What is Cuba known for other than Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the revolution?
After traveling in Cuba for over four years, speaking the Cuban language (and slang), and being based in Old Havana for two years, I am starting to get the complicated, versatile picture.
While staying in Havana, I have also extensively researched the history of all the famous people and big and small incidents that made headlines across the world decades ago and made this little island a center of world politics!
These are the most interesting things Cuba is known for that you need to know (in my opinion) before you visit (beyond just the big things)!
What Is Cuba Known For?
Historical and political conundrums of the past are probably overshadowing many other unique and amazing details resting just below the surface.
The island is home to many iconic landmarks, UNESCO-protected sites, and natural reserves, as well as fun and interesting tours and activities you probably want to explore.
With over 500 years’ worth of motley history on the island, today’s Cuba has many layers!
22+ Unique Things To Know About Cuba!
1. Havana Is A Versatile Capital | The Capital Of Cuba
At the end of 2019, Havana celebrated its 500-year anniversary with fanfare and fireworks. Five millennials of motley history and traces of three continents were celebrated.
Life in Havana is like nowhere else; it is noisy, filterless, and immediate.
The city is filled with history, fine arts, grocery carts, music, garbage, rubble, and people making ends meet from day to day.
If you walk a little outside Obispo Street in the old city, and the tourist trajectory, you don’t have to go far to experience the real Havana.
Also read: How To Get A Tourist Card For Cuba!
The Old Havana Ancient Splendor
The streets of Old Havana have storytelling details everywhere for the keen eye in architecture, art, and structure.
Cuba is known for its old fortifications like El Morro, side by side with colonial-style venerable houses, bars, museums, cats, and dogs.
The ambiance in Old Havana is unique, so beautiful and so neglected, and so full of life!
Staying in Old Havana will put you right in the middle of the colonial Cuban ambiance and historic landmarks!
Eclectic Central Havana District
Central Havana grew little by little towards the west as the old city became too small for its population.
Today, this is a vibrant neighborhood where Cubans live their lives in the decaying streets amidst markets, laundry, and old cars.
The architecture in Central Havana is similar to the old city but is characterized by being built to accommodate the population more than being a display of grandeur.
Central Havana lacks the eminence you see traces of in Old Havana and is probably the truest depiction of what Havana is for habaneros.
Posh El Vedado & Miramar
Further west is the Vedado district, with the wide avenues, parks, mansions, and embassies of today.
And then Miramar, the financial district and home of presidents, resorts, and high-end culture.
Also read: 10 Perfect Day Trips From Havana Cuba!
2. What Is Cuba Known For If Not Cigars?
Cuban cigars are probably the most famous thing Cuba is known for, and they are coveted worldwide!
The myth has it that every Cuban cigar is rolled on the thigh of a virgin, but I have witnessed firsthand that that is not, at least not always, the case!
Cigars are a huge export industry for Cuba despite US sanctions.
China is the world’s number one buyer, while Europe has second place, and even Americans make up around 20% of the customers!
There is a long list of different brands and types of Cuban cigars, every cigar farmer tries to put his own particular sabor; or taste, to it.
You can get a hold of real Cuban cigars online if you are not planning to visit Cuba any time soon.
But if you do visit, go to the fertile valley of Viñales to see how it is done. Here, you can buy a bundle of cigars that was made only five minutes ago while you were watching!
Also read: 10 Reasons To Spend Your Honeymoon In Cuba!
3. Varadero Beach | World Second Place 2019
Along the main street of Varadero town on the narrow Hicacos Peninsula on the Cuban northern shores, the Varadero beach follows along only a stone’s throw away from the pavement.
Varadero is also home to a lot of luxurious all-inclusive hotels all along the tiny string of sand stretching out into the Caribbean Sea.
Apart from the Varadero beach, you will find infinite white sands and activities like diving, snorkeling, or taking a trip with a catamaran in front of every large hotel or resort.
The Hicacos Peninsula commonly referred to as Varadero, is one of the most popular holidays places Cuba is known for by both foreigners and Cubans.
This is where you go for pampering chill, the beach, and the sea, but you will also find a range of adventures and things to do in Varadero if you want to exit from the all-inclusive bubble.
4. The Carnival Capital Santiago De Cuba
Santiago de Cuba is known for being the carnival capital of Cuba.
Every year in late July, the center of Santiago transforms into a kaleidoscope of music, dance, drums, and colors for around a week.
The Santiago de Cuba carnival dates back to the end of the 17th century when it was called the Mamarrachos celebration.
The Mamarrachos were held in the summer and winter months to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the start of the pre-Lenten season, a Christian tradition.
From there, it developed into the huge explosion of dance and extravagance you can immerse yourself in today!
Also read: How To Get A Tourist Card For Cuba!
Other cities in Cuba are also known for carnivals, but nowhere is the fiesta as fierce and spectacular as in Santiago de Cuba.
The whole city turns into one large party, and this period also coincides with the Cuban national day, the 26th of July.
5. The Unique Architecture Cuba Is Known For
The Cuban architecture in Havana, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, and other colonial cities in Cuba is heavily influenced by the Spanish colonial rulers that started the city constructions in Cuba early in the 16th Century.
Cuba also had several important ports on the colonial trade routes between the old and the new world and had visitors (and immigrants) from all corners of the planet.
The key architectural trends from the early years came from Neoclassicism, influenced by European tradition.
Later in the 17th Century, barock trends arrived, which are characterized by complicated patterns on the exterior, grand palaces, and more grandeur.
In Cuba, the style became a mix between this and Caribbean “tropical features” into a style that has been called Spanish Baroque.
Things like rejas, metal bars covering windows that enabled improved air circulation, and sheltered walkways were added as clever protection from the fierce sun and tropical storms.
The unique mix of cultural and artistic influences for centuries has led to the eclectic and diverse architecture that Cuba is now known for.
Here you find a fusion of several architectural styles from both European trends and influences from around the world.
6. El Capitolio Is Not Inspired By The White House!
El Capitolio, or the capitol building in Havana, has a remarkable resemblance with the white house in the US, only it is microscopically larger and richer in detail.
According to the architect, the white house is not the inspiration for the building. Instead, the inspiration for the dome is the Panthéon in Paris, which again was inspired by Tempietto in Montorio in Rome.
El Capitolio was built over a period of 3 years in the 1920s, costing around 17 million American dollars, and when it was finished, it was the tallest building in Havana until the 1950s.
Inside is the world’s third-largest indoor statue, the Statue of the Republic cast in bronze and covered with 22-carat gold leaf.
Embedded in the floor in the center of the main hall is a replica 25-carat diamond, which marks Kilometro Zero for Cuba.
The Cuban Congress lived in the building until 1959, and the revolution when Congress was abolished and the building fell into disrepair.
It has only been renovated in the later years, and the plastic over the dome was just removed in 2019!
Both the outside and inside of the Capitolio are impressive, and travelers can enter for a guided tour to get the whole history of the building.
7. The Famous Cuban Coffee
It is not just that Cuba is known for producing amazing coffee; it is also the way the Cubans take their coffee for it to be real Cuban coffee.
A small cup of really strong espresso and a lot of sugar is the most common way to have coffee in Cuba.
For Cubans, the coffee (or anything else) can not get sweet enough!
Coffee production has a long history in Cuba, it has been cultivated since the mid-18th century.
The production in eastern Cuba increased dramatically during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in the peak period in the 1950s, Cuba exported more than 20,000 tons of coffee beans every year.
After the Cuban revolution and the nationalization of the coffee industry, production slowly declined until it reached all-time lows during the “special period,” the recession in the 1990s.
Now, coffee is just a tiny part of the Cuban trade.
Cuban coffee farmers are obliged to sell the vast majority of their coffee harvests to the national company Cubaexport at regulated prices, apart from a small percentage they are allowed to sell to tourists.
You can deep-dive into how to order your Cuban coffee like a pro in this article by Wanderherway!
8. Why Are There Classic American Cars In Cuba?
Classic American cars were imported into Cuba in the first half of the 20th Century.
This was when the US and Cuba were friends, and the US had a great influence on Cuban business after the Spanish-American war.
Then, after the revolution, the sanctions against Cuba started after a complicated series of events, and Fidel Castro banned the importation of American cars and mechanical parts.
From there, the Soviet Union continued to supply Cuba with Volgas, Moskvichs, and Ladas, and Cuba also bought cars from European and Asian companies.
But the Classic American cars continued to be used in the country, and people fixed and repaired them with whatever almost-fitting spare parts they had – and still do!
So today, Havana, Cuba, is famous for its bright-colored American cars roaming the streets of the city. Many drive as tour taxis and offer one-hour sightseeing tours.
A one-hour tour with a classic American car is around €35 in November, and if you don’t want to pre-book, you can hail one in Parque Central!
9. What Is Special About Cuban Style Salsa?
Cuba is notoriously known for its vibrant music scene and also for its Cuban-style salsa, the Salsa Casino.
Although salsa does not originate from Cuba (it was actually developed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans living in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s), it quickly arrived in Cuba, where it thrived.
The Cuban-style salsa is danced with a bit of a Cuban twist.
The biggest difference is that in the Cuban style salsa, the Salsa Casino, the couple dances round figures instead of in a line, which many other salsa styles do.
At the base of the Cuban salsa style also lies the Cuban son sound, a characteristic sound that uses African rhythms made with Cuban percussion instruments.
The son is all about the subtle notes, and even though the Cuban salsa style is described as more aggressive, the leading is also very subtle but very precise!
The Golden Cuban Rum
One particular thing about the famous Cuban rum (Cuban; ron) is that rum in Cuba is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar refining, different from other producers in Central America.
Rum expert agrees that molasses adds a smokiness and rich flavor to the rum that gives an unbeatable taste!
Molasses is squished sugar cane made into a paste with brown sugar to extract the juice.
Then, it is placed in tanks with water and specially cultivated yeast to ferment. The end result, vino de caña, is then distilled in copper-lined columns stills.
The Cuban rum history also has a before and after the revolution chapter. When Fidel Castro seized power in the late 50s, he nationalized the rum distilleries.
Wealthy rum-producing families like Bacardi and Arechabala, which produced the Havana Club, had to flee the country.
The originators of both the original Havana Club and Bacardi moved their business to Puerto Rico.
In Puerto Rico, rum is still produced today using recipes established in Cuba over 150 years ago, and they comment on their Cuban heritage on every bottle made.
The Cuban government took over the Bacardi production and nationalized the Havana Club brand, which is also still in production today and still famous across the world!
There are currently around a dozen rum distilleries in Cuba, and the best-known rum that Cuba is known for is from eastern Cuba.
Experts repeatedly agree that the best Cuban rum is the Havana Club Selección de Maestros, produced in Santiago de Cuba.
11. The Fateful Cuban Revolution
The Cuban revolution that took place in December 1958 was one that had a huge impact on world politics for the next few years and shaped the future of eleven million Cubans for the next six decades.
The revolution happened after more than six years of guerilla war against Fulgencio Batista, who also took power in Cuba in a coup in 1953!
Batista was generally liked by the US because of his liberal economic policy around foreign investment and business on the island and generally detested inside Cuba due to his ruthless domestic dictatorship.
During Batista’s rule, many opposition and protest groups existed in Cuba, and student demonstrations and riots occurred.
There were several opposition groups and leaders, not just the 26th of July movement led by Fidel Castro.
Castro and others ran their guerilla campaign from, among other places, the Sierra Maestra mountain range west of Santiago de Cuba, growing their domestic support, while Batista relied on help from the US to quelch the riots and opposition.
A lot of things happened in and with Cuba in the 1950s.
Due to how the events unfolded when the revolution succeeded in December 1958, it was Fidel Castro and his supporters who came out victors.
And we know the story from there.
Also read: Create Awesome Solo Holidays To Cuba!
The Battle Of Santa Clara
The battle of Santa Clara city in December 1958 turned out to be decisive for the Cuban revolution.
Santa Clara fell, and President Batista panicked and fled the country on New Year’s Eve. In doing so, he left the rule of Cuba to be taken over by the revolutionaries.
At this point, Fidel Castro was in Santiago de Cuba, while his comrades Emilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara were the commanders leading the battle in Santa Clara, close to Havana.
Fidel sent his commanders to Havana to ensure the capital was kept safe while he himself set out on a victory journey across the country, speaking to the population to gather support and present himself as the new leader on the way.
As Fidel Castro entered Havana on January 8th, 1959, he appointed Cuba’s first president and was himself sworn in as prime minister on February 16th.
The aftermath of these incidents and their consequences over the next few years shaped the future of Cuba and the world for decades to come!
Also read: Travel Essentials Women Edition!
12. What Is Exclusive About Cuban Music Culture?
Cuba, without music, simply would not be Cuba.
The Cuban music culture is a mix of music heritages from all the continents and cultures that have influenced Cuba more or less voluntarily.
The Spanish conquerors, the African slaves, the refugees from Haiti, the traders of the world passing or residing, the list is long.
Cuba has five basic genres of Afro-Cuban music; these include rumba, son, cancion Cubana, danzon, and punto guarjira.
European dances and folk music slowly merged with African rhythms and dance.
The result involves a particular ambiance of soulful and energetic music, using conga drums, maracas, claves, scrapers, and bells.
Since the 19th century, Cuban music has grown increasingly popular across the globe.
It has contributed greatly to the development of many musical styles and genres, especially in Latin America, the Caribbean, West Africa, and Europe.
The rhumba, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, many West African styles, and Spanish fusion genres, as well as a wide variety of genres in Latin America.
As a result of this, Cuban music is often viewed as one of the most influential regional music in the world, not just in Cuba!
13. The Enigmatic Sierra Maestra Mountain Range Secrets
The Sierra Maestra is a mountain range in southeast Cuba that runs across the south of the old Oriente Province.
The mountain range rises steeply from the coast and is situated west of Santiago de Cuba city, mainly in the Santiago de Cuba and Granma Provinces.
The highest point in the Sierra Maestra is Piqo Turquino, at just under 2000 meters.
The Sierra Maestra has a long history of guerrilla warfare, serving as a hiding place for the underdogs fighting for the cause they believed in.
It started with the native Tainos in Cuba 500 years ago, followed by several wars and minor conflicts during the history of Cuba.
After Fidel Castro returned from exile in Mexico to Cuba in 1956, he and other survivors from the failed 1953 attack on Moncada Barracks hid in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
The mountains became the headquarters of the 26th of July movement, Fidel’s resistance group, until the Cuban Revolution at the end of 1958.
The Sierra Maestra Mountain Range covers a vast area and is also home to the Turquino National Park, which you can read about in number 22.
For frisky hikers, it is possible to join an organized tour here and check out the revolutionary HQ firsthand!
14. Extraordinary Colonial Trinidad Cuba History
Trinidad today is a cultural gemstone in Cuba for one particular reason.
Its quick rise to sugar wealth and fall from the throne due to the changes in regional sugar production led to the city being left unchanged in a development backwater for centuries.
This means that today the whole city is still like an image frozen in time, showing a piece of colonial Cuba as it was in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The streets, architecture, cobblestoned squares, and remnants of the sugar production in the Valley of the Sugar Mills tell a tale of colonial Cuba.
Go to Trinidad to experience firsthand the rich but short, lively history of Trinidad as the wealthiest and possibly the most important city in Cuba at one point.
And only fifteen minutes outside the city, you find the pristine paradisiacal beach Playa Ancon for crystal clear waters, snorkeling, and boat rides!
A short drive away is also the city of Cienfuegos, La Perla Del Sud!
15. Distinct Cuban Art Style And History
Cuba is known for its unique and incredibly diverse art scene, a blend of cultural inspirations from South America, Africa, Europe, and North America.
The Cuban art scene has always been influenced by the complicated history of Cuba, as well as the diverse demographic of the island.
Visual symbols used in Cuban art from the colonial era, European Impressionism and Cubism, muralism from Mexico, and elements from North America and Africa are all part of the mix.
In Cuba, politics and art are not very far apart. When political and social conditions changed, as they did frequently, so did the art sphere of the country.
The historical visual arts have been one of the strongest parts of Cuba’s incredible cultural display for a long time, but it is its contemporary art that became known and praised internationally.
It is viewed as particularly assertive, especially after the growth of Cuba’s young creatives in the 1980s.
Contemporary Cuban art is versatile and rich and, unfortunately, also sometimes marginalized because of the restraints put upon artistic expression under an umbrella of politics.
Nevertheless, many contemporary Cuban artists can be found rostered by some of the world’s most well-renowned museums and art galleries.
16. Why Is Baseball Cuba’s National Sport?
Baseball is a huge sport in Cuba, introduced in the 1860s by immigrants and traders from the United States.
The first ball and bat were brought to Cuba by Nemisio Guillo.
He was a Cuban student returning to Cuba after studying in the US, bringing the sport with him, which also made him a name in the sport in Cuba!
Like any other sport in Cuba, baseball is not separated from politics, not even from the start.
First, it was perceived as a threat to the Spanish colonial rulers, as it was competing with the Spanish national sport of bullfighting in popularity.
Because of this, it also became a peaceful means of political protest used among Cubans to signal Cuban nationalism and opposition to colonial Spain up until the Spanish-American war.
The Cuban Baseball League was established in 1878, which slowly evolved into the Cuban Winter League that played until Fidel Castro abolished all professional sports in the 1960s.
Also read: Internet In Cuba | Is There Wifi In Cuba?
Baseball And The Revolution
As professional sports were decided to promote principles opposing the Cuban revolution, the idea of sports had to be rewritten in order to support the revolutionary principles better.
Fidel Castro did this by connecting the president to the glory years of the Amateur Leagues in Cuba when workers of the sugar mills played the sport and made the sport reflect revolutionary ideas.
In this way, baseball was given the task of motivating nationalism, promoting cooperation among nations, as well as promoting fitness and military readiness in support of the Cuban revolution.
One of the greatest duties of all Cuban athletes was to represent their country through excellence in sports.
A primary goal for this was also the hope that if Cuba succeeded in sports competitions, these triumphs could set the Cuban revolution in a positive light and give Cubans a sense of pride and feelings of nationalism for the Revolution.
Today, baseball is a very popular and still important sport that Cuba is known for internationally, and the country hosts many games throughout the year.
If you decide to visit during a game, be sure to experience the frenzy firsthand by watching a game at the stadium!
17. The 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Cuba
Cuba is home to a remarkable nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is the fifth-highest number in Latin America and quite exceptional for a tiny Caribbean island.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park in the eastern part of Cuba has unique and versatile flora and fauna and characteristic rock formations.
The now UNESCO-protected park is thought to be one of the most important nature reserves in the whole of the Caribbean.
Viñales Valley, west of Havana, was awarded the distinguished title UNESCO World Heritage Site partly because of the unique natural mogote landscape.
Mainly, it is due to the traditional agricultural farming methods that are still used in the region, although this might be out of necessity and lack of equipment more than anything else.
You will see farmers with horses and plows doing everything the old way in Viñales, which is one of the greenest and most fertile parts of Cuba.
Desembarco del Granma National Park is also on the east of the island and has plenty of endemic flora and fauna. The park is particularly notable for its sea cliffs and limestone marine terraces.
They are considered by UNESCO to constitute the world’s largest and best-preserved coastal limestone terrace system.
The First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba is home to some intact remnants of 19th and early 20th-century coffee cultivation practices, which earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
As coffee has played an important role in Cuba’s history, the country still grows a lot of coffee, although it is no longer the large industry it once was.
Protected Fortresses And City Structures
Old Havana, which was founded around 1519, is the oldest of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It is one of the most important historical city centers in the Americas and one of the most amazing places in Cuba you should visit.
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca is a 17th-century fortress is located in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Santiago is Cuba’s second-largest city and has a long and rich history.
The Castillo is a testament to the importance of Santiago as a port for Spanish colonialists; the city was actually named the first capital of Cuba by the Spanish.
In the historic center of Camaguey, some streets date back as far as the 1500s.
The architecture is a mixture of different eras and ages, but the labyrinthic streets go as far back as the years when the city was founded.
One of the reasons for the irregular mesh of streets is believed to be part of the city’s defense, to confuse and hinder the many pirates that attacked back in the day.
Cienfuegos is the only city in Cuba that was founded by French settlers, not Spanish, and its beautiful historic center is the reason it got the nickname the “Pearl of the South”.
Travelers visiting Cienfuegos often also come to explore the beautiful coastline or botanical gardens in the area.
As mentioned above, Trinidad and the Valle de Los Ingenios are considered to be one of the best-preserved cities in the whole of the Caribbean.
Although it started 500 years ago, a large part of Trinidad was built in connection with the rising sugar industry in the 18th and 19th centuries and it is today a vivid testament to a part of the colonial era in Cuba.
18. Why Rumors Of Cuban Food Traditions Are Wrong!
Before I went to Cuba for the first time, I was told that I should bring my own spices as Cuba is known for bland and boring food.
Now, that is not true; Cuban food traditions are as versatile and colorful as the people and culture of the island.
Cuban cuisine is a result of the country’s diverse history of people and cultures merged together here, as well as the tropical ingredients used in Cuban cooking.
You will not find a lot of processed fast food, but mainly meals with influences from Spanish, African, indigenous, and other Caribbean cultures and tastes.
The ingredients used will normally be determined by what is available, which is normally what is in season.
Also read: 10 Perfect Day Trips From Havana Cuba!
A popular starter is tostones rellenos, which are fried plantains stuffed with anything from garlic shrimp to spicy beef.
One of the most popular comidas (dinners) in Cuba is Ropa Vieja, stewed shredded beef slow-cooked in fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and wine; super tasty!
Fried pork is another (most things are fried in Cuba, in oil), or rice with fried eggs. Or, ground beef a la habanera, which is a fried stew with ground beef with seasonings, tomato sauce, potatoes, and olives.
Make a note that a meal in Cuba is not dinner without rice and beans, and often plantains (banana). If you serve dinner to a Cuban without this dish, they have simply not had dinner!
19. The Vibrant Nightlife Cuba Is Known For
Cubans like to party, whether it is a celebration like birthdays or Mother’s Day (the most important day in Cuba), huge carnival fiestas, or dancing the night away on the Malecon or in a nightclub.
The most important ingredient in any Cuban party, is rum, music, dance, and good food.
As far as nightlife is concerned, it starts late and ends early. Often, people go out just before midnight, and clubs are open until five in the morning (or until the last guests want to go home)!
“Every town” has a Casa de la Musica, with live music and bands playing, dance floors, and events happening regularly.
Even if you just go to a bar, there may be live music, super loud, and people dancing between tables if there is no dance floor. Or outside, on the street.
Havana, the capital of Cuba, has a vibrant nightlife with a variety of different places you can go, from huge dance shows to clubs to intimate bars or fancy restaurants.
The Cuban Santeria religion is often mistakably perceived to be “voodoo”, some dark and mystic religious practice with bad intentions and scary offerings.
What Santeria really is is a fusion of Catholic practices and African folk beliefs brought to Cuba with slaves centuries ago. It is also called Yoruba, after its origin in West Africa.
When the slaves arrived, they were not allowed to practice their traditional religion, so they started to practice and pray in secret to their own saints while attending catholic services.
Today Santeria is practiced in Catholic churches right next to the Catholic rituals. Every Santeria orisha, saint, has a catholic counterpart.
You can do an Afro Cuban Religion Tour in Havana to learn more about it!
The Beginning Of Santeria
Since Santeria emerged in Cuba during the 17th century, it has been a large part of Cuban society. Today, it’s far more common than Catholicism; Santeros outnumber Catholics by 8-1!
Although Santeria can be practiced in Catholic churches, it is mainly a religion that is practiced in people’s homes, and some houses are chosen to be the place for sacred rituals and celebrations.
Or there can also be celebrations in nature, like a forest or a beach.
What Santeria does include is a belief that there are saints, santos, protecting the followers of Santeria.
Each santero will, in his or her lifetime, receive a special saint who is the main protector on their life journey.
When you see a person dressed in all white in Cuba, it is a person that has received his or her santo. For the next year, they will wear nothing but white clothes and live by a specific set of rules.
The process when you are chosen to receive your santo, is long and meticulous and includes special rituals with clothing, food, challenges, and good deeds.
The preparations also include fiestas, celebrations, and special ceremonies with offerings of food, money, and sacred tambores, drums (and drummers.
You have to be qualified to be a drummer at a Santeria celebration).
Santeria Affects Everyday Life In Cuba
Santeria transpires all parts of everyday life in Cuba for most people.
This is visible in the many shops that sell religious ornaments like dolls of the saints and special emblems that represent a saint or praise.
If you pay attention, you will see “every person” has a bracelet, armband, hairband, or some sort of Santeria token on them in the streets.
Santeros often wear long beaded necklaces and bracelets with the colors of the primary orishas, saints.
Each saint has his special celebratory day, and santeros honor their saints in different ways.
This may include offerings, like slaughtering an animal or flowers, preparing a special meal, or donating money to someone who needs it.
In every celebration in Cuba, the saints are part of the fiesta and will be served things like cake, food, cigars, and, of course, a bit of rum!
If you visit a Cuban home, somewhere in the living room, you will see a collection of dolls and ornaments, which is where the saints live and where a glass of rum and a piece of cake will be placed for the duration of the party.
Santeria does have a belief in brujeria, witchcraft, in that santeros believe someone may inflict bad or good luck upon them for any reason.
In this way, it is a motivational factor for people to be good and do good in order to stay clear of negative energies and bad spells or malicious actions.
You will see traces of the Santeria everywhere in Cuba, on people and in their homes.
The Santeria is a life-guiding belief that affects, if not all, most decisions and parts of life for Cubans.
21. Famous Cuban Cocktails
The famous cocktails Cuba is known for today are, believe it or not, closely connected to the prohibition years in the US!
When the USA had a nationwide ban on the production, import, transport, and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933, Cuba was the solution, only a “stone’s throw” away.
American bartenders were hired even before the prohibition started and sent to Cuba to work in bars owned by Americans.
Cuban bartenders cantineros, were trained and became skilled at changing recipes and cocktails to suit the palate of their new customers.
Cuba became a secret pleasure island for the rich and famous, many visited especially Havana and Varadero in the 20s and 30 for lavish parties and luxury.
Maybe this is the main reason for the now so famous Cuban cocktails, like the Mojito, Cuba Libre, El Presidente, Daquiri, or Cuban Canchanchara (which is club soda, lime, white rum, and honey syrup!).
Testing out the Cuban cocktails is definitely something you need to do while exploring Cuba’s finest, or you can even take a cocktail class while you are here!
The ultimate guide to Cuban cocktails with Cubasbest.
22. Spectacular Cuban National Parks
As you may have noticed, two of the 12 Cuban national parks are actually on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list of protected areas in the world!
The rather small island of Cuba is known for its vastly diverse nature despite its size.
Cuba’s largest national park is the Cienega de Zapata National Park, which is located about two hours southeast of Havana. It comprises a huge wetland as well as miles of pristine coastline.
The Zapata National Park, which includes the Bay of Pigs, is also a great location for scuba diving.
Viñales National Park lies a few hours west of Havana and is famous for its remarkable limestone mountains mogotes that erupt from the landscape.
Guanahacabibes National Park is one of Cuba’s largest, where more than 172 species of birds live, including 11 endemics.
The beaches in Guanahacabibes are important nesting areas for four of the world’s seven species of sea turtles.
Jardines de la Reina is a marine national park located off the southern coast of Cuba. The area was named to honor the Queen of Spain, and it was established as a national park in 2010.
The Queens Gardens are very popular for scuba diving, as it is home to some of the healthiest and liveliest reefs in the Caribbean.
National Parks With Archeological Sites
Caguanes National Park has some important archeological sites within its boundaries in the Bay of Buena Vista.
24 endemic species are also found here as well as ten small islands and important swamps and mangroves.
Pico Turquino National Park is close to Santiago de Cuba in the eastern part of Cuba. The park is named for Pico Turquino, the highest point in Cuba at just under 2000 meters above sea level.
The park is located in the Sierra Maestra mountain range, where Fidel Castro, among others, held the fort in the 50s as a headquarters for the opposition groups fighting the Batista rule.
Topes de Collantes National Park, close to Santa Clara city, comprises lush areas where creeks and rivers have carved out majestic steep canyons, including secret idyllic swimming holes for the adventurous wanderer.
Some National Parks Have A Special Significance
Desembarco del Granma National Park is named this because it was the place Castro and his party landed in 1956 attempting to throw Batista, with disastrous results.
The Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its pristine sea cliffs and other features.
Here, you find remote hiking trails, and you can also embark on a one-week trek going east to Pico Turquino if you enjoy multi-day hiking tours.
Alexander Von Humboldt National Park is named after the most influential scientist of the 17th and 18th centuries, also an important author who visited Cuba on his way to South America.
His work inspired many distinguished scientists and authors, like Charles Darwin and Simon Bolivar.
The Sierra Cristal National Park and the La Mensura-Pilotos National Park both lie a bit east of Holguin.
Sierra Cristal is the oldest national park in Cuba. It was established in 1930 and is the home of the extremely rare Cuban solenodon.
This is a nocturnal and secretive animal that is in danger of becoming extinct. It is also known for large tracts of Cuban pine.
The park comprises 273.4375 square kilometers, is mainly a mountainous area, and is home to a number of Cuban endemic species, flowing rivers, and a lot more.
With 17,800 different species of animals, Cuba has more diverse wildlife than any other island in the Caribbean.
There are, in fact, ten unique animals you will only find in Cuba, so when you visit Cuba, there are a lot more than bars and beaches to see!
23. Cuba Is Just 90 Miles From Key West!
From the southernmost point of Key West, on the end of Simonton Street, the distance to Cuba is only 90 miles!
Or a mere 4-hour boat trip if one was able to travel by boat between Cuba and the US (which one is not).
An increasing number of Cubans are trying to make this boat trip anyway, with the objective to reach Miami and start a better life.
Currently, the Cuban part of the Miami pueblo is a staggering 70 % of the city population!
Also read: 33+ Legendary Things To Do In Cuba!
24. Almirante Oquendo Shipwreck From The Spanish American War
Outside Santiago de Cuba, there is a shipwreck dating from 1898, from the battles of the Spanish-American War!
The Almirante Oquendo from the Spanish Navy was stationed in Santiago de Cuba in the spring of 1898 as tensions rose between the United States and Spain.
As US land forces threatened to take Santiago de Cuba at the beginning of July 1898, the captain decided that the best chance to escape was to leave the port and head for the open sea – running down an American naval blockade.
At about 0845 hours on 3 July 1898, the Spanish ships sailed.
The U.S. squadron spotted the Spanish ships at about 0935, and the long and complicated Battle of Santiago de Cuba began.
As the last ship in the Spanish line during a stern chase, Almirante Oquendo drew significant attention from her pursuers.
The subsequent battle with several American vessels was fierce, and a lot of sailors were killed and wounded.
At one point, the captain of Almirante Oquendo was mortally wounded and ordered his ship to be scuttled.
She beached about 6.8 nautical miles kilometers west of Santiago de Cuba at around 1030 in the morning.
Some of her sailors made it ashore, although Cuban insurgents began to shoot the captured survivors of the wrecked Spanish ships.
Others were rescued by American sailors who brought small boats alongside the wrecks to take off survivors.
Almirante Oquendo lost 80 dead in the engagement.
Today, a century and more later, the battleship that had such a violent faith is a quiet and beautiful reef outside Santiago de Cuba.
Go see it for yourself. You can go snorkeling or scuba diving on the wreck; it’s just a short boat trip from Santiago!
Research All The Amazing Destinations In Cuba Here!
There are a lot of fun things to do in Cuba! I have traveled in Cuba for over four years, and here is the extensive collection of adventures in all the famous Cuban destinations!
FAQs Cuba Travel
Why are US citizens not allowed to travel to Cuba?
This is NOT correct. US citizens ARE ALLOWED to travel to Cuba.
Americans can choose a reason for Cuba travel among 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba, determined by the US Government.
Can US citizens travel to Cuba as a tourist?
Technically, US citizens are NOT allowed to travel to Cuba as a tourist. Americans choose between 12 pre-approved reasons for Cuba travel, among which the most common one is “to help the Cuban people”.
What are the 12 requirements to travel to Cuba?
You can read about the 12 pre-approved reasons to travel to Cuba for US citizens here.
The easiest and most common reason for Cuba travel is “to help the Cuban people”. There is no paperwork or application process connected to this, you just choose your reason and state that reason if anyone asks.
What happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba?
Nothing happens if a US citizen travels to Cuba, apart from hopefully, the US citizen will have a fabulous holiday and encounter with Cuban culture.
Selected airlines sell this visa/tourist card, or you can buy one online.
What documents do I need to travel to Cuba?
You need the following documents to travel to Cuba:
- Passport valid for 6 months after the date of entry
- Cuban tourist card / tourist visa
- Proof of travel insurance, including health insurance
- Fill out the d’viajero.cu digital document before your journey
Do Americans need to be vaccinated to enter Cuba?
No, there is no requirement for specific vaccines prior to entering Cuba. Your country’s health department probably has recommendations for what vaccines you should consider before entering Cuba.
How Do I get a tourist card for Cuba?
You might also be able to buy a Cuban tourist card from your airline or at the airport prior to departure.
It is possible to buy a Cuban tourist card at Miami International Airport at the check-in counter with American Airlines and Delta Airlines.
How Do I Get A Tourist Visa For Cuba?
- Buy one online from Easy Tourist Card
- Buy one from your airline if they offer this
- Buy one at the airport of departure if they offer this
- Buy one from the Cuban Embassy in your country
Is Travel To Cuba Allowed Right Now?
Yes, Cuba travel is allowed right now. There are no COVID or health restraints from entering Cuba right now.
There are no political constraints from entering Cuba right now for most international travelers.
American citizens need to, in addition, choose one of the 12 pre-approved reasons for traveling to Cuba (Americans can not travel as “tourists”) and follow some simple guidelines for traveling in Cuba.
Wrap-Up | What Is Cuba Known For?
Maybe you already knew, but if not, I hope you no longer have information gaps as to what Cuba is known for! The diverse variety of the wonders and beauty Cuba is known for hopefully has got you intrigued!
You will find more information and travel tips for Cuba on this page if you have become just a little bit curious!
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