congalineKEY WEST, Florida Keys — Revelers in Cuban dress are scheduled to conga from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico Friday night, May 28, to kick off Key West’s 11th annual Cuban American Heritage Festival.

The festivities are to continue through Sunday, May 30, with events celebrating the island city’s rich and colorful Cuban heritage.

Located just 90 miles from Cuba, Key West was the site of a flourishing cigar industry in the mid to late 1800s, when the island city welcomed thousands of Cuban immigrants seeking greater personal and political freedom. The family-oriented Cuban American Heritage Festival showcases the vibrant culture and customs these individuals brought with them to Key West.

Led by the Comparsa Key West dance troupe, the conga line is to step off at 8 p.m. and proceed down mile-long Duval Street from the ocean to the gulf. Members of the public are invited to put on their dancing shoes, grab their tambourines and join the fun.

Conga celebrants are to proceed to El Meson de Pepe, 410 Wall St. at Mallory Square, for a lively Latin dance party beginning at 9:30 p.m. Admission is free.

At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 29, the El Meson building is to be dedicated as a historic site and receive a marker that recognizes its unique place in Key West history. The building will become a stop on the new Key West Historic Marker Tour.

The brick structure, fronting on Key West Harbor, is a former warehouse constructed in the late 1800s. As well as the popular restaurant, it now is home to a cigar emporium, large-scale artwork reproduced from pieces by Cuban-American folk artist Mario Sanchez and memorabilia that recalls Key West’s Cuban heritage.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, El Meson is to host a cigar dinner and silent auction that celebrate Key West’s cigar-making legacy. Presented by the Fuente Newman Cigar Co., the night is to include a full dinner, wine and a selection of fine cigars. Cost is $75 per person. For reservations, call Jose Diaz at 305-360-0738.

The festival concludes Sunday with a traditional domino contest. The fun-filled challenge is set for 5:30 p.m. at 1075 Duval St. For details, call 305-294-2224.

For more information about the Cuban American Heritage Festival, visit www.cubanfest.com or call 305-295-9665.

For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539) or visit the Florida Keys & Key West website at www.fla-keys.com.

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