50+ Facts About Cuba You Should Know

Discover 50+ fascinating facts about Cuba!

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a fascinating island nation in the Caribbean. With its varied natural beauty, from mountain tops to pristine white coral beaches, vivacious multicultural population, and troubled history that has spawned dramatic colonial architecture and monuments, Cuba is charming, intoxicating, and exciting. Here are some interesting facts about Cuba. 

Facts about Cuba

1. The nation of Cuba consists of over 4,000 islands.

Located just 145 km (90 mi) south of Florida, Cuba is an archipelago that encompasses the island of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), and some 4,200 (4,193 to be precise) small islands and keys. Cuba lies at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico and 

The main island (Cuba) is the largest island in the Caribbean and has a land area of 104,556 km² (40,369 sq mi). The island is 1,250 km (780 mi) long and 191 km (119 mi) across its widest points and 31 km (19 mi) across its narrowest points. Cuba is often called “El Cocodrilo”, Spanish for alligator, which is what the island looks like from an aerial view.

2. Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean.

Cuba is the 104th largest nation in the world and has a total area of 110,860 km² (42,800 sq mi), which makes it roughly the same size as the US states of Virginia and Tennessee.

3. The highest peak in Cuba is Pico Turquino. 

Pico Turquino is the highest peak in Cuba that can be found in the Sierra Maestra Mountains that are located in the south and central part of the island.

Pico Turquino rises to an elevation of 1,994 m (6,542 ft).

4. Cuba has a 3,735 km (2,321 mi) long coastline. 

Cuba’s irregular and picturesque coastline is characterized by many bays, mangrove swamps, coral reefs, and rugged cliffs. It is also home to a plethora of beaches—including ones with powdery white, golden, and black sands.

5. The longest river in Cuba is the Cauto River. 

Cuba is devoid of any significant rivers. The largest is in the southeast and is called the Cauto River. It is about 371 km (231 mi) long and is one of only two navigable rivers in Cuba, with the other being the Sagua la Grande River.

6. Before colonization, Cuba was inhabited by three Amerindian ethnic groups.

Cuba has been inhabited since around 4000 BC. The first groups of indigenous people to colonize Cuba were pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers. From about 1050 AD onward these hunter-gatherer groups were displaced gradually in some parts of Cuba by waves of new immigrants – the Arawak-speaking Taíno peoples.

Settling predominantly in the eastern and central regions, the Taino people lived in small villages of circular thatched-roof huts, grew tobacco and cotton, produced pottery, and practiced religion. They also had a complex society and organized system of participatory government.

7. Cuba was a Spanish colony for nearly 400 years.

Spanish settlement in Cuba began when the conquistador Diego Velázquez landed in Baracoa in 1511. Apart from when Britain briefly captured Havana from 1762 to 1763, Spain remained in control of Cuba until 1898, when the US defeated Spain and took control of Cuba.

8. Four US Presidents have tried to buy Cuba.

One of the fun facts about Cuba is that since the country was seen as crucial to the United States’ strategic interests four American Presidents offered to purchase Cuba in the 19th century. Thomas Jefferson first offered to buy Cuba in 1808 for an undisclosed sum. James Polk did the same in 1848 for $100 million USD. Franklin Pierce tried in 1854 to purchase Cuba for $130 million USD and finally, William McKinley offered $300 million USD for the nation in 1898.

9. Cuba gained independence in 1902.

After the Spanish–American War, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris, by which Cuba became a protectorate of the United States. While Cuba gained formal independence from the US on 20 May 1902, the US retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations.

10. Havana is the capital of Cuba.

Havana is a lively, colorful capital of Cuba, famous for its narrow colonial streets, graceful squares, and aristocratic mansions. The city is located on the northern coast of Cuba along the Straits of Florida, south of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico joins the Atlantic Ocean.

11. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Havana was a playground for wealthy Americans seeking guilt-free sex, alcohol, and gambling.

Until the 1950s, Cuba was besieged by political corruption and violence. Havana was effectively ruled by a group of millionaires more powerful than anywhere else in Latin America. It became a symbol of decadent pleasure, and the sensual tropical life, sex, and alcohol attracted a cavalcade of American tourists, film stars, and businessmen.

In this era, Havana quickly became the prostitution capital of the Western hemisphere. The capital was overrun by drugs, brothels, pornographic films, and live sex shows, with high rollers in zoot suits transforming the city into their personal playground. Gambling and luxury hotels flourished and were used for money laundering run by American gangsters like Meyer Lansky, who intended to transform Havana into a Caribbean Las Vegas.

12. The Cuban Revolution lasted over five years.

The roots of a revolution were beginning to take hold in the countryside as decadence flourished in Havana. Under Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista’s rule, a small elite enjoyed a grand lifestyle, while the majority of the rural population lived in abject poverty, with no running water, electricity, health care, education or even at times enough food.

A quarter of all Cubans were unable to read or write, and a quarter of adult males were unemployed. The country was rife with corruption, oppression, and inequality.

The Cuban Revolution began on 26 July 1953 when Fidel Castro and his band of young rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks, the country’s second-most-important military base in Santiago de Cuba. From 1956 to 1959, Fidel Castro, supported by the Argentinean-born and later left-wing hero Che Guevara, led a guerrilla war against the US-supported Batista.

By December 1958, the rebels had shattered Batista’s army, which retreated in defeat and a terrified Batista fled the country to the Dominican Republic. On 1 January 1959 victory was declared by the revolution after years of armed struggle.

13. The US government initially reacted favorably to the Cuban Revolution.

Only six days after the fall of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in Cuba, US officials recognized the new provisional government of the island nation. The American government believed that it could work with the new regime and protect American interests in Cuba.

14. In just 3 years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, nearly a quarter of a million Cubans fled the country.

Within a few months of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, a victorious Castro declared himself the prime minister of Cuba. The new government immediately set about restructuring Cuban society and passed an agrarian reform act that limited private land ownership. 

Huge sectors of Cuban industry were nationalized including farms, plantations, oil refineries, and communications systems. The redistribution of wealth and the transition to a centralized, all-powerful state antagonized the Cuban upper-middle and upper classes, among them doctors, lawyers, executives and owners of firms, big merchants, landowners, and a whole host of other professionals. 

Moderates and liberals became increasingly isolated and disillusioned from the political process. In the early years of Castro’s reign, scores of people suspected of opposing the Revolution were interrogated, imprisoned, or sent to labor camps. Fearing what might come next, these “elites” fled Cuba over the next three years—mostly to nearby Florida in the US.

15. Cuba was the scene of the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs Invasion’ in 1961.

Before the Cuban Revolution, Americans owned 90% of the public services and 40% of the sugar industry in the country. In an effort to end US control of the island, Castro’s regime confiscated foreign-owned industries and hiked taxes on US imports. Castro severed Cuba’s formerly close relations with the US and established trade deals with the Soviet Union, its bitter Cold War adversary. It was about this time that the US began to see Castro as a threat to its national security.

Seeking to overthrow Castro’s regime, the US now backed counter-revolutionary forces within Cuba and finally, under President John F. Kennedy, opted for an all-out invasion. In April 1961, a CIA-trained brigade of 1,500 mercenaries, mostly Cuban exiles from Miami, landed at Playa Girón in the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), hoping to instigate an anti-Castro coup.

The invasion was a complete fiasco and within 72 hours the whole operation ended in failure as the counter-revolutionaries were no match for Castro’s military. A few men were killed, the rest were taken as prisoners. For their release, the US traded $53 million USD worth of food and medicines. Castro emerged as a victor and the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a severe black mark against the Kennedy administration.

16. In the first fifty years after the US economic embargo on Cuba, the Cuban government estimates that it incurred $1.126 trillion USD in losses.

Eight days after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, US President John F. Kennedy declared a near-total trade embargo against Cuba, which forbade imports of all goods from Cuba, and also refused to give aid to any country that would provide assistance to the communist-run country. 

Cuba, whose economy greatly depended on trade with the United States, lost approximately $1.126 trillion USD over the next fifty years as a result of the implementation of the blockade, according to Cuban government estimates.

17. Fidel Castro made Cuba the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere.

Castro had not revealed any Communist leanings since coming to power, but soon after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and shocked the world by pronouncing Cuba’s revolution to be a ‘socialist revolution.’ 

Some historians have argued his conversion to Marxism was merely a pragmatic move to gain favor with the Soviet Union, without whom Cuba did not stand a chance of surviving the US embargo. Today, Cuba is one of four self-declared communist states in the world.

18. In 1962, Cuba became embroiled in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

After the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the USSR under Premier Nikita Kruschev supplied economic aid to socialist Cuba and installed over 40 medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba to defend the island. The threat of nuclear weapons stationed just 140 km (90 miles) away from the US mainland was too much for the US government. 

In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States came face to face with the reality of nuclear war, over what has gone down in history as the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’.  A tense standoff ensued when President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade on the island and demanded that the missile installations be dismantled immediately. 

Neither side appeared to be backing down and nuclear weapons were prepared for launch in the US. The world waited anxiously for 6 days until Khrushchev finally caved to US demands in return for the removal of US missiles from Turkey that had been deployed against the Soviet Union, and an uneasy peace was restored.

19. Just hours before signing the embargo against Cuba, US President John F. Kennedy (JFK) bought 1,200 Cuban cigars.

This is one of the most fascinating facts about Cuba. JFK was a keen cigar smoker and ordered an aide to buy him as many H. Upmann Petit boxes (JFK’s favorite Cuban cigars) as he could from Washington tobacconists so he could have them in his hands before they were deemed contraband. 

The next morning, seconds after he was told the next morning that 1,200 of his favorite Cuban cigars had been procured for him, JFK declared a trade embargo against Cuba.

20. The US still continues to operate Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Guantanamo Bay is a United States military base located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It covers an area of 116 km² (45 sq mi) and was first leased by the US in 1903 as a naval base. 

Since 1974, the US has paid Cuba $4,085 USD for the yearly lease of Guantanamo Bay, but Cuba refuses to cash the checks. The Cuban government has consistently protested against the US presence in Guantanamo Bay calling it “illegal” under international law.

21. Cuba’s Fidel Castro was the longest-serving non-royal national leader.

Fidel Castro served overall for 52 years, 2 months, and 3 days. In this time, Castro held the titles of Prime Minister of Cuba, First Secretary of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the United Party for the Socialist Revolution of Cuba, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, President of the Council of State, and President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

22. Government vehicles are legally obliged to pick up hitch-hikers in Cuba.

One of the most unique facts about Cuba is that government vehicles are legally obliged to pick up hitch-hikers in the country. The vast majority of Cubans do not own a car. While the transport system has improved in recent times, buses are normally overcrowded and infrequent, thus many Cubans have to resort to hitch-hiking.

23. The currency of Cuba is the Cuban peso (CUP).

The Cuban peso (National Peso) has been the country’s currency since 1857. From 1993 to 1 January 2021, Cuba had a dual currency system, with the convertible Cuban peso (CUC) operating alongside the CUP. 

Since its introduction in 1993, retail stores and state business and buying goods from abroad mainly used the Cuban Convertible Peso. The CUP was still used for everyday domestic transactions, and many Cubans were paid their wages in CUPs. The CUC was ~25 times more valuable than the CUP.

24. Barack Obama was the first sitting US President to visit Cuba in almost 90 years.

On his official visit to Cuba in 2016, US President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to travel to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Obama’s visit was highly anticipated in Cuba, where local workers furiously cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint ahead of his arrival.

25. In 1980, approximately 125,000 Cubans left Cuba for Florida during the ‘Mariel Boatlift’.

In 1980, due to a spike in oil prices and a sharp downturn in the economy due to the US embargo, Cuba faced intense pressure from thousands of Cubans hoping to flee the country. Following an incident in which the Peruvian embassy in Cuba was besieged by asylum seekers, Fidel Castro announced that the small harbor of Mariel, 25 km (16 mi) west of Havana, would be open to any Cuban who wished to leave for the US.

Between 15 April and 31 October 1980, 125,000 Cubans left on hundreds of small vessels to Miami, in what became known as the ‘Mariel Boatlift’. A significant number of these were convicted criminals, drug addicts, mental hospital patients, LGTBQ people, and prostitutes—people who Castro crudely labeled as “escoria” (trash) and purposely released to be freed of the burden of housing them. American President Jimmy Carter and Castro finally agreed to end the exodus on 31 October 1980.

26. Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for almost twenty years.

The Nobel Prize-winning American author Ernest Hemingway spent almost a third of his life in Cuba, spending time here off and on from 1939-1959. Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928 on a stopover on his way to Spain and became enchanted with the nation. Hemingway wrote seven books while there, including The Old Man and the Sea.

27. Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird.

One of the lesser-known facts about Cuba is that the colorful bee hummingbird—the world’s smallest bird is native to the country. Male bee hummingbirds measure just 57 mm (2.24 in) in total length, with half of that made up by the bill and tail. Because of their wing construction, hummingbirds can fly in any direction.

28. The national flag of Cuba is virtually the opposite of the flag of Puerto Rico.

The Cuban national flag has five horizontal stripes of blue and white and a red equilateral triangle at the hoist side within which is a five-pointed white star. The Puerto Rican flag has five horizontal stripes of red and white and a blue equilateral triangle at the hoist side within which is a five-pointed white star.

The Cuban national flag is so similar to the flag of Puerto Rico that the differences are negligible, except for the fact that the colors are inverted, in the sense that red is swapped with blue and blue with red. The Cuban national flag’s chevron and white star are also proportionally smaller than those of the Puerto Rican flag.

29. The Cuban trogon is the national animal of Cuba.

The Cuban trogon is blessed with a colorful plumage featuring a green back, a blue crest, a red belly and beak, and a white throat and chest. When observed from the front, these colors mimic those found on the Cuban national flag, hence it was chosen as the national bird of the country.

30. The national dish of Cuba is Ropa Vieja.

Ropa Vieja is a hearty dish made of shredded beef with peppers and onions in a tomato sauce, often served with white rice. Ropa Vieja literally translates to “old clothes” because it is thought to resemble a heap of colorful old rags.

31. Conscription is mandatory in Cuba.

Cuba has compulsory military service for two years for males from 17 to 28 years old.

32. It has only snowed once in Cuba.

This extremely unexpected and surprising phenomenon occurred on 12 March 1857 in the city of Cárdenas.

33. When Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, he immediately ordered all game sets of Monopoly to be destroyed.

Prior to 1959, Monopoly had a huge following in Cuba. However, after the Cuban Revolution, Castro immediately ordered all game sets of Monopoly to be destroyed as he frowned upon its capitalist ideals.

34. The most popular sport in Cuba is baseball.

Baseball is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Cuba. It was introduced to Cuba in the late-19th century during the Cuban War of Independence against Spain and has since become part of the Cuban national identity. 

35. Until 2008, Cubans were not allowed to own cell phones or computers.

Cuba would not allow citizens to own a mobile phone until 2008 when the ban was lifted by President Raul Castro’s government. Internet activity in Cuba is still under strict control today. Emails and web pages are monitored, and some of them are banned altogether. 

36. It’s illegal to photograph military or police sites, harbors, and rail and airport facilities in Cuba.

Cubans are sensitive about what you can photograph and failure to comply could land you in hot water with the officials!

37. Cuba has won more medals in the Summer Olympics than any other nation in the Americas (besides the US).

Sport in revolutionary Cuba is seen as an integral part of one’s physical and moral education. Numerous specialist sports schools in the country offer talented youngsters the chance to make a name for themselves. As a result, sports standards are high, and Cuba has likewise punched above its weight at the Olympics.

In fact, Cuba has been particularly dominant in boxing, winning over 70 medals in the sport, and is the only country that has produced two three-time Olympic gold-medallists—Teófilo Stevenson and Félix Savón. Some notable Cuban athletes include long jump champion Iván Pedroso, high jump champion Javier Sotomayor, and runner Alberto Juantorena.

38. Cuba is very multiethnic. 

One of the remarkable facts about Cuba is how ethnically diverse its population is. The Cuban population consists of three main groups—people of European descent, Afro-Cubans, and mulattoes (of mixed black African and European descent).

There is such a generalized mixing of races over time that it is difficult to define exact parameters for any individual. People of European ancestry (whites) account for about 65% of the population, 25% are Mulatto, and 10% are Afro-Cuban. There are small groups of East Asians (mostly Chinese) and Amerindians.

European Cubans are primarily of Spanish descent with significant numbers of Italian, German, English, French, and Irish. The vast majority of the Afro-Cubans are descendants of African slaves taken to Cuba from the 16th to 19th centuries from places such as modern-day Benin, Gambia, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. 

39. Cuba is world-famous for its cigars. 

The cigar is an inextricable part of Cuba’s culture, history, and holds almost as important a role in the national identity as rum and salsa. Although it is known that tobacco (cohiba) was used by the native Amerindians during religious rites to invoke the gods, it wasn’t until the Spanish arrived that mass cultivation and export began.

Thanks to the ideal climate and soil, plus centuries of expertise in cultivating the tobacco crop, Cuba produces the world’s finest smokes. Tobacco is grown on plantations in parts of eastern, central, and western Cuba, but the most highly prized come from around the towns of San Juan y Martínez and San Luís, in an area called the Vuelta Abajo. 

Cigars are made in different sizes and shapes. Fatter cigars tend to have a fuller flavor, which connoisseurs prefer. Today, around 100 million cigars are exported each year, and the industry is one of Cuba’s primary hard-currency earners. 

40. Christmas was banned for almost 30 years in Cuba. 

Although Cuba is a predominantly Catholic nation, Christmas was outlawed in the country for nearly three decades. After Fidel Castro’s communist government came to power in 1959, Cuba was declared an atheist state. In 1969, Castro abolished Christmas as an official (public) holiday, the reason being that he needed everyone to work on the sugar harvest. 

Cuba’s near 30-year ban on Christmas came to an end in 1997, after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to the country. The period when Christmas was banned in Cuba is locally referred to as “Las Navidades Silenciadas” (The Silent Christmases).

41. Santeria is the second most popular religion after Catholicism in Cuba. 

Santeria (the ‘Way of the Saints’), also called Regla de Ocha, is a fusion of Catholic practices and elements of the religion of the Yoruba people, who were brought as slaves to Cuba from the Congo basin and West Africa in the 16th century. They brought with them their deities (orishas) together with their legends and customs.

It is characterized by home rituals, communication with the deities via trance, sacred drumming, a connection to nature, physical offerings to saints, and occasional animal sacrifices. For many Afro-Cubans, Santería has allowed them to maintain deep ties to the original Yoruba religion and their heritage.

42. Cuba is home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other nation in the Caribbean. 

There are nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba. Some of the most notable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba are Old Havana and its Fortification System, the Historic Center of Camagüey, Trinidad, and the Valley de Los Ingenios, and the Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the southeast of Cuba.

43. Cuba is the home of the daiquiri cocktail. 

American engineer Jennings Cox, who lived and worked in Cuba after the Spanish-American War, is generally credited with creating the original Daiquiri in 1896. The story goes that while Cox was entertaining guests one night, he ran out of the gin everyone was enjoying. 

Since rum is plentiful in Cuba, it proved a convenient substitute in a punch he was serving. Adding limes, brown sugar, mineral water, and ice to the rum, he turned it into a punch for his guests. It turned out to be a huge hit, and Cox christened the punch “Daiquiri,” naming the drink after a nearby port village.

44. Bacardi Rum was originally manufactured in Cuba. 

Bacardi, one of the world’s best-selling rums, was originally manufactured in Cuba as far back as 1862. However, production was moved to Puerto Rico after Fidel Castro took power.

45. The Mamey Sapote is the national fruit of Cuba. 

Mamey Sapote is a tropical fruit that is popular in Central America and the Caribbean. It is technically a berry and has a flesh ranging from pink to orange to red. The fruit can be eaten raw, but it is often used to make smoothies and ice creams.

46. Cuba is the birthplace of such world-famous dance styles as the Danzon, Rumba, Bolero, Mambo, and Cha-Cha-Chá. 

Cuba is a country with a palpable rhythm. Music and dance are the heart and soul of the island. Hardly anyone in Cuba stays seated when the music starts: feet and hands start to move with the rhythm, and bodies sway and rock. The distinctive dance styles in Cuba developed from both Spanish and African influences.

47. Education and medical care are free for Cuban citizens. 

Cuba is renowned for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and it’s free for citizens. Education in the country is also free, and for everyone aged between 6-15, it’s mandatory to attend school. As a result, Cuba has a near-perfect literacy rate. 

48. Cuba was the second country to broadcast color television. 

One of the most obscure Cuba facts is that it was the second country to broadcast color television, second only to the United States. This happened in 1958 and allowed the island to have the third color TV channel in the history of the world.

49. Cuba was the world’s first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Cuba became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis in 2015.

50. Every Cuban household has a ration book entitling it to a monthly supply of food and other staples, which are provided at a nominal cost. 

The ration book (libreta) was introduced in 1962, initially as a temporary measure in the face of the US embargo to ensure a survival level of subsidized staples such as rice, beans, sugar, and coffee for everyone. However, the rationing system has stuck and generations of Cubans have grown up knowing no other system. Cuba’s ration book provides an allotted amount of food per household depending on the age, gender, and health status of the people living in the house.

Originally the ration book covered far more goods. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, their financial aid to Cuba stopped and the rations were reduced to the bare minimum. 

Today, each Cuban receives a monthly ration of rice, beans, spaghetti, cooking oil, one bread roll per day, plus small quantities of eggs, chicken or fish, and sugar. There are extra items for special occasions — cakes for birthdays, rum and beer for weddings—and “vulnerable people” get extra rations. 

51. The White Mariposa is the national flower of Cuba.