caribbean mix with a lot of Spanish influences.

A Rich History, Rich Tobacco

One of the more interesting traditions in Cuba is the respect that is shown to the Torcedores.

But what are Torcedores anyway?

These are the workers who hand roll those sensational cigars.

It’s an admired trade, and a huge amount of skill is involved.

In a time when many things we enjoy are made in a factory, it’s remarkable to see that the old traditions can still thrive.

Some cigar stores have a Torcedore who will roll a cigar for you while you watch, and you can then buy it (although the cigar should be allowed to age before you enjoy it).

Cuban cigars still have a bit of a forbidden quality to them, thanks to the 1962 trade embargo imposed against Cuba by the US (thanks for that, JFK).

Of course, Cuban cigars were still available in the rest of the world, and they could still be found in the US, even if they were hard to come by.

If you want to take some of these beauties home, please remember that you are allowed to take a maximum of 50 cigars out of Cuba.

Sports on the Island

When it comes to sporting traditions in Cuba, you might think that the entire island is football mad, much like the rest of Latin America (and yes, call it soccer if you prefer).

Baseball is the true sporting heart of Cuba, which is why many of the top players in the world are Cuban migrants.

You can take in a game at the always crowded Latinoamerican Stadium in Havana, but for an arguably more authentic experience, head to Havana’s Central Park on a weekend.

This is where the locals meet to play baseball, watch baseball, and argue about baseball.

The discussions get rather heated at time, whether it’s about a game being played, or about baseball in general.

It’s really fun to watch, and the heated arguments disappear as quickly as they arise.

Everyone shakes hands and gets back to the game.

Everybody Dance Now

Perhaps one of the greatest traditions in Cuba that has made its way around the world is that of music and dance.

Music is everywhere in Cuba, whether it’s in an actual club, or being played by a bunch of talented street musicians playing on a corner.

Salsa is the best known style, and when you see the locals get up to dance, you will think you have wandered into a professional dance competition.

It’s like Cubans have an instinctive ability to dance the salsa!

Don’t be afraid to get up and join in, even if you have two left feet. Rest assured, the Cubans will have seen worse!

It’s also possible to take professional lessons while in Cuba, but it is perhaps more fun to just learn by watching.

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Daniel Stretton

About Daniel Stretton

Dan is one of the Founders of the Havana Tour Company, along with Romey Chuit who is a Cuban national. A keen traveller, Dan Stretton instantly fell in love with Cuba when visiting for the first time. Despite countless salsa lessons, Dan still struggles to dance like a Cuban (or dance at all for that matter). He has however picked up how to make a scrumptious mojito! Dan is also a keen photographer, looking to capture the heart and soul of the real Cuba and the tours he has helped to create.

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