Cuba, a country that exudes vitality, fun, and energy, is a fascinating place. With a rich history and vibrant contemporary culture, this island nation welcomes travelers from far and wide, and for good reason.
If you’re thinking of paying Cuba a visit, or maybe you just want to know more, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out all about Cuba, from its rum smuggling days to the Cuban revolution and even the country’s popular foods.
Tip: If you’re looking for more fun island information, check out our interesting Hawaii facts post.
59 Fascinating Facts About Cuba
Whether you’re an avid historian or simply curious about Cuba, these facts are sure to interest you. Here are the most fascinating facts about this island country.
The literacy rate in Cuba stands at about 99%. This is particularly impressive considering that before 1959 the literacy rate was 77%. After the Cuban Revolution, the country launched an intensive 8-month effort, called the Cuban Literacy Campaign, in order to turn things around. And turn them they did!
They taught over 700,000 adults to read during the campaign. In 2006 they were honored with the King Sejong Literacy Prize.
Bonus fact: King Sejong is an iconic past ruler from South Korea, who introduced a simple writing system to his country and furthered literacy immensely. Today, most schools in South Korea have a statue of King Sejong to commemorate what he accomplished and to advertise their own commitment to the furthering of knowledge.
Interestingly, the Republic of Cuba is comprised of the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and a number of minor archipelagos. The main island is 104,556 km2 (40,369 sq mi) big, and the entirety of the country has an area of 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq mi). So the main island is definitely the biggest contributor to the country’s size.
As we’ve seen, the main island of Cuba is impressively large. One of the largest, in fact! And when you look at the island from the air, it resembles a crocodile. For this reason, it is also referred to in Spanish as “El Crocodilo” or “El Caima.”
Known as the finest cigars in the world, Cuban cigars are handcrafted using local tobacco. The process to make these iconic cigars includes about 100 steps, and each cigar is hand-rolled. Since this process is so arduous, you can expect to pay a hefty sum. To prove its authenticity, each Cuban cigar comes with a stamp. Cigars are one of Cuba’s main exports and are crucial for the local economy.
It is not normal for a Cuban to write down a beloved family recipe. Rather, they will pass it down from generation to generation through sharing it with their family members. So if you’re desperately wanting the recipe to that Lechon Asado, you’ll have to marry into the family.
That’s right, one of the world’s most popular beverages cannot be bought in Cuba. They are one of only two countries in the world where Coca-Cola cannot be bought or sold, the other country is North Korea. This is because both countries are under a long-term trade embargo with the U.S.
In Cuba, all citizens above the age of 16 have suffrage and are legally expected to partake in elections, which are held on a municipal, provincial and national level. However, their elections are not democratic, as Cuba is a single-party authoritarian state.
So, while all citizens take part in elections, Cuba’s political system is decried for its lack of democracy. In fact, it has been discovered that most of the members of the Council of State and the National Assembly did not actually win in the popular vote.
One man, Fidel Castro, was the leader of Cuba for almost 50 years. From 1959 until 1976 he was the prime minister of Cuba. He then became president from 1976 until 2008, when he gave over the position to his brother Raul Castro.
Yes, that’s right, when you were probably already on your third cellphone, Cubans were not allowed to own cellphones. This ban was lifted in 2008 when Raul Castro became president.
This vibrant capital city has Cuba’s biggest port and is also the country’s commercial center. There are approximately 2.1 million inhabitants within the city. Old Havana, the historic part of the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Roughly the same size as the U.S. state of Tennessee, Cuba is the largest out of more than 4000 islands in the Caribbean. The second-largest island in the region is Haiti, while Jamaica is the third-largest.
These include Old Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Vinales Valley, Desembarco del Granma National Park, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and the historic centre of Camaguey.
Baseball is closely tied to contemporary Cuban identity, and they have been the winners of gold medals at two Olympic games. The country is described as a ‘baseball powerhouse’.
That’s right, baseball doesn’t have the only recreational space in Cuban life, as dominoes are also beloved by locals. A blocking style of dominoes is preferred, where players need to use their wit and strategy to succeed.
Throughout the world, Cuba has a higher doctor-to-patient ratio than any other country. So high, in fact, that many of the countries doctors go abroad to work. Doctors have been called one of Cuba’s greatest exports, with white coats serving hospitals in over 70 different countries.
Two different currencies are circulated throughout the country. The CUP (Cuban Peso), and the CUC (convertible peso). The CUC matches the U.S. dollar, and much of the countries commodities are sold in CUC. however, most employees receive the national currency, which is the CUP.
Cuba has a road network of roughly 38,000 mi (61,000 km). Over half of this is unpaved.
Even after 2013, it has been hard to buy a new car. Cubans can only buy them from state-run dealerships. The step before this, executed in 2011, was to legalize used post-1959 cars. So new cars in Cuba are a rarity.
Classic cars in Cuba are as iconic as cigars and baseball. They add something special to the vibrancy of the country, and seeing one slowly cruise down the road is a quintessential Cuban experience.
However, they didn’t become popular without reason. In 1959, Fidel Castro placed a trade embargo on the US, which meant that new cars and car parts could not be brought into the country. People, therefore, had to take impeccable care of the cars they had.
From 1969 until 1997, Christmas was banned throughout the country. In honor of the pope visiting in 1998, it was declared a public holiday once more. Celebrations are quite widespread throughout the nation now.
This may be clear to you by now, as the pope doesn’t just drop in everywhere. Over 60% of the population are followers of the Catholic faith.
While rum is known to have originated in Jamaica, Cuba is one of the main producers of this island spirit. Since sugar grows in abundance in Cuba and is the core ingredient of this alcohol, it’s a top-quality product.
Since Cuban rum and cigars are world-renowned for their quality, you’re sure to want to bring some home for your friends, family, and self. Fortunately, you can! Americans are able to bring $100 worth of these products back to the U.S. with them.
Cuban sugar is exported in its raw form to numerous other nations. Sugarcane has played an important role in the Cuban economy since the 18th century and continues to do so.
Bacardi, one of the largest family-owned spirit producers in the world, was originally produced in Cuba. However, when Fidel Castro took power, the company moved production to Puerto Rico.
For almost 20 years, from 1939 till 1960, Hemingway lived shortly outside of Havana. Even when Cuba’s relations with the United States began to deteriorate, Hemmingway lived on in his home with his many cats and his wife.
The famous writer wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” here, as well as “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and more. He did, after all, have plenty of time to write his influential work while making Cuba his home for so long.
Also known as White Mariposa, Butterfly Jasmine is the beautiful, sweet-smelling national flower of Cuba.
This hearty stew originated in Spain but has come a far way from home. This staple food is fragrant with authentic Cuban flavors and is a great dish to try if you’re visiting.
The Monte Iberia frog is a tiny little creature that is endemic to a rainforest in eastern Cuba. It is unfortunately critically endangered.
The bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, is native to Cuba. Weighing in at under 2g, this bird is as small as one can imagine a bird creature being.
The national anthem of Cuba, El Himno de Bayamo, was written in 1868 by a Cuban poet and freedom fighter. It was first heard at the Battle of Bayamo, during the Cuban uprising against the Spanish.
Also known as the Great War and the 10-year war, the fight for freedom was a long and difficult one for Cuba. The uprising, between 1868 till 1878, against Spanish rule was led by planters and wealthy Cubans, but it did not have a successful ending.
After the 10-year war, there were still two more wars fought between Cuba and Spain before the former won their independence. There was ‘The Little War’ (1879 and 1880) and the ‘Cuban War of Independence (1895 till 1898). This last was eventually successful, though Cuba still struggled with freedom thereafter.
There are approximately 270 species of bird found in Cuba. 25 of these are endemic to the island nation. So if you plan to visit, take your binoculars along for the ride!
Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who ‘discovered’ Cuba as well as much of the America’s. While he was likely from Italy, historians have argued that he may have actually hailed from Spain or Portugal. Whichever country was the base of his birth, it is known that his expeditions were sponsored by Spanish Catholic monarchs.
After Columbus discovered Cuba, Spain colonized and controlled the country for 406 years. This is why you will find such clear Spanish influences throughout the islands.
Before Columbus had ever set foot on Cuban soil, two tribes had long made their home here. The Taíno and the Guanahatabey had both lived here for centuries before this part of the world was ‘settled’. The Taíno was the dominant culture, with a population of over 150,000
Mostly in rural areas, a life-sized rag doll plays a part in an important New Years’ ritual. At midnight, people gather around the doll, which represents all the negative of the last year, and they set it alight. This burning effigy is supposed to bring good luck to the new year.
After 10 000 Cubans attempted to seek asylum at the Peruvian embassy, the Cuban government announced that whoever wanted to leave could do so. This prompted the Mariel Boatlift, a mass exodus of Cubans to the U.S.
During 1980, approximately 125,000 people migrated from Cuba to the U.S. This mass migration triggered a sharp downfall in the national economy. By the end of the year, almost the full number of refugees had arrived in Florida, and both governments decided to end the agreement.
The U.S. government of the time, the Carter administration, struggled to respond to the influx of refugees. This was especially difficult because a large number of them had been released from jails and mental facilities.
Since the communist party came into power in 1959, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been a hostile one. However, since Fidel Castro stepped down, the U.S. has been a little friendlier than they were before. The U.S. Embassy reopened in Havana on August 14th in 2015.
The capital city of Florida is the closest major U.S. city to Cuba. This is why most Cuban refugees headed to Florida during the Mariel Boatlift. Miami is a short 1.5-hour flight from Havana.
Cuba has a number of fun, vibrant festivals for all sorts of people. There are international festivals that celebrate jazz, cigars, ballet, film, and more. Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find a festival for it in Cuba.
With festivals dating back to the 17th century, large public celebrations are clearly a thing in Cuba. The biggest and most popular of these is the Carnival of Santiago de Cuba, which takes place in the country’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba (surprise).
This festival has many interesting characteristics and histories and has long been a way to express shifting power dynamics and changing hierarchies.
This island nation is found where the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea meet. Which helps to explain how it is such a naturally diverse place.
Cuba actually has a declining population, due to the low birth rate and emigration. Since 2006, the fertility rate on average has been 1.43 children per woman. This is because abortion is legal, and the use of contraceptives is widespread.
There has not been a consensus in the last few years, but in 2018, it was estimated that Cuba had a population of 11.3 million. This overtook Haiti, which was previously the most populated country in the region, with 10.8 million citizens.
For a few years after Cuba won its independence, the country had a fragile democracy. However, with so many challenges facing the fledgling country, strife led to a coup and a short-lived dictatorship. Flugencia Batista was the deictator from 1952 till 1959.
This may not sound so surprising, but seeing as Fidel Castro served for over 50 years, this is a big improvement in the political system.
Unusual for such a small and developing country, Cuba took part in a number of wars around the world under Fidel Castro. They were heavily involved in wars for freedom in Africa, Central America, and Asia.
During Fidel Castro’s long rule, over 200 000 people were imprisoned or had their freedoms infringed on for political reasons. These include human rights defenders and independent journalists. This tendency has continued, particularly with short-term imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests.
Culturally, this multiethnic and multicultural country is considered to be part of Latin America. Its complicated history has meant that in addition to the countries natives, people have been introduced to its shores from Spain, the Soviet, and Africa.
Mass media, which is a much smaller industry now than it was before the communist state came into power, is owned by the government. This, along with arbitrary detention, has repressed independent journalism with a good deal of success.
Along with the repression of freedom of speech has come the limitation of internet access. However, Cuba legalized having WiFi in homes and businesses in 2019, so improvements are being made.
As we’ve seen, Cuba played a very large role for such a small country in the international political scene. They are one of the founding member states of the UN.
As Cuba is a long and thin island, it has tons of gorgeous coast. With around 250 beaches and 200 bays, you are never far from the sea in Cuba.
Along with sugar, rum, and cigars, nickel is a major export in Cuba. It is believed that the country has about five million metric tons in reserve. This places it fifth in the world for this natural resource.
Cuba was a major part of rum-running and all sorts of alcohol smuggling during the prohibition in America. Countries like Scotland and Wales would ship large quantities of liquor to Cuba. It would then soon end up in the southern United States.
There’s so much to know about this island nation that it might be hard to get your fill. Cuba’s multicultural and diverse nature envelops all that goes on in this country. It is also a place of unusual strife and victory, with some victories still on the horizon.
Armed with the 59 most interesting and important facts about Cuba, you will certainly be ready to experience it yourself. So enjoy the beaches, take plenty of photos with the gorgeous old cars, and be sure to try their national dish, Ropa Vieja.