15 Stunning Photos Of Cuba's Quinceañeras

Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Camila Lopez Rivas was raised in Miami. But when it came time to celebrate her 15th birthday, she headed 90 miles south to throw her "dream" quinceañera in a place that has previously been mostly off-limits. And she isn't alone.

"Cuba is in style," her father, Eliecer Lopez Rufin, told the Associated Press. "Everyone wants to come do their party here."

As relations and opportunities to travel between the United States and Cuba improve, the prospect of returning to the island for important milestones becomes more feasible for many Cuban Americans. Some business owners in Cuba told the AP that they've seen an uptick in families from overseas arriving for traditional quinceañera photoshoots. The quinceañera is an important celebration thrown for a young woman's 15th birthday.

And it isn't just ex-pat families who are feeling festive — changing economic conditions are leading some Cuban families to save for and spend on bigger celebrations at home, the AP reports.

While cultural heritage and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends are key draws for those who choose to travel, there's also an economic incentive for families able to make the trip. The cost of arranging a party and photo shoot in Cuba is about one-tenth of what it can be in the United States, according to The AP.

While it's not clear how widespread the trend actually is (one South Florida-based quinceañera expert told Refinery29 that she hasn't personally witnessed an uptick in interest in celebrating in Cuba), the recent move to officially restore commercial flights between the two countries is expected to increase the flow of people for a range of purposes, including parties.

A photographer for the AP documented Cuba's amazing quinceañera tradition at the end of 2015. Ahead, those stunning photos and stories.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Girls watch Amanda Teresa Betancourt, who lives in Cuba, during her quinceañera photo shoot with EstudiosMayer in Havana, Cuba. Quinceañera packages at most studios start around $150 and include professional hair and makeup artists, scenic Havana backdrops, and multiple wardrobe changes — a bargain compared to similar services in the U.S. that typically start at about $1,000.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
A doll and cake sit ready for Daniela Santos Torres' 15th birthday in the town of Punta Brava near Havana. Daniela now lives in Glendale, AZ, having left Cuba when she was 3. She told the Associated Press that returning to Cuba for her celebration and being able to include family and friends on the island was “a dream.”
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Torres chooses a dress for her quinceañera party at EstudioMayer, the company her family hired to take her portraits and organize her birthday party in Havana, Cuba.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Gladys Barroso Quintana, 15, who lives in Cuba, poses for her quinceañera portraits at the National Hotel in Havana, as tourists watch. Quinceañera celebrations marking a girl’s 15th birthday and recognizing her transition to womanhood date back centuries in Latin America. Some vestiges of the older celebrations remain, such as performing traditional waltzes. But in Cuba, photographs are the main focus.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Quintana poses for photographers outside the Russian Orthodox Church in Havana. Cuban reforms permitting small-scale, private businesses and the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations have encouraged new photo and event-planning businesses for events such as girls’ 15th birthdays.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Quintana changes behind her parents' car from a traditional quinceañera dress to a more modern one, in a street decorated with a mural of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Estefania Hernandez Perera, 14, who lives in Cuba, is photographed by FotoEcos, a Havana-based studio that specializes in quinceañera portraits. Many studios are run by former state sector professionals who purchased cameras with the help of U.S. relatives and have found taking pictures far more profitable than the average monthly government salary of $20.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Torres gives a candle to her father as she gifts candles to the most important members of her family during her quinceañera party in the town of Punta Brava, near Havana.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Torres breaks for a meal with her father, Ivan Santos, during a portrait session at Estudio Mayer.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
A quinceañera poses during her photo session by postcards of Che Guevara near the Cathedral in Havana.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Torres waits in a classic American car with her father, Ivan Santos, to ride to her party.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Yunailey Dopico Martinez, 14, who lives in Cuba, adjusts her hat during a quinceañera photo session at the National Hotel in Havana, Cuba. The daughters of workers in Cuba’s emerging private sector are helping fuel business. With the economic reforms, many families on the island now have extra cash to spend on the celebrations.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Daniela Santos Torres, 14, applies lipstick as she gets ready for her portrait session with EstudioMayer.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Camila Lopez Rivas poses for quinceañera portraits with Hansel, left, a member of Cuban band Los Angeles. Camila lives in Miami, the daughter of a truck driver who left Cuba when she was a baby. She doesn’t remember the island, but wanted to return for the photographs and videos that Latin-American girls typically take for their 15th birthdays.
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Photo and Caption: Ramon Espinosa/ AP Photo.
Amanda Teresa Betancourt practices her opening dance with her boyfriend Erick before her quinceañera party in Havana.
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