In 2014, President Obama began to thaw American relations with Cuba, a beautiful island nation that had been banned from US tourists for decades. While there were ways to get around it, usually with flights from Mexico or Canada to Cuba, it was a lot harder than it is today!
Yet for many Americans, Cuba is still something unknown. Most don’t know much about its history, culture or people. In this collection of facts about Cuba, we’re going to break down some of the most common myths about Cuba and show you what the country really is like.
If you are looking to travel to Cuba, this collection of Cuba facts and our travel guide are must-haves. It will help you plan a better, more engaging trip to this beautiful country and make it a truly once in a lifetime trip.
Are you ready to learn more about this incredible island nation? Then read on!
Interesting facts about Cuba
1. Cuba is bigger than you think
When we think of Caribbean islands, we often think of archipelagos like the Lesser Antilles, home to small islands like Barbados, Grenada or St. Kitts and Nevis. Cuba is much larger than these islands: it is by far the largest island in the Caribbean and is roughly the same size as Pennsylvania in terms of area. It is also a long island. It could stretch from South Carolina to Arkansas!
Cuba has more to offer than the main island. There are four smaller archipelagos that surround the larger island to the south and north. In fact, Cuba is made up of more than 4000 islands and cays.
2. Cuba is very diverse
One of the most interesting facts about Cuba is that it has a very diverse culture made up of many different peoples who made the island their home.
Before the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century, Cuba was inhabited by an indigenous people called the Taino, and although there are few today, some of these people still call Cuba home today. The Spaniards brought their culture and religion to Cuba, which was joined by other European peoples, African peoples, Jewish peoples, and many other ethnic and cultural groups.
Today, Cuban national culture absorbs influences from all these groups who have come together to form a vibrant, lively and welcoming culture.
3. Cuba is full of world heritage sites
While some places have a UNESCO World Heritage Site or two, Cuba has nine of them! In the west of the country lies the Viñales Valley, an incredible valley home to tobacco farms that still use traditional farming methods to produce perhaps the best tobacco in the world.
The world heritage site of Old Havana from the 16th century is located in the capital of Havana. If you go to Santiago de Cuba, you will find another place that will be a paradise for history lovers, the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca, a fortress built in 1648 that once protected the coast from pirate raids.
Are you planning a trip to Cuba? Be sure to stay a couple of nights in Havana, it’s one of our favorite cities in the Caribbean. Staying at the Iberostar Grand Packard was a fantastic place to walk to all of the top attractions.
4. Cigars are a way of life
Cuban cigars are known worldwide and are not only intended for export. Cigars are incredibly popular in Cuba in all social classes, in contrast to many other countries where they are considered the exclusive domain of the rich.
But what makes Cuban cigars so popular? Cuban cigars are made from a great blend of tobacco leaves that have been hardened twice to create a smooth and aromatic smoke.
Their manufacture is also a major factor in their worldwide popularity. Becoming a cigar roller in Cuba takes months of training, and they are still hand-rolled, resulting in an incredibly high quality cigar: not too tight, not too loose, but just right.
5. Cuba’s national pastime might surprise you
Ah, think of things that are quintessentially American: apple pie, the Statue of Liberty, baseball. Well, baseball is far from exclusive to the US! It’s an incredibly popular sport in Cuba too!
Baseball was played in Cuba in the 1860s and is a thriving league today. A slew of Cuban MLB players have also come to the US over the years, including players like Rodrigo Alvarez, who defected in 1963.
Other popular sports in Cuba are soccer, volleyball, and boxing. However, despite the enormous popularity of football in other Latin American countries, it lags far behind baseball in Cuba.
6. There are a lot of old cars on Cuba’s streets
One of the funniest facts about Cuba is that it is one of the very few places in the world where you can find classic American cars on the streets in large numbers. These date from the time before the communist revolution and the resulting American embargo, which restricted car exports to the island.
As a result, Cubans had to get by with what they had and rely on ingenuity to fix these old cars and keep them running in the event of breakdowns and adverse conditions.
So if you look at Cuba’s streets, you might think you’ve gone through a time warp. You’ll see old Fords, Chevrolets, and more as these amazing photos show. While you can find a lot of modern cars on the streets these days, these old Yanqui tanks are still incredibly popular.
7. The world’s smallest bird can be found on Cuba’s coasts
If you are a bird lover then there is something for you to experience. Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. This lovely little creature weighs less than a tenth of an ounce and is only two and a half inches long.
If you are looking to take a bird watching excursion, there are plenty of other species that will delight you too. The Cuban Amazon Parrot and Cuban Parakeet are species of parrot native to Cuba, and you’ll also find pygmy owl and the brightly colored Tody!
Even if you’re not an avid bird watcher, you owe it to yourself to spot the colorful flamingos that call Cuba home! This is the place to see flamingos in the western hemisphere.
8. Cuba used to have two currencies
Until recently, Cuba was one of the few places where you could use two different currencies. These were the Cuban peso, the common local currency, and the Cuban convertible peso, used by tourists. The convertible peso was phased out earlier this year, which makes buying souvenirs far less confusing!
In the past, it was even illegal for tourists to use the Cuban peso. However, this rule was also abolished, which meant that tourists could choose between the two currencies for a while. They were also worth different amounts, with the convertible peso being worth about 25 Cuban pesos.
US dollars are also accepted in many stores, So you might want to keep a few bucks while you are on vacation.
9. Cuba has an impressive literacy rate and life expectancy
Although Cuba is a pretty poor country in a global comparison, it has an impressive welfare state that, at least according to statistics, takes solid care of its citizens. The Cuban literacy rate is a massive 99.7 percent, far more than 65 years ago.
The Cuban healthcare system is also well respected around the world, with an average life expectancy that is close to that of the United States.
10. Cuba is home to many popular cocktails
Cuba’s Roman culture has resulted in the creation of many internationally popular cocktails that you may never have known were Cuban! For example, the humble rum and cola, also known as Cuba Libre, originate from the Spanish-American War when Coca-Cola was first imported into Cuba.
The mojito is also a Cuban recipe. So next time you enjoy the minty, refreshing taste of one of these, remember where it comes from! The Daquiri, another of the world’s most popular cocktails, also comes from Cuba, where legend has it that an American engineer named Jennings Cox created the cocktail.
11. Wifi is hard to come by
While Cuba is open to US tourists, it still has a very authoritarian government, which means that access to the internet is very tightly regulated. If you want to get online you have to visit some designated hotspots and pay for them as well.
Access to some websites is still restricted as well. So if you want unrestricted internet access, consider subscribing to a VPN before traveling to Cuba.
We hope you enjoyed these facts about Cuba
These facts about Cuba should shed some light on this often misunderstood country. It really is an incredible travel destination, and it’s easier than ever to visit. If you’re planning a trip, read our Cuba travel guide to find out even more.
You can also use our travel tips to make the most of your vacation! And read about all of these 36 amazing things to do in Havana, Cuba
Discover other interesting facts around the world
If you liked all these facts about Cuba, save them on Pinterest for your dream boards.