Cuba is the largest island along the Caribbean Sea. With its neighbors from the Greater Antilles, it is an archipelago created millions of years ago.
The country is a long and narrow island that stretches 750 miles or 1,200 kilometers from east to west. But it is only 60 miles or 100 kilometers wide in most places.
High mountains and steep hills cover about one-third of Cuba. The other two-thirds of the island is basin plains used for farming.
Christopher Columbus Claimed Cuba
In 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba for Spain. The country became the Spanish empire’s most important source of raw sugar in the 18th century.
Later on, Cuba earned the title of “Pearl of the Antilles.”
Though Spain had to fight against independent movements, it retained the rule of Cuba until 1898. The United States then defeated the Cuban forces during the Spanish-American War.
Cuba had its independence, though it remained overshadowed by the nearby United States.
Cuba and the Soviet Union
In the New Year of 1959, revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Two years later, Castro announced the Marxist-Leninist nature of the revolution.
Cuba’s economy became confined from its northern neighbor as it developed a close link to the Soviet Union. But the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s left Cuba still further. This brings what the Cubans call período especial or “special period.”
It is a time of widespread shortages and financial unpredictability.
By the early 21st century, Cuba had lost some of its more-restrictive economic and social rule. Meanwhile, the United States continued its decades-long economic restraint against the Castro regime.
Nonetheless, the December 2014 announcement of reopening diplomatic relations between the two countries lifted the embargo.
Life in contemporary Cuba is very challenging. This is due to the country’s limited access to food, electrical power, transportation, and other necessities.
Even so, many Cubans show a passionate pride in their revolutionary society, the only one of its kind in Latin America.
Cuba is a multicultural and urban nation. That is even though it only has one major city, Havana.
The city serves as the capital and commercial hub of the country, on the northwestern coast. Glorious, if rather run-down, Havana has a scenic waterfront. It is also surrounded by pristine beaches, which is one of the country’s tourist attractions.
Other Cuban cities like Santiago, Camagüey, Holguín, and Trinidad offer a rich Spanish colonial architecture legacy. And this balances the contemporary design of the country.
The Cuban Culture
Cuban culture has undergone a major revamp since the revolution. And its government has come to play a leading role in it.
Since the Ministry of Culture’s foundation in 1976, the national government has added a network of professional and amateur cultural organizations throughout the country.
Cultural institutions before 1959 can only be found in Havana. Meanwhile, provincial capitals were almost privately endowed.
Before 1959, Cuba had some 100 libraries and half-a-dozen museums. But today, it has approximately 2,000 libraries and 250 museums scattered throughout the country.
The Ministry of Culture provides a program of education in music, visual arts, ballet, dramatic arts, and modern dance. More than 200 neighborhood cultural centers or Casas de Cultura offer workshops in all branches of the arts.
Places to Visit in Cuba
From vintage cars to hand-rolled cigars, Cuba is a country with many icons to explore.
Unfortunately, it’s also a country that has often been misunderstood. Many travelers don’t get the chance to sneak into the real Cuba.
If you want to get a snapshot of Cuban life, we have listed eight places you should visit in the Pearl of the Antilles:
Castillo del Morro
Castillo del Morro is a defensive fortress on the east of Havana’s bay. Built by the Spanish Empire during its reign, it connects the city with a road and a tunnel under the bay.
You can make your way there by boat, which you board in the center of old Havana.
This is the place where Ernesto Che Guevara resided. Today the fortress is a museum and a military hospital.
Malecon is the heart of Havana. The avenue runs along the Caribbean coast and at the defensive fence, which is low enough for people of all ages to gather.
You may also get to see a fisherman or two, but it’s better to see the breathtaking sunset. In the event of high waves, the avenue is closed for traffic, but you can visit some old colonial houses under renovation.
You can also see many restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops here.
La Havana Vieja
La Habana Vieja or the Old Havana echoes the city’s centuries of history. It stretches from the old parliament building, which is a copy of Washington’s Capitol Hill.
Old Havana’s weaponry market is known for the wooden tiles. They used wood to lessen the noise horses and carriages made. This is also where you can the most historic buildings.
Havana’s Town Hall and Center
Havana’s town hall was the former parliament building. Today it is a museum and the seat of the academy of science and art.
Located in downtown Havana, the town hall stretches on the other side of the parliament. It is made up mostly of shops, hotels, restaurants, and the biggest hospital in Cuba.
You can also see the University and the Youth Hostel. And there’s also the famous Coppelia, a vast pastry restaurant known mostly for its ice creams.
Plaza de la Revolucion
Plaza De la Revolucion or the Square of the Revolution was built after the revolution on Cuba. This is also where you can find the tallest statue in Cuba, the statue of the poet Hose Marija.
The top part serves as a viewing point, while a display of photographs and paintings of the revolution can be found in the basin.
Many essential state offices are located in the Plaza. This includes the principal office of the Cuban communist party.
You’ll also find the famous image of Che Guevarra that is on almost every postcard in Havana.
The town of Vinales is a must-see spot for culture in Cuba. Although it has become more crowded in recent years, its old-world charm remains.
The town of Vinales is picturesque. From the rounded limestone karsts and grounds of tobacco plants to the streets placed with colorful colonial houses, you’ll get an IG-worthy photo.
A freshly-rolled cigar is a must-try when you’re in Vinales, even for non-smokers. This offers a calm and uniquely Cuban experience.
You can also ride a bike through the hills, take a salsa class, or sit and enjoy as life goes by.
Founded by the French in 1819, Cienfuegos’s architecture still reflects this today.
Be sure to go for a walk on its wide streets. Visit the Plaza de Armas to see the monument of Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti. Admire the art galleries and the people you’ll see on Paseo del Prado, the longest boulevard in Cuba.
For a sweeping view of the city and sea, hiking to the top of a tall building is recommended. You can even enjoy a drink at the rooftop patio.
Trinidad is a must-visit place in Cuba.
It’s got a little bit of everything: beaches, culture, nightlife, and more. It’s Cuba’s best-preserved colonial town. So much so that everywhere you look, you’ll see lovely cobblestone streets lined with pastel-hued houses.
You can visit one of the many museums or take a day’s journey to the white-sand beach of Playa Ancon or Topes de Collantes, a national park and great for hiking.
After a day of sightseeing, you can simmer down by spending a night on the town.
Visit the Casa de la Musica, an open-air bar in the middle of the town. They offer a live salsa band every night, so you can watch the locals dance while sipping a chilled Bucanero beer or a freshly muddled mojito.
Cuba abounds in natural beauty. This vast island has more than 5,000 kilometers of coastline, much of it rimmed with pristine beaches.
Coral reefs reflect in the turquoise waters. Plus Cuba’s abundant countryside and heavenly islands hosted presidents, provided refuge to revolutionaries, and inspired writers worldwide like Ernest Hemingway.
Cuba offers an unrivaled depth and diversity with its history and beauty and exalted diving and fishing scene.