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Cuba Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Cuba
With Spanish, African and Creole influences, modern Cuba is home to a fascinating tapestry of cultural influences. This is evident in the music, dance and food that the charismatic Cuban people are happy to share with visitors.
It’s well known that Cubans loves music and dance – with everything from Afro-Cuban rhythms to classic melodies permeating the atmosphere of clubs, bars, restaurants and street corners. The modern arts are also embraced here, with ballet, modern dance and film also rising in popularity, so much so that Havana is now home to many internationally recognised film, literary and music festivals.
Living in a Communist country means Cubans sometimes go without the luxury items that many Westerners take for granted, with certain foods and products not available to the Cuban public. Despite this, special events like birthdays, holidays and marriages are celebrated with gusto, with special foods, music and dance featuring. This love of life is also evident in the street parties, festivals and fiestas that are celebrated throughout the year. Coffee, cigars and rum are consumed freely and people dance with confident grace as the sound of trumpets and guitars fill the air. Visitors to Cuba will soon be enamored with this uniquely infectious way of life and culture, not seen anywhere else in the world.
Geography and Environment of Cuba
This island nation sitting in the Caribbean Sea is home to a diverse range of environments. From rolling hills to tobacco plantations, beaches, coral reefs and tropical rainforests, Cuba holds many of the regions plant and animal species. With more than 20% of the island covered with natural parks, there's much biodiversity here, making it a great place for eco-adventures, hikes, snorkelling and diving.
Large cities like Havana evoke a time gone by. Grand buildings dating back to the 1950s exude a decaying grace not found elsewhere, which makes for great photographs but also makes daily life quite difficult at times. Due to a lack of building materials, new housing and infrastructure is rare, making living conditions quite cramped for Cuban city-dwellers. Rural life offers more space and a quieter pace, but less access to services. Regardless of where you travel in Cuba, the people are generally kind, humble and hospitable in both the big cities and small towns.
History and Government of Cuba
Originally inhabited by indigenous people, Christopher Columbus first sighted Cuba in 1492, and later claimed it as a Spanish territory. The Spanish went on to create many settlements around Cuba, which created conflict and warfare between the Spanish settlers and indigenous people. With the establishment of tobacco plantations and other cash crops like sugar cane, Cuba came to rely upon African slaves for labour during the 17th and 18th centuries. Bringing unique customs, music, language and food with them, the African slaves added to the melting pot of cultures already forming in Cuba. Due to Cuba’s rich natural environment and relative prosperity, the island became a prime target for pirates and other foreign invaders. When visiting Cuba today there are a number of fortresses and other historical remnants that act as a reminder of Cuba’s pirate past. After the Spanish-American War, Cuba was handed over to the United States, which assumed control until 1902, when power was then granted to a Cuban government.
Two iconic figures play the largest roles in Cuba’s more recent history. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are embedded in the national psyche of Cuba, their power and influence pivotal to the Cuban Revolution of 1959. After taking control, Castro soon set out to remove political opponents from the administration and gain control of newspapers, radio and television stations. Relations between the United States and Cuba became strained almost immediately with the US resenting Castro’s takeover and Communist rule. Trade embargoes were put in place after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 added further tension to relations between the US and Cuba, which continues into the present day. Standing alongside Fidel Castro as an equally important political figure, Che Guevara (although Argentinean) holds a very important place in Cuban history. A revolutionary, author, doctor and military leader, Guevara played pivotal roles in the guerrilla campaign leading up to the Cuban Revolution and the defence of the Bay of Pigs, as well as diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union, up until his death in 1967. It’s impossible not to notice the reverence and honour held for Guevara when visiting Cuba. Street art, monuments, statues and museums dedicated to the man Cubans simply call ‘El Che’ can be found all over the country.
Cuba at a glance
- Havana (population 2.2 million)
- 11.4 million
- (GMT-05:00) Bogota, Lima, Quito, Rio Branco
- Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type B (American 3-pin)
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