28 interesting facts about Cuba

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The most interesting facts about Cuba, from its infamous leftist revolution to the bee hummingbird – the world’s smallest bird.

Interesting facts about Cuba include its classic cars
Interesting facts about Cuba include its classic cars (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Cuba
Population: 11,032,343
Area: 110,860 sq km
Capital city: Havana
Major languages: Spanish
Major religions: Christian, folk
Time zone: UTC-5 (Central Standard Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Cuba

1. Cuba is an island nation located in the West Indies of the Caribbean.
– Source: Britannica

2. It is the largest country and the largest single island in the Caribbean.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book, Britannica

3. Cuba has been inhabited since around 4000 BC. The first known inhabitants were the hunter-gatherer Guanahatabey and Ciboney peoples.
– Source: Britannica

A beach in Cuba
An idyllic beach in Cuba (Shutterstock)

4. Both were displaced by the more sophisticated Taíno people from around 1050 AD. The Taínos were skilful farmers, weavers, ceramicists and boat-builders. They also had a complex society and organised system of participatory government.
– Source: Lonely Planet

5. Cuba’s name comes from the Taíno name for the island “coabana” which means “great place”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

6. In 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sighted Cuba, believing it was mainland China. He claimed the island for Spain.
– Source: History Channel

A map of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea
A map of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea (Shutterstock)

7. From 1511, the Spanish conquest of Cuba began. Slaves imported from Africa began arriving in 1526.
– Source: BBC News

8. 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.
– Source: BBC News

9. Cuba was once known as the “Pearl of the Antilles” as it was the Spanish empire’s most-important source of raw sugar during the 18th century.
– Source: Britannica

10. Cuba’s flag has three blue and two white horizontal stripes and a red triangle on the left bearing a white star. The blue stripes reflect the three old divisions of the island: central, occidental and oriental; the white stripes represent purity of independence; the red triangle symbolizes liberty, equality, and fraternity and the bloodshed in the fight for independence; the white star, called La Estrella Solitaria (the Lone Star) lights the way to freedom and was taken from the flag of the US state of Texas.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Cuba's flag
Cuba’s flag (Shutterstock)

11. In 1902, Cuba gained independence, but the island remained under US protection and America maintained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs.
– Source: BBC News

12. 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 dictator Fulgencio Batista. In 1956, the revolutionary forces took control of the country creating a communist system of rule that remains in place.
– Source: History Channel

13. Despite the failed US Bay of Pigs invasion attempt in 1961, Fidel Castro went on to become one of the world’s longest-ruling heads of state. He stepped down in 2008 and died in 2016.
– Source: History Channel

Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries enter Havana in 1959
Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries enter Havana in 1959 (Public Domain)

14. In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis saw Castro agree to deploy USSR nuclear missiles on the island. The crisis was resolved when the USSR agreed to withdraw the missiles in return for the removal of US missiles from Turkey.
– Source: BBC Bitesize

15. Cuba is the only island in the Caribbean to have a railway. Launched in the 1830s, Cuba’s railway system is one of the world’s oldest. However, the 2,600mi (4,200km) of track fell into disrepair. Recently, restoration work has begun.
– Source: ABC News, Reuters

16. Many American classic cars can be found in Cuba. During the Batista regime in the 1950s, 125,000 US-made cars were imported by wealthy Americans, only to be abandoned following the revolution and the subsequent ban on importing foreign cars. Many of these cars have been maintained or restored and have become a popular tourist attraction.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Interesting facts about Cuba include its classic cars
Classic cars in Havana (Shutterstock)

17. Cuba is famous for its cigars. Tobacco, known as “cohiba”, has been grown on the island for thousands of years but it wasn’t until the Spanish arrived that mass cultivation and export began.
– Source: Havana House Cigar Merchants

18. Cuba is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, more than any other country in the Caribbean.
– Source: UNESCO

19. Cuba is famous for its birdwatching, with over 350 different varieties of birds, two dozen of which are endemic.
– Source: Lonely Planet

A bee hummingbird next to a flower held by someone
The world’s smallest bird (Shutterstock)

20. In fact, Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird. Male bee hummingbirds (Mellisuga helenae) measure just 57mm (2.24 in) in total length.
– Source: Guinness World Records

21. Cuba is also home to the largest swamp in the Caribbean. The Gran Parque Natural Montemar is one of Cuba’s most diverse ecosystems home to a range of vegetation and the best place to go birdwatching in Cuba.
– Source: Lonely Planet

22. Cuba uses two currencies, although the government is in the process of consolidating them. The country uses convertible pesos (CUC$) for tourists and Cuban pesos (referred to as moneda nacional) for locals.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Havana in Cuba
Havana in Cuba (Shutterstock)

23. One of Latin America’s most famous musicians, Silvio Rodriguez, is from Cuba. The iconic musician founded the musical movement Nueva Trova Cubana and he was designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace in 1997. 
– Source: UNESCO

24. One of the most interesting facts about Cuba is that there are over 30,000 Cuban doctors working in countries outside the country. Cuba is renowned for its medical diplomacy, with its doctors working in healthcare missions around the world, earning the country billions of dollars in cash.
– Source: BBC News

25. Cuba has been using a rationing system for decades. Known locally as the “libreta”, the system was introduced in 1959 to ensure a survival level of subsidised staples such as rice, beans, sugar and coffee for everyone in the face of US sanctions. The system began to be fazed out from 2008 but made a comeback during the 2020 pandemic.
– Source: Reuters

A Cuban rationing book
A Cuban rationing book (Shutterstock)

26. One of Cuba’s most famous sites is the UNESCO-listed city of Camagüey and its well-preserved historical centre. Camagüey was one of the first seven villages founded by the Spaniards and is famed for its architecture.
– Source: UNESCO

27. Cuba is the home of the daiquiri cocktail. Legend has it that American mining engineers working in Cuba came up with the drink in 1900.
– Source: Lonely Planet

28. Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for almost twenty years. Hemingway wrote seven books while there, including The Old Man and the Sea, a novel about a Cuban fisherman.
– Source: Smithsonian


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