Cuba, the largest island in the turquoise seas (by land mass and population), is a Caribbean island unlike any other. It has that seductive mystery that imbues a location seemingly locked in time, with its classic ’50s Cadillacs and decrepit Spanish colonial beauty.
Cuba, which is about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, is still suffering the consequences of the 1962 economic blockade. This has contributed to the formation of a fascinating cultural landscape. A trip to Cuba is as rich in experience as it is in magic, from its architecture to its white-sand beaches and abandoned coffee fields.
The Ciboney Tano people lived in the area that is now Cuba from the 4th millennium BC until Spanish arrival in the 15th century. It was a Spanish colony from the 15th century until the Spanish–American War of 1898, when it was captured by the US and granted nominal independence as a de facto US protectorate in 1902.
Cuba attempted to improve its democratic system in 1940 as a fragile republic, but rising political radicalism and social unrest resulted in a coup and subsequent dictatorship under Fulgencio Batista in 1952. Under Batista’s tenure, open corruption and oppression culminated to his overthrow in January 1959 by the 26th of July Movement, which later established communist power under Fidel Castro’s leadership.
The Communist Party of Cuba has ruled the country since 1965. During the Cold War, the country was a source of dispute between the Soviet Union and the United States, and a nuclear war was nearly triggered during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Cuba is one of the few remaining Marxist–Leninist socialist republics with a Constitution that recognizes the role of the vanguard Communist Party. Cuba was involved in a wide range of military and humanitarian initiatives throughout Africa and Asia during Castro’s leadership.
Cuba is a Latin American country in terms of culture. It is a multiethnic country whose people, culture, and customs stem from a variety of sources, including the Tano Ciboney peoples, Spanish colonialism, the entry of enslaved Africans, and a Cold War-era close association with the Soviet Union.
Cuba is a member of the United Nations, the Group of 77, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States, ALBA, and the Organization of American States. It is one of the world’s only planned economies, with the tourism industry and exports of skilled labor, sugar, tobacco, and coffee dominating the economy.
Cuba has historically outperformed other countries in the region on numerous socioeconomic measures, including literacy, infant mortality, and life expectancy, both before and after Communist administration. Cuba is governed by a single-party authoritarian regime that forbids political dissent. Elections are held in Cuba, however they are not seen as democratic.
Information censorship (including internet access restrictions) is widespread in Cuba, and independent media is suppressed; Reporters Without Borders has ranked Cuba as one of the world’s worst countries for press freedom.
Following the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris (1898), by which Spain relinquished Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States in exchange for $20 million, and Cuba became a US protectorate. On May 20, 1902, the Republic of Cuba declared formal independence from the United States.
The United States retained the right to engage in Cuban politics and regulate its finances and foreign relations under the new constitution. The United States leased the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base from Cuba under the Platt Amendment.
Following contested elections in 1906, Tomás Estrada Palma, the country’s first president, faced an armed insurrection by independence war veterans, who defeated the government’s limited forces. The United States intervened by seizing Cuba and appointing Charles Edward Magoon as Governor for a period of three years.
According to Cuban historians, Magoon’s governorship was marked by political and societal corruption. When José Miguel Gómez was elected president in 1908, self-government was restored, but the United States continued to interfere in Cuban affairs. The Partido Independiente de Color sought to establish a separate black republic in Oriente Province in 1912, but was violently destroyed by General Monteagudo.
Gerardo Machado was elected president in 1924. Tourism grew dramatically during his presidency, and American-owned hotels and restaurants were developed to accommodate the inflow of visitors. Gambling and prostitution have increased in Cuba as a result of the tourism boom.
The 1929 Wall Street Crash resulted in a sugar price crash, political turmoil, and persecution. In response to Machado’s growing unpopularity, protesting students known as the Generation of 1930 turned to violence. In August 1933, Machado was forced into exile by a mass strike (in which the Communist Party supported him), uprisings among sugar workers, and an army insurrection. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada took his place.
Céspedes was deposed in September 1933 by the Sergeants’ Revolt, led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista. A provisional administration was headed by a five-member executive committee (the Pentarchy of 1933). The provisional president, Ramón Grau San Martn, was then appointed. In 1934, Grau resigned, clearing the way for Batista, who ruled Cuba for the following 25 years, first through a succession of puppet presidents.
Between 1933 and 1937, there was “almost unceasing social and political struggle.” Overall, Cuba suffered from weak political structures from 1933 to 1940, as evidenced by the fact that it had three presidents in two years (1935–1936) and Batista’s militaristic and repressive actions as Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
In 1940, a new constitution was ratified, enshrining radical progressive concepts such as the right to work and health care. In the same year, Batista was elected president, a position he held until 1944. He is the first non-white Cuban to be elected to the country’s highest political office. His government implemented significant social reforms.
Several Communist Party members held positions in his government. During World War II, Cuban military forces were largely absent from action, however President Batista proposed a united US-Latin American assault on Francoist Spain to destroy its totalitarian dictatorship. During the war, Cuba lost six commerce ships, with the Cuban Navy being credited with sinking the German submarine U-176.
Batista followed the strictures of the 1940 constitution, which prevented him from being re-elected. The following election, in 1944, was won by Ramon Grau San Martin. Grau weakened the already shaky legitimacy of the Cuban political system, particularly by degrading the highly dysfunctional, if not wholly ineffective, Congress and Supreme Court.
In 1948, Carlos Pro Socarrás, a protégé of Grau, was elected president. The Auténtico Party’s two administrations produced an infusion of investment, fueling an economic boom, raising living conditions for all segments of society, and establishing a middle class in most major areas.
In creating its mostly state-controlled planned economy, the Cuban government declares its commitment to socialist values. The government owns and operates the majority of the means of production, as well as the majority of the labor force. In recent years, there has been a tendency toward increasing employment in the private sector.
In 2006, the public sector employed 78 percent of the workforce, while the private sector employed 22 percent, compared to 91.8 percent and 8.2 percent in 1981. Government expenditures account for 78.1 percent of GDP. Any company that hires a Cuban is required to pay the Cuban government, which compensates the employee in Cuban pesos.
As of July 2013, the average monthly wage in Cuba was 466 pesos (about $19). The minimum pay is around 2100 CUP (US$84) and the median wage is around 4000 CUP (US$166) following an economic reform in January 2021.
The Cuban pesos (CUP) are pegged to the US dollar. Every Cuban household has a ration book (also known as a libreta) that entitles them to a monthly supply of food and other essentials at a low cost.
The Miami Herald reported in 2016: “…approximately 27% of Cubans make less than $50 per month, 34% earn between $50 and $100 per month, and 20% earn between $101 and $200 per month. Twelve percent claimed they made between $201 and $500 per month, and nearly 4% said they made more than $500 per month, with 1.5 percent saying they made more than $1,000.”
Cuba was one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries prior to the 1959 revolution. The country’s economy had grown prosperous in the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to the export of sugar to the United States. Cuba ranks 5th in the hemisphere in terms of per capita income, 3rd in terms of life expectancy, 2nd in terms of per capita automobile and telephone ownership, and 1st in terms of the number of television sets per inhabitant.
Cuba had the fourth highest literacy rate in Latin America, at 76 percent, despite the fact that two-thirds of the population had just three years of schooling or less, one-third had never attended school, and half of the adult population could not read or write.
Although there was massive inequality in the distribution of doctors, Cuba ranked 11th in the world in terms of the number of doctors per capita in 1958; for example, more than 60% of all doctors lived and worked in Havana in 1958, and even when they worked outside Havana province, they typically worked in other provincial capitals.
Before the Revolution, the United States dominated the Cuban economy, controlling 80 percent of the country’s trade. The public utilities, the railroad, and all of the oil refineries were all run by US companies. Agro-business businesses owned by Americans produced two-thirds of all food.
Half of the island’s arable land was owned by US developers. Only 8% of landowners controlled three-quarters of the land. Unemployment accounted for at least a fourth of the population. The top five of the population earned 58% of the income, while the bottom fifth received only 2%.
A thriving middle class, according to PBS, promised prosperity and social mobility. “Havana was then what Las Vegas has become,” says Cuba historian Louis Perez of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Cuba relied on Moscow for major help and sheltered markets for its goods after the Cuban revolution and before the Soviet Union’s downfall. The removal of these subsidies plunged Cuba’s economy into a precipitous downturn known as the Special Period in Cuba. To ease severe shortages of food, consumer goods, and services, Cuba attempted limited free-market-oriented measures.
Allowing some self-employment in select retail and light manufacturing sectors, legalizing the use of the US currency in business, and encouraging tourism were among the actions taken. To compensate for the loss of food imports from the Soviet Union, Cuba has developed a unique urban farming system known as organopónicos.
The US embargo against Cuba was imposed in response to the nationalization of property owned by US citizens, and it was maintained on the basis of alleged human rights breaches. The embargo is commonly believed to have harmed the Cuban economy. The Cuban government assessed this loss at $685 million per year in 2009.
The Cuban government has advocated for changes to the country’s agriculture system. Ral Castro began enacting agrarian reforms in 2008 to enhance food production, as 80 percent of food was imported at the time. The improvements aim to increase efficiency and expand land utilization.
Venezuela provides Cuba with approximately 110,000 barrels (17,000 m3) of oil per day in exchange for money and the services of over 44,000 Cubans in Venezuela, the majority of whom are medical workers.
Cuba had exports of US$2.4 billion in 2005, placing it 114th out of 226 nations, and imports of US$6.9 billion, placing it 87th out of 226 countries. Canada accounts for 17.7% of its exports, followed by China (16.9%), Venezuela (12.5%), the Netherlands (9%), and Spain (5.9%). (2012). Sugar, nickel, tobacco, fish, medical items, citrus fruits, and coffee are among Cuba’s significant exports; food, fuel, apparel, and machinery are among its major imports.
Cuba is currently in debt to the tune of $13 billion, or around 38% of GDP. Cuba is reliant on credit accounts that circulate from country to country, according to the Heritage Foundation.
Due to a combination of circumstances, including a worldwide sugar commodity price drop that rendered Cuba less competitive on world markets, Cuba’s previous 35 percent supply of the world’s export market for sugar has declined to 10%. In 2008, it was announced that pay restrictions would be removed in order to boost productivity in the United States.
Cuba is an archipelago of islands in the northern Caribbean Sea, where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean collide. It is located between 19° and 24° north latitude and 74° and 85° west longitude.
To the north and northwest, the United States (Key West, Florida) is 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, while The Bahamas (Cay Lobos) is 21 kilometers (13 miles). To the west, Mexico is 210 kilometers (130 miles) across the Yucatán Channel (to the closest tip of Cabo Catoche in the State of Quintana Roo).
The local climate is tropical, with the entire island south of the Tropic of Cancer and moderated by year-round northeasterly trade winds. The Caribbean current, which pulls warm water from the equator in, also influences the temperature. As a result, Cuba’s climate is warmer than Hong Kong’s, which is located at a similar latitude to Cuba but has a subtropical rather than tropical climate.
There is a dryer season from November to April (with local variations) and a rainier season from May to October. In January, the average temperature is 21 degrees Celsius (69.8 degrees Fahrenheit) while in July, it is 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Caribbean Sea’s mild temperatures, along with Cuba’s location across the Gulf of Mexico’s entry, render the country vulnerable to hurricanes. In September and October, they are the most common.
On June 12, 1992, Cuba signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, and on March 8, 1994, it became a party to the convention. It then created a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which the convention received on January 24, 2008, after one amendment.
The country’s fourth national report to the CBD includes a detailed breakdown of the number of species recorded from each kingdom of life, with the main groups being: animals (17,801 species), bacteria (270), chromista (707), fungi, including lichen-forming species (5844), plants (9107), and protozoa (9107). (1440).
The zunzuncito, or bee hummingbird, is the world’s smallest bird and known dinosaur, at 5.5 cm (2.2 in) in length and unique to Cuba. The Cuban trogon, also known as the tocororo, is the country’s national bird and an endemic species. The national flower of Cuba is Hedychium coronarium, also known as mariposa.
Cuba has six terrestrial ecoregions: moist forests in Cuba, dry forests in Cuba, pine forests in Cuba, wetlands in Cuba, cactus scrub in Cuba, and mangroves in the Greater Antilles. It was ranked 102nd out of 172 countries in the 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index, with a mean score of 5.4/10. According to a 2012 research, Cuba is the only country in the world that has met the WWF’s criteria for sustainable development.
How To Reach Cuba
The most common mode of transportation to Cuba is by plane, which has a large number of regular flights from major cities around the world. The majority of visitors to Cuba arrive at José Martn International Airport in Havana, which is the country’s main airport.
Between the airport and the city center, there are no regular trains or buses. Taxis from the airport to La Habana’s downtown area cost between 20 and 25 CUC and take 30 to 40 minutes.
The Antonio Maceo Airport in Santiago de Cuba is the second most important. The seaports are another option for getting to Cuba. The majority are well connected to the city center, so getting to your hotel should be simple. It’s important to remember that Customs and border officials can be found at any entry point, including airports and seaports.
Best Time To Visit Cuba
Cuba, as the largest of the Caribbean islands, has a wide range of landscapes. The temperature here is wonderfully hot all year, from the verdant limestone outcrops in the west to the unspoilt woods of the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains. There are two seasons in the year.
The months of December to May are the busiest, with less rain, lower humidity, and temperatures in the high 20°Cs. Rainfall is heavier, humidity is higher, and temperatures rise above 30°C during the wet season, which runs from June to November.
Although June is a less popular month to visit, it can be an excellent alternative because the biggest rains have not yet arrived. Hurricanes and tropical storms are possible between August and November.
1. DECEMBER – MAY
The dry season in Cuba is the finest time to come because of the sunny days and blue skies. The weather is hot but not oppressively humid, and there is little danger of rain. Hiking in the Sierra Maestra mountains, horseback riding in Las Terrazas, or snorkeling with sea turtles in the warm, clear waters of the cayes are all options for outdoor activities.
It’s best to plan ahead of time if you want to come during these months, as hotels will be full. The International Jazz Festival in Havana in December and the Semana Santa Easter processions in Trinidad are two important events to keep an eye on.
2. JUNE – NOVEMBER
This is Cuba’s rainy season, albeit the biggest rains don’t arrive until late July. From August through November, temperatures climb and humidity levels rise, with regular rainfall and the threat of hurricanes. While the unpredictability of the weather makes many outdoor activities difficult, it can still be an interesting time to visit.
Carnival is celebrated in many of Cuba’s cities and villages in July (and sometimes August), with traditional drumming rhythms, flashy costumes, and bustling parades. Santiago de Cuba has the largest and most traditional of these Carnival festivals.
Cuba’s Best Tourist Attractions
Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, is rich in history, culture, and mystique. The beautiful old buildings in Cuba’s colonial cities evoke the feeling of a country frozen in time, with live music wafting through the cobblestone squares of Havana’s World Heritage-listed Old Town, vintage cars still cruising the streets, and live music wafting through the cobblestone squares of Havana’s World Heritage-listed Old Town.
Natural beauty abounds in Cuba. This massive island boasts over 5,000 kilometers of coastline, much of which is surrounded by beautiful beaches. In the turquoise waters, coral reefs glisten, and Cuba’s lush countryside and sublime islands have hosted presidents, provided refuge to revolutionaries, and inspired writers from all over the world, including Ernest Hemingway.
Cuba has a depth and diversity that few Caribbean islands can match, with all of its history and beauty, as well as excellent diving and fishing. With our list of the top attractions and locations to visit in Cuba, you can get a taste of this fascinating country.
1. Havana Vieja (Habana Vieja)
Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, is a well-preserved slice of Cuban history and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s easy to imagine life in Cuba 200 years ago when strolling along the cobblestone alleys and gazing up at the majestic Baroque and neoclassical buildings.
The old structures are getting a fresh lease on life thanks to extensive restorations. The Plaza de la Catedral, which houses the Cuban Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal, the famed restaurant and Hemingway haunt Bodeguita del Medio, and the military bastion Castillo de la Real Fuerza are also major attractions.
Plaza Vieja, also in the Old Town, is one of Havana’s most popular tourist attractions. The 18th-century Casa del Conde Jaruco, with exquisite stained-glass windows on the first floor, is one of the most remarkable buildings in this lively gathering location.
The camera obscura, located nearby, offers spectacular views from its 35-meter tower. Allow at least a day to visit the Old Town, with more time if possible.
Varadero is one of Cuba’s most well-known beach resorts, with one of the Caribbean’s greatest beaches. It runs the length of the Peninsula de Hicacos, which juts into the sea off the north coast and is connected to the mainland by a drawbridge.
This popular palm-fringed coastline has more than 50 hotels, and its stunning white-sand beaches attract people from all over the world.
The Parque Ecológico Varahicacos (Varadero Ecological Park) and its two caverns, Cueva de Ambrosio and Cueva de Musulmanes, are among Varadero’s highlights.
The tranquil Parque Josone, also in Varadero, is home to rich floral gardens, a restaurant, a swimming pool, and a tiny lake where visitors may rowboat about.
Deep-sea fishing, golf, skydiving, and day visits to cultural destinations are all popular activities in addition to diving and snorkeling.
It’s like going back in time when you visit Trinidad, Cuba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city center’s nicely renovated buildings and cobblestone streets give off a charming colonial vibe. Trinidad benefited from both the sugar and slave trades, and much of the architecture dated from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Apart from Havana, Trinidad is now one of the top cities in Cuba to visit. The cobblestone Plaza Mayor, the city’s center square, is a great place to take in the lively atmosphere. The neoclassical Church of the Holy Trinity rises above the square (Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad).
The Church and Monastery of Saint Francis (Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco), with its distinctive bell tower; the Museum of Colonial Architecture (Museo de Arquitectura Colonial); the art gallery at the Casa de Aldeman Ortiz; and the Palacio Brunet, a grand home built in 1812 and still featuring original frescoes and marble floors, are among the other Trinidad highlights.
The beautiful Valle de los Ingenios, east of Trinidad, on the way to Sancti Spiritus, features various relics and monuments from the 19th century, when sugar cane plantations and mills flourished. Driving or horseback riding amid the lovely backdrop of green sugar cane fields, palm trees, and mountains is one of the nicest things to do in Trinidad, Cuba.
Guardalavaca, in the province of Holguin, is quieter and more distant than Varadero, with its glistening beaches. The broad length of beach here is fringed by lush flora, providing lots of shady spots for anyone seeking relief from the tropical sun. Divers and snorkelers can explore the coral reefs for a variety of sea life.
Jungle adventures, sailing expeditions, and sightseeing tours of Santiago de Cuba are all available as day outings from Guardalavaca.
Bahia de Naranjo is a long stretch of shore west of Guardalavaca that includes three islands, including Cayo Naranjo, which is home to the famed Dolphinarium, which enables up-close interactions with these sociable creatures.
Chorro de Maita, with its native Indian burial ground and rebuilt Taino Indian village, is another side trip option from Guardalavaca.
5. Playa Paraíso, Cayo Largo del Sur
Playa Paraso (Paradise Beach), on the island of Cayo Largo del Sur, is one of Cuba’s top beaches in a country noted for its magnificent beaches. This heavenly strip of pure white sand and baby blue sea follows the island’s sheltered western coast and joins with the similarly lovely Playa Sirena.
Cayo Largo del Sur is a true sun-paradise, seeker’s with a dry, sunny environment and little tourist attractions aside from some of Cuba’s most gorgeous beaches and a slew of hotels and resorts.
6. Cayo Coco
Cayo Coco is another gorgeous beach resort in Cuba, as well as one of the most remote. Along with neighbouring Cayo Guillermo, the island was included in Hemingway’s novels Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea.
Cayo Coco is connected to the mainland via a bridge as part of the Jardines del Rey, the combined archipelago of Sabana-Camaguey, though most visitors arrive by plane.
7. Viales National Park
The valley floors of the Parque Nacional Viales are used for agriculture, with tobacco, fruit, and vegetables being farmed there. The park offers wonderful hiking and equestrian riding in the hills for nature enthusiasts.
Viales, a beautiful village nearby, is an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding area. Day trips from Havana are also available through tour companies.