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Gibara Film Festival, off the beaten track in Cuba

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The Gibara Film Festival is off the beaten track in Cuba, in a small friendly town located at the end of a winding road heading northeast from Holguin.  We have been intent on visiting this small town for several years after hearing about the popular annual film festival hosted each May, and it was definitely worth making the effort – not one person in the street stopped to ask us for anything, nor gave surreptitious ‘pst,pst,pst’ hisses as we passed by; no touristy shops or exaggerated foreigner prices in bars, a refreshing change from the larger cities.   There are few foreign visitors as yet except during the annual Gibara International Film Festival, which now takes place in early July.

Gibara International Film Festival

The Gibara Film Festival was founded in 2003 by Humberto Solas, a much loved and respected Cuban film director from Havana, who directed and co-wrote a well known Cuban film in black and white, Lucia (1968) as well as directing other classic Cuban films such as Miel para Ochun.  The film Lucia explored the lives of Cuban women during different periods in the islands history, and won critical acclaim at international film festivals in its time. To this day, the awards presented at the film festival are called Lucias.  Solas’ interest in setting up the festival was originally to promote low budget films (cine pobre) with a high artistic quality, but in 2018 the festival changed both its title and timing and is now open to all types of films, with an international panel of judges for different categories of filmmaking.

Gibara town

Gibara has a pleasant main square, the Parque de Gibara, with the impressive San Fulgencio church overlooking the trees and benches.  There is also a large cinema complex which hosts the annual Gibara Film Festival.  The historic local theatre is currently being renovated, but has enjoyed performances in the past from artistes such as Isadora Duncan, the famous American dancer.  A number of interesting local museums, including the Museo de Historia Natural and the Museo de Arte Colonial are open all year round, and there are picturesque virgin beaches on the opposite side of Gibara Bay, in particular Playa Blanca, which can be reached by catamaran from the marina. An interesting guided half day trip to the large Cueva de Panaderos is just a 1km walk from town, or you could just chill in a local bar watching the world go by.  Plenty to see and do during your stay.

Local people awe exceptionally friendly and helpful and were, without exception, very proud of their home town.  Excellent seafood fresh from the bay was on offer in local paladares (state-registered private restaurants) and also in the homestays, and we had a plates of deliciously large shrimps and a hefty portion of sea bream between us one evening for just £10, including ample amounts of rice, salad and mariquitas, thinly sliced fried plantain.  To walk off the large meal, we walked the length of the seafront promenade all the way along the shore, with views of the marina and over to the pristine beaches opposite.  We were disappointed by the beach at Los Caletones, a car drive of 17km each way along a bumpy dirt road, as although the sand was indeed fine and white, the surrounding buildings had clearly been badly damaged and, in some cases, totally destroyed by the recent hurricane so it had an air of desolation. However, it is still a popular spot in the summer months, with cool limestone sink-holes to have a dip in when it gets really hot.

Accommodation in Gibara

We stayed in a very quiet, clean homestay with good views over the sea and a constant breeze. It is available all  year round, and we can highly  recommend it as our favourite from the recent visit.  Another homestay we liked has bamboo bikes for hire, an excellent way to explore the town and coastline.  There are also three excellent historic hotels, all three belonging to the Iberostar heritage group and extensively renovated in recent years.  Our favourite was Hotel de la Paz, the former colonial home of the town piano teacher, with a large shady internal patio, a piano bar celebrating Manolo Galban, the director of famous Cuban band Los Zafiros, who was born in Gibara and large, airy rooms.

Gibara is an ideal way to get off the beaten track in eastern Cuba and can be included in our tailormade Cuba holiday itineraries.

Want to know more?  If you would like more information on a tailormade trip to Cuba, please contact our Cuba experts on our enquiry form or call +44 131 621 7721 to speak with one of our experienced Cuba team.  www.caledoniaworldwide.com

About the Author
Kath Bateman founded Caledonia in 1996 and still has a very active role in the company. As a linguist and avid traveller, Caledonia brings together many strands of Kath’s personal and professional interests. She is a Modern Languages and Tourism graduate and has worked as a tour leader and trilingual guide, ski rep and salsa teacher, cultural events organiser, salsa club promoter and English language teacher. She lived and studied in France and Austria and has travelled widely elsewhere in Europe, Latin America and particularly in Cuba. Kath is still very much involved in the business and is as motivated by what Caledonia does as when she first set up the company in the spare room at home all those years ago.