120 Charming Facts About Cuba

Fun facts about Cuba

¡Bienvenido a Cuba! Cuba is known for its music, vintage cars, Fidel Castro, and communist history. Find out what else the “Pearl of the Antilles” is famous for with these fun and interesting Cuba facts.

General Cuba Facts

  • Cuba is an island country in the northern Caribbean Sea. It sits at the point where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
  • Like the other 12 other sovereign island states in the Caribbean Sea, Cuba is considered part of North America.
  • Cuba is shaped like a crocodile. It’s even sometimes called “El Cocodrilo” in Spanish.
  • It is only 95 mi (153 km) from Key West in Florida to Cuba.
  • Cuba is only 31 km (19 mi) across at its narrowest point.
  • Because of its colonial history and use of Spanish, Cuba is considered part of Latin America, but not all other Caribbean islands are.
  • Cuba is part of a group of islands called the Greater Antilles (Antillas Mayores), which also include Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cayman Islands. The From their eastern end, the Lesser Antilles, a group of smaller islands, run down toward South America.
  • Cuba’s main island is the largest island in the Caribbean, 8th largest island country, and 17th largest island in the world. It is slightly larger than Iceland but smaller than Newfoundland in Canada.
Colorful vintage cars in Havana, Cuba, with the capital building dome behind some trees
Vintage cars and Capitolio, the capitol building in Havana
  • Besides the main island, there are around 4200 islands, islets, and cays in Cuba. Cuba’s second largest island is Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth).
  • In total, Cuba is 109,884 km2 (42,426 mi2), making it the 104th largest country in the world. It sits between Bulgaria and Guatemala in size.
  • Cuba has 5,746 km (3,570 mi) of coastline. It would stretch across the Atlantic Ocean if laid out in a straight line.
  • Despite being an island country, Cuba has an 8.5 km (17.7 mi) land border with the US: the border around Guantánamo Bay.
Skyline and waterfront of Havana, Cuba
Havana, the capital of Cuba
  • The current population of Cuba is 11 million, similar to the population of Jordan, the Paris metropolitan area, or the US state of Georgia. It is the 84th most populous country, sitting around the middle of the list of world countries by population.
  • The capital and largest city of Cuba is Havana. With a population of 2.4 million (metropolitan 4 million), it is the largest metropolitan area by population in the Caribbean.
  • Just over 1/3rd of Cuba’s population lives in the greater Havana area.
  • The second largest city in Cuba is Santiago de Cuba (the “de Cuba” is added so it is not confused with many other cities called Santiago, like the ones in Spain, Panama, Chile, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Cape Verde, Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Paraguay, Portugal, Philippines, USA, and more).
  • Cuba is one of only 4 remaining communist countries in the world (the others are China, Laos, and Vietnam).
The Cuba flag
The official flag of Cuba
  • Cuba’s official name is the Republic of Cuba (República de Cuba).
  • The official motto of Cuba is “¡Patria o Muerte, Venceremos!” (“Homeland or Death, We Shall Overcome!”)
  • Tourism slogans for Cuba include “Viva Cuba!”, “Auténtica Cuba” (Authentic Cuba), and “Cuba Unica” (Unique Cuba).
  • People from Cuba are called Cubans. (Don’t call them Cubanos, as that is a kind of sandwich).
  • The name Cuba probably comes from the language of the Taíno, the original inhabitants of the Caribbean, who originally called the island Cubanascnan. It might mean “great place” of “where fertile land is abundant”.
  • The Cuban flag has five stripes of white (purity) and blue (the departments of Cuba) and a white star inside a red triangle (strength) coming out from the hoist.

Interesting Facts about Cuban Places

  • There are 12 other cities in the world named Havana. 12 are in the United States, and one is in Turkey.
  • Cuba is full of classic cars from the 1950s and 60s. That’s because Castro banned car imports from the US after the Cuban Revolution. Because of these vintage cars and Cuba’s colonial architecture, Cuba is sometimes described as a country “frozen in time”.
A Cuban flag hanging above the street in Old Havana. Cuba
Old Havana
  • There are 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cuba. These include Old Havana, San Pedro del la Roca Castle and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, as well as several areas that were developed for sugar, coffee, and tobacco plantations.
  • The city of Trinidad, also a UNESCO site, is one of the best-preserved towns in the Caribbean and thrived when the sugar industry was the main industry in the region.
  • Baracoa is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean, founded in 1511, just 15 years after Santo Domingo in Dominican Republic (the oldest).
View of the old buildings in Trinidad, Cuba
Trinidad, one of the prettiest colonial cities in Latin America
  • The house where Fidel Castro was born, which is located in Birán, Holguin province, is today a small museum called Casa natal de Fidel Castro.
  • The remains of Che Guevara, the famous Argentina-born Cuban revolutionary leader, are housed in a mausoleum in Santa Clare, Cuba, site of his last guerrilla battle in Cuba. A statue of him stands above the mausoleum, with the words of his final letter to Castro.
  • Plaza de la Revolución in Havana is the 60th largest square in the world. Castro gave speeches to over a million people at once there, while the Pope has held a mass there. The square has monuments to national heroes like José Martí, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos (the latter is sometimes mistaken as an image of Fidel Castro, but it is not).
Palm trees in a swamp in Cienega de Zapata National Park, Cuba
Zapata Swamp is the country’s largest national park
  • There are dozens of major tourist beach resorts in Cuba, with the most famous resort town being Varadero, which covers a long, thin strip of land sticking out into the city.
  • The islands of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, also famous for their beaches, are featured in two books by Ernest Hemingway (Islands in the Stream and The Old Man and the Sea). Today there is a statue of Hemingway on the bridge between the two islands.
  • Until 2008, Cubans were not even allowed to enter Cuba’s big all-inclusive resorts, which has been described as “tourism apartheid”. 
  • Guantánamo Bay, which the US uses as a naval base and prison. Cuba considers it an illegal occupation.

Cuban Society and Economy Facts

  • Genetic studies have found that Cubans have 72% European, 20% African, and 8% indigenous DNA.
  • Cuba has one of the lowest birth rates in the Western Hemisphere.
A Cuban man and woman playing music in front of a vintage car
Cuban musicians
  • Although Cuba is official secular (non-religious), but 59.2% of people identify as Christian.
  • Cuba is considered one of the great music centers of the world, drawing influence from its mix of African and Spanish cultures. It has played a role in the development of son, salsa, rumba, bolero, jazz, nueva trova, and timba.  
  • Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world (99.8%), thanks to its free education at all levels, including university.
  • The University of Havana is the largest and oldest university in Cuba and one of the oldest in the Americas, dating to 1728 (fun fact: the oldest one is in Lima, Peru).
  • All health care and hospitals in Cuba are also free.
  • Cuba is one of the few countries in Latin America where abortion is legal.
Staircase leading up to a main building of the University of Havana
University of Havana
  • Cuba has the highest number of doctors relative to population in the world. It has sent thousands of doctors to help other countries.
  • Cuba was the first country in the world to eradicate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. The WHO called it “one of the greatest public health achievements possible”.
  • The United States Trade Embargo on Cuba is the longest trade embargo in modern history.
  • Canadians have no such restrictions and account for 1/3 of all visitors to Cuba, with origins going back to 1958. The UN has tried in vain to make the US drop it. The embargo has had an enormous impact on Cubans’ access to food, medicine, clean water, and various supplied and goods.
Rows of thatch beach umbrellas on the beach in Cuba
A tourist resort in Varadero, Cuba
  • There are approximately 2.4 million Cubans living in the US. 1.5 million of those are in Florida, due to its proximity to Cuba.
  • If inflation is taken into account, the embargo has cost the Cuban economy over 1 trillion USD since it started.
  • Cuba is led by an authoritarian regime. No political opposition is allowed.
  • Cuba is no longer purely socialist, but rather market socialist. Small and medium private businesses are now allowed and a quarter of the population works for the private sector.
  • Cuba is ranked in the bottom-10 for freedom press, similar in ranking to Iraq and Vietnam, and lowest in the Americas.
  • Only around 50% of Cubans have access to the Internet.
Rooftops of Santiago de Cuba with the ocean and mountains in the background
Typical houses in Santiago de Cuba
  • Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro and his successor (2011 to 2021), has a net worth of $100 million and is probably the wealthiest person in Cuba today.
  • Around half of Cubans live in poverty, according to one estimate.
  • Like Cuban culture, Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines.
  • Rice and beans are staples in Cuba.
  • The Cubano or Cuban sandwich was invented not in Cuba but in Cuban communities in Florida. It is usually made with ham, pork, cheese, mustard, and pickles on Cuban bread.
  • The Cuba libre cocktail (rum, coke, and lime juice) was invented in Cuba in the early 1900s.
A Cuban sandwich cut in half on a plate
The Cubano or Cuban sandwich was invented outside of Cuba
  • Havana Club and Bacardi were rum competitors in Cuba. Havana Club was taken over by the Cuban state and continued to be sold to countries around the world, except the US. Bacardi now makes its own version of Havana Club, after winning a court case to use the name, which it makes in Puerto Rico and sells in the US.  

Famous People from Cuba

  • Fidel Castro is the most famous Cuban. Born in a small village in eastern Cuba, he transformed Cuba into a one-party communist state and was its leader from 1959 to 2008.
  • Although Castro was famous for the ubiquitous cigar hanging from his mouth, he gave up smoking in 1985, at the age of 59, on advice from a doctor and to as a part of a national campaign to reduce smoking.
  • Castro was extremely interested in literature and was close friends with Gabriel García Márquez, one of South America’s greatest authors (born Columbia). Castro also met Pablo Neruda (born Chile) and Ernest Hemingway (USA).
Images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara from postage stamps in Cuba
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on Cuban postage stamps
  • Although Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born in Argentina, he was Castro’s right-hand man and played a key role in the Cuban Revolution. His face is now an iconic image associated with Cuba and has been called the “most famous photograph in the world.” He has made the TIME list of 100 most influential people in the world.
  • The famous American writer Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for a third of his life, longer than he lived anywhere else.
  • Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa”, is one of the most famous Latin American musicians ever. She was born in Havana but left after music was nationalized in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Rita Marley, the famous reggae singer and wife of Bob Marley, was born in Santiago de Cuba.
  • Other famous Cubans include former Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta, actor Andy Garcia, actress Ana de Armas, singer Gloria Estefan, UFC fighter Yoel Romero, comedian Joey Diaz, baseball players Jose Canseco and José Fernández, and Yvette Prieto (Michael Jordan’s wife).
A mosaic of famous people from Cuba
Famous Cubans Celia Cruz, Rita Marley, Gloria Estefan, and Andy Garcia (clockwise from top-left)
  • Famous Americans with Cuban ancestry include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, singer Sammy Davis Jr., actress Cameron Diaz, Cesar Romero (who played the Joker), actress/singer Christina Milian, actress Rosario Dawson, actress Eva Mendez, basketball player Gilbert Arenas, Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban, politician Ted Cruz, and rapper Pitbull.  
  • The Buena Vista Social Club is one of the most internationally known musical acts from Cuba in recent decades. They first formed in Havana in 1996.

Cuban Historical Facts

  • The earliest evidence of human inhabitation in Cuba goes back 5100 years, earlier than the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
  • Before Europeans arrived, the island was inhabited by Guanajatabey, Taíno, and Ciboney peoples. The latter two belong to a larger group called the Arawak.
Aerial view of the coast of Cuba
The coast of Cuba around Guantanamo Bay
  • On Christopher Columbus’ famed 1492 voyage, he explored the northeast coast of Cuba. He thought it was part of Asia. Two years later, he saw Taíno in the south near Guantánamo Bay.
  • In 1508, Spanish Sebastián de Ocampo sailed around Cuba, proving it was an island.
  • After establishing Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, the Spanish came over and began settling Cuba in 1511. Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded Baracoa, the island’s first European settlement, in the island’s far east.
  • The local Taíno chief Hatuey was captured and burned alive, while other local inhabitants were massacreds.
  • Havana was originally founded on the south coast of Cuba in 1514, near present-day Batabanó.
  • In 1519, Havana was founded as “San Cristóbal de la Habana” on the north coast.
Houses and coast of Baracoa, Cuba
Baracoa, the oldest city in Cuba
  • Under the encomienda system, the native land was distributed to settlers. The locals, refusing to be slaves, escaped into the hills and/or succumbed to diseases, so the settlers had to import slaves.
  • The natives showed the Spanish how to grow and smoke tobacco in the form of cigars. The Spanish established tobacco and sugar as their primary industries in Cuba. The island soon replaced Hispaniola as the main Spanish base in the Caribbean.
  • In 1527, the first African slaves arrived in Cuba.
  • In 1607, Havana became the capital of Cuba.
  • The Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca in Santiago was built in 1628.
  • Cuba was regularly attacked by pirates and by the French, Dutch, and English. The English captured Santiago in 1662 and Havana in 1762, but gave it back to Spain after the Treaty of Paris.
The corner of a castle with the coast of Cuba in the background
A Spanish-built castle on the coast near Santiago
  • The Havana Cathedral was completed in 1748.
  • Inspired by the French Revolution and Declaration of Independence Movement in the US, there were movements for independence and ending slavery in Cuba starting from the late 1700s.
  • In 1868, Cuban revolutionaries proclaimed independence for Cuba and the country’s first constitution is adopted.
  • After 10 years, the Spanish and revolutionaries were tired of fighting, so they signed the Pact of Zanjón, promising to end slavery. However, the Spanish abandoned most of their commitments.
  • Slavery actually ended in 1886.
  • In 1895, the Cuban Revolution is launched under José Martí and General Máximo Gómez y Báez.
A statue in a square in Havana, Cuba
Statue of José Martí in Havana
  • In 1898, the US send the USS Maine ship to help the Cuban forced. The Spanish sunk the ship, which led to the American-Spanish War. At the end of the war, the Spanish hand over Cuba to the Americans.
  • In 1902, the Americans leave, Cuba gains independence, and Tomás Estrada Palma becomes the country’s first president.
  • However, America retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs, which it does a lot for the following decades.
  • In 1925, Cuba’s socialist party is founded. A year later, Fidel Castro is born.
  • The 1930s and 40s were the heyday of music in Havana, and Cubans initiated conga and mambo crazes in the US.
  • Fulgencio Batista, elected president from 1940 to 1944, becomes a US-backed military dictator from 1952 to 1959.
A Cuban stamp showing Fidel Castro holding up a gun and flag
Stamp commemorating the start of the Cuban Revolution
  • In 1953, Fidel Castro leads the Attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, widely considered the start of the Cuban Revolution.
  • Castro and Guevara meet in Mexico in 1955 and agree to cooperate in defeating Batista.
  • In 1959, Castro leads an army of 9000, along with his brother Raúl and Guevara, into Havana and Batista flees the country.
  • Cuba becomes a communist state and all businesses are nationalized. The US breaks off all ties with Cuba and initiates a trade embargo against the country. A quarter of a million Cubans flee the country. Religion and even Christmas are banned.
  • In 1961, the US tries and fails to overthrow Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion. It is named after the Bahía de Cochinos on Cuba’s southwest coast.
  • In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, America had missiles pointed at the Soivet Union in Italy and Turkey, while the Soviet Union had missiles pointed at the US from Cuba. Lasting for 35 days, it is considered the tensest point in the entire Cold War.
A tank and Cuban flag in front of a Bay of Pigs Musem
A museum dedicated to the Bay of Pigs invasion
  • In the 1970s, Cuba starts getting major financial assistance from the Soviet Union.
  • When the Soviet Union collapses in 1991, Cuba loses this funding. The US further tightens their embargo on Cuba. Supply of food, medicine, and other essential supplies in the country dwindles and poverty explodes.
  • Cuba began opening beachside resorts to attract tourist dollars, which became the country’s leading source of income, but locals were not allowed into them.
  • In 1998, the Pope visits Cuba for the first time ever.
  • After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the US established a notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay to house suspected terrorists. The US had maintained control of the bay since the end of the Spanish-American War.
  • In 2002, former president Jimmy Carter visits Cuba and criticizes the US embargo.
  • In 2008, Fidel Castro steps down and his brother Raúl takes over as president.
A large stone with a plaque that says Fidel
The simple tomb of Fidel Castro
  • Also in 2008, locals were finally allowed to enter the country’s beach resorts and people are allowed to private own cell phones and computers. Cuba also makes new trade deals with Russia and China.
  • In 2014, US President Obama and Raúl re-establish diplomatic ties between the countries.
  • In 2016, Fidel Castro dies at the age of 90 and the nation mourns. His ashes are placed in the same cemetery as those of national hero José Martí. Before dying, he asks for no statues or monuments to be made of him.
  • In 2018, Miguel Díaz-Canel becomes the first non-Castro president of the country. He was chosen by the national assembly with no opposition.
  • During the COVID pandemic, Cuba suffered due to its old population, loss of tourist income, and shortage of medical supplies. However, in terms of case count and mortality rates, in the end, it fared better than most countries in Latin America.
  • Major protests followed in Cuba in 2021, resulting in severe crackdowns, but private and medium private businesses were allowed.
  • In 2022, economic troubles and continued US sanctions result in the biggest exodus of Cubans from Cuba since Castro first took over.

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