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Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

Lights! Camera! Action! The film will start rolling in the pretty Cuban town of Gibara as it welcomes its International Film Festival next month. Cuba's cool party organisers - HAPE Collective - will also stage a gathering in the north coast town to launch the celebration of all things celluloid.

The International Film Festival of Gibara - successor to the town's "Festival of Low Budget Movies" - will be held in venues and public spaces across town from July 1-7. Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, who famously played Che Guevara in the two-part 2008 biographical Che, will attend. He'll be joined by his Che co-star the Mexican-American actor Demian Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in the two-part biopic. Bichir will show his film "Un cuento de circo & A love song", and is on this year's jury panel.

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

Some 44 films, including documentaries and animation, will be screened and judged by a panel of jurors. Hotly anticipated will be the showing of Cuba's "Sergio y Serguei" by Ernesto Daranas about a Russian cosmonaut stranded on the Mir space station who makes radio contact with a Cuban professor of Marxism. Film goers will also have a chance to see "Bram Fischer" by Dutch director Jean van de Velde about the eponymous South African lawyer of Afrikaner descent who fought against apartheid, and defended Nelson Mandela.

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

One of the jurors, Stephen Bayly, teaches at the International Film and TV School in San Antonio de los Baños, outside Havana, and is a former director of the National Film and TV School in the UK. He produced 1995's Richard III with Sir Ian McKellen, and 1996's Mrs Dalloway starring Vanessa Redgrave. In Havana, he has directed two plays at the Bertolt Brecht Theatre - Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, and Bent by Martin Sherman.

Honouring festival founder Humberto Solas

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

This year marks 10 years since the death of the festival's founder, director Humberto Solas; in homage the festival will screen the restored version of one of Solas' best known films, "Lucia", and host an exhibition about the director in the Jiba Cinema on the main park. Another great Cuban film director, Tomas Gutierrez Alea will also be honoured with a screening of "Memorias del Subdesarollo" (Memories of Underdevelopment) which, like Lucia, is marking 50 years since it was made.

The best of Cuba's dancers by day and DJs and singers by night

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

Cuba's famous nueva trovador Silvio Rodriguez will open the festival with a concert and this year for each night of the festival, Cuban and foreign DJs will take over an abandoned warehouse, and play to the crowds. Cuba's Ivan Lejardi is already billed for one night. Argentine singer Fito Paez and Cubans Alain Perez, Kelvis Ochoa, Cimafunk, Raul Paz, and Haydee Milanes are all slated to entertain festival goers. Double the reasons to get to Gibara!

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

Cultural entertainment has also been ramped up with appearances scheduled for theatre, and music companies Rompe Tacones, Teatro Guiñol de Holguin, and Holguin's Codanza contemporary dance company. Holguin artist Cosme Proenza will stage an exhibition, and a street mural painted up by JEFF, Eduardo Abela, Javier Guerra, Osneldo Garcia and Vladmir Martinez, among others will colour up the town.

Cuban culinary highlights and a beach makeover

Gibara - a celebration of cinema, caves, music and cuisine

This year, Gibara's local attractions will also get a boost. The excellent private restaurant La Cueva de Taina, which serves up local shellfish dishes, and cassava in earthenware bowls and pots, will host an event alongside the Gibara Culinary Association; and a local beach will get a deep clean by Havana's environment organisation, the Nuñez Jimenez Foundation, in a bid to highlight and protect the environment.

A local beach at Gibara

Caves by day and comfort by night

For those looking to stay on, Gibara is a wonderful place to kick back and explore the surrounding caves, and beaches. The town now boasts two smart hotels - the most impressive is the tangerine grand Hotel Encanto Ordoño; the second is the bold red Hotel Encanto Arsenita with its colourful art nouveau floor tiles in pastel green, rose, and orange creme.

A lovely views from hotel Encanto Ordono, Gibara

Plus a clutch of great Cuban "casas particulares" (B&Bs) are scattered across town for those that love staying in a family home. From the hotels, the views are winning - of the sea, the saddle-shaped Silla de Gibara hill, and the buildings of the main square topped by domes and pineapple decoration.

Gibara's bedrock is limestone

Gibara's bedrock is almost 100 per cent limestone meaning the area is riddled with caves, sinkholes and weird karstic structures formed nine million years ago. On the edge of town is the curious "Colgadizo de Marea" - a 70m long karstic wall hanging which marks the level of the sea in the area around 30,000 years ago. You can even perch on it as you ponder its multi-millennial make up.

Diving in sinkhole in Gibara

Playa Caletones, 11 miles west of Gibara, is famed for its sinkholes where snorkellers can paddle in the teal green shallows or dive off the coral-encrusted ridges while cave divers can submerge into the filmic green subterranean hollows thrusting with stalagmites and stalactites.

Hired horses to carry dive tanks in Gibara

The Hoyo Verde cavern, and Tanque Azul cavern (Cuba's largest flooded cavern with 3,640 metres explored so far), are buried in thick bush so the adventurous need to walk in - along with the marmalde-coloured butterflies that flit about in the area - and hire a horse to carry dive tanks and equipment.

Gibara cavern

More accessible is the "Caverna de los Panaderos" (Bakers' Cavern), a seven mile labyrinth of karstic tunnels - painted with 22 motifs of Taino rock art - leading to the Lake of Dreams, an ice-cold crystalline pool of water said to bestow eternal youth on all who bathe in it. The Bakers' Cavern is also known for one of Cuba's most curious film festivals"El Festival de Cine Cueva de los Panaderos" (The Cave Film Festival) staged every year in March.

Crabs and beaches, forts and fun

Gibara cuisine

Fuel up at the best place to eat in town - La Cueva de Taina - in Reparto Pueblo Nuevo, which prides itself on crafting indigenous cuisine. After lunch head out around the coast to the mouth of the Cacoyüguin River and watch men collecting the jaiba crab, a local delicacy, and buy the aphrodisiac la coquina, a mauve-coloured mollusc from the seafood sellers at Playa Bayado, a short stroll out of the town centre.

Gibara - La Villa Blanca de los Cangrejos

Gibara, founded in 1817, was once known as "La Villa Blanca de los Cangrejos" (The White Villa of Crabs). Board the local ferry to San Antonio across the bay, and bask on the virgin sands of Playa Blanca, or stay at Casa Bay View, a homestay with a tiny slither of beach. It was on this shore, facing Gibara, that Christopher Columbus first caught site of the indigenous Taino on Cuban soil in 1492.


Back in town, explore the Fernando VII fort on the coast, the Mirador, site of an old fortress on Los Caneyes hill, the reopened Museum of Decorative Arts, the cigar factory, the pretty square housing the oldest house in Gibara, and swing by Bar La Loja for your favourite Cuban tipple.

Claire Boobbyer

Claire Boobbyer

Claire Boobbyer

Cultural Explorer

A self-confessed wanderluster and devoted culture lover, Claire writes about her frequent travels...

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