Cuba is an island nation that speaks to the imagination. Every year millions of tourists flock to the Caribbean destination to enjoy its many beaches, to hike its diverse national parks or even just to get a taste of Havana city culture. Due to the communist political system, Cuba offers travellers a completely different feel as compared to other Caribbean island destinations.
Among other things, the archipelago is renowned for its (Havanna) sigars and colourful classic cars. Continue to read this page for more on Cuban culture, history and sight seeing in Cuba.
Facts and figures
|Surface area||109.884 km²|
|Population||11,4 million (2021)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic Church: 60%, Afro-Caribbean Santeria: 12%, Protestant communities: 5%, secular: 23%|
|Currency||Cubaanse peso (CUP)|
|Time difference||From Central European Time: 6 hours / From Greenwich Mean Time: 5 Hours (please note that Cubaʼs clock change dates may differ)|
|Flight time||With direct flights from a number of UK and European airports: 10 to 12 hours|
|Plugs used||Type A, B, C en L (for all these plug types a travel adapter is required for UK and Irish travellers, for types A and B a travel plug adapter is needed for travellers from other European countries)|
|Tap water||Unsafe to drink when untreated|
|Visa||Cuba visa required|
The country of Cuba comprises several islands totalling a surface area of about 110.000 km² or 42.500 sq mi. The same-named main island is the biggest island landmass in the Caribbean Sea. As the crow flies, at about 100 miles or 160 km of distance, it is most closely located to the most southern tip of Florida and about 190 km or 118 miles from Mexico. Cuba is surrounded by a number of other island nations, such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Cayman Islands. Cuba’s capital Havana, with a population of over 2 million residents, is by far the biggest city on the island and of the country. Other major cities located on the main island are Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. Apart from the main island, Cuba numbers into the hundreds of smaller islands, of which Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) is the biggest. This island is located southwest of the main island.
Cuba’s first inhabitants, the Guanahatabey, were hunter-gathers who populated the main islands from about 3500 BCE / BC. Over the subsequent millennia, the Taíno, an ethnic group originating from South-America migrated northward, via the Lesser Antilles. When the Taíno finally arrived in what much later would become Cuban territory, the Guanahatabey were pushed further and further westbound. In contrast to the first inhabitants of Cuba, the Taíno had agricultural skills, growing cassava, maize (from the Taíno word for corn) and peppers. When the first of Columbus’ expeditions reached the shores of Cuba in 1492, these were by and large populated by the Taíno.
Columbus in Cuba
The Genovese Italian explorer Christopher Columbus started his journey over the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, by the royal couple or Catholic Monarchs of Spain. Although its mission was to find a westward sea route to Asia, the crew encountered many a Caribbean island, among which the Cuban islands. In years following, many Spaniards travelled to these places, which were known as the ‘New World’. Colonist settlements were founded on different Caribbean islands, and in 1511 the Spanish started a war of conquest in Cuba. During this war, they fought the Taíno, led by Hatuey, a resistance fighter from what is now Haiti, considered a national hero by a large part of the modern Cuban population. A bloody guerrilla-style war of three years ensued. The European conquerors proved to have the upperhand as a result of which Cuba was added to the Spanish colonial empire. In 1519 the city of Havana was founded by the colonial powers, laying the foundations for the country of Cuba as it is known today.
The Spanish colony of Cuba
Over the decades following the conquest of Cuba, the original population was systematically deprived and exploited by the Spaniards. The Taíno were forced to work as forced labourers, or randomly murdered. Many thousands of Taíno also died due to illnesses Europeans carried with them. The Spaniards did anything in their power to make Cuba into their primary base of power in the New World. Dozens of plantations were raised for the cultivation of sugar cane and tobacco. Since there weren’t enough labourers left to work on these plantations, the Spaniards transported several hundreds of thousands of slaves from the African continent to Cuba.
The Havana 'Castillo de la Real Fuerza' was built in the 16th century under Spanish command and can still be visited today
Not just the Spanish were after Cuba. Other colonial powers, including the English, the Dutch and the French, were also active in the Caribbean. So it could happen, that the Spanish fleet was raided in 1628 by a Dutch ship and that the British undertook several attempts to gain control of Cuba during the 18th century, attaining a short-lived victory in 1762. These new rulers would own the island nation for shorter than a year, handing back control to the Spanish in trading it for Spanish Florida in 1763.
The road to independence
In 19th century Cuba, there were multiple movements aspiring to a form of independence from the Spanish Crown. Among them, José Antonio Aponte, a carpenter of African origins, who propagated the end of slavery. Apart from this, organisations formed which modelled themselves after the independence fighter groups of the time in South America. However, it wasn’t until 1868 that a major war between Cuban rebels and the Spaniards broke out. After ten years of intense fighting, the Spanish army prevailed. In 1879, there was a second uprising against the Spaniards, but this rebellion, too, was put down in a year’s time. Only in 1886, several years after these events, Cuban slavery was legally abolished.
Over the course of the following years, the political situation in Cuba remained unstable. Conflict between Spanish authority and the Cuban independence movement surged again in 1895. Soon, the Spaniards would send an army of over 200.000 soldiers to Cuba to violently quell the insurrection. During this war, hundreds of thousands of Cuban civilians were deported to concentration camps, as the Spaniards feared their collaboration with rebel forces. Over 170.000 Cubans died as a result of the harsh conditions in these camps.
Both within as outside Cuba, the rebels gained more and more sympathy. Images of the atrocities committed in Cuba spread over the world, as a result of which a call for action was voiced by the American people. The US government in Washington, noticing that the conflict put American trade interests at risk, unleashed a short war against Spain. Spanish troups were defeated in 1898 and Cuba was occupied by American forces.
The Cuban revolution
US troups left Cuba in 1902 with the new country gaining its independence. Still, the United States kept exercising a tremendous influence on Cuban politics and the economy. Political leaders who were not in favour of the Americans got deposed, and the Cuban economy became increasingly dependent on foreign investment. Nearing the end of the 1950’s, Cuba was governed with an iron fist by dictator Fulgencio Batista, who was supported by the Americans. The underground resistance against the government grew, and in 1959 Batista was deposed by the Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. Castro and his party then founded a single-party system communist state.
Castro’s regime reorganised Cuba’s government apparatus, introducing a centrally led planned economy and complete state ownership of all agricultural production. Many previously American-owned Cuban possessions were confiscated, and ties with the Soviet Union were tightened. This all led to the build-up of tensions between Cuba and the United States. Then, in 1961 Cuban exiles, who were trained and financially backed by the Americans, invaded Cuba from a bay on the country’s southern coast: the Bay of Pigs. This operation failed, souring the relations between the two countries even more. In 1962, tensions reached a high point during the Cuba crisis. The Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, causing great indignation in the United States. The US army, in response, installed a blockade encircling Cuba, whilst a Soviet Union fleet was underway to back the Cubans. Fortunately, this conflict fizzled out.
Everyday Cuban scenery shows many an image depicting events from the communist revolution
During the second half of the 20th century, Cuba was frequently plagued by economic instability. Western countries introduced a trade embargo, as a result of which Cuba had a hard time obtaining resources. Apart from this, Cuban militias inserted themselves in many international conflicts, which led to many countries considering Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism. Over the decades, the tight communist control on policy has been loosened somewhat, offering greater opportunity for private enterprise. Simultaneously, more and more tourists visited Cuba, raising government funds and benefiting local economies.
Iberian Spanish culture has heavily influenced Cuban society over the course of modern history. The vast majority of Cubans adhere to the Catholic Church, Cuban architecture is heavily inspired by historic Spanish architecture and Spanish is the official language of the country. As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, influences from different African peoples can also be found in today’s Cuba. Many Cuban dances and music genres originate from the Afro-Cuban community, with Cuban dances such as salsa and rumba being renouned the world over. Hardly any native Cuban Taíno traditions are left, however, as many of them could not survive European illnesses or Spanish warfare. Still, to date, there is a small minority of Cubans who claim to descend from the Taíno.
Driving in Cuba
Everyone who has been in Cuba at one point, will immediately have noticed that many cars from the 1950’s are still driving around. Due to the trade embargo imposed by the United States at the time, no modern cars could be exported to the island nation. Cubans, thus, had to make due with whatever was at hand. The classic cars spotted in Cuba nowadays have been frequently repaired over the years and often seem to be at the point of quite literally falling apart.
Cuba is renowned for its many classic cars
The larger part of Cuba has a tropical savanna climate. In the Northwest and the East of the main island, however, the country has a tropical rainforest climate. Certain coastal areas, furthermore, have a monsoon climate. The rain season starts in May and lasts until November. The season from November until April is usually dryer. Still, a great regional disparity in precipitation patterns exists.
Due to its tropical climate, Cuba knows a large variety of flora and wildlife species. Unfortunately, due to the construction of sugarcane, coffee and rice plantations over the past centuries, much of the natural environment has been lost. Nowadays, about one-fourth of the Cuban surface area is covered by rain forests and other woodlands.
Average temperatures in Cuba lie around 23 degrees Celsius in January and at about 27 degrees Celsius in July. Cuba’s climatic conditions thus, make it an all year round attractive travel destination. Due to the lower temperatures and scant rainfall, many travellers choose to travel to Cuba at any stage between the months of November and April. In doing so, the usual summer month crowds of July and August can also be avoided. Over the months of May, June, September and October there will be fewer tourists travelling to Cuba, which makes these months the ideal travel time for holidaymakers seeking a more tranquil stay.
|Maand||Average maximum temperature in °Cø max. temp. in °C||Average minimum temperature in °Cø min. temp. in °C||Averge number of days with rainfallø days with rainfall|
For the average traveller there is a lot to do in Cuba. The country is not just an ideal destination for a beach holiday, but equally to explore the Cuban city-scape as well as tropical wildlife. Read on to find out more on the country’s diversity.
Beach holiday in Cuba
With its coast line of over 6,000 km or over 3,700 mi, Cuba is the perfect destination for a beach holiday. Sea water temperatures are pleasant throughout the year, with average temperatures of between 24 and 29 degrees Celsius. Ideal for avid swimmers too. The island nation has many beautiful beaches and several attractive snorkling locations. Boat trips over the azure waters are also an option.
Cuba’s most popular cities
Havana is not just the capital city, but with its over 2 millon residents, it is Cuba’s largest city and by far the most popular with international tourists. Among others, Havana’s oldest borough, Old Havana (La Habana Vieja in Spanish) enjoys great popularity. This part of town is almost entirely accessible on foot, offering many little shops and a number of museums. Another interesting part of town is Vedado in Havana’s northern section. This is where mostly the more affluent Cubans live, so far, is less visited by tourists. Centro Habana, yet another of Havana’s boroughs, is predominantly popular with tourists who want to experience Havana’s hectic everyday hustle and bustle, as this borough’s central location between Old Havana and Vedado makes it the most densely populated part of town.
The Cuban city of Trinidad lies about 300 km or about 185 mi east of Havana, and, apart from the capital, is the country’s most popular tourist destination. The city is located between a mountain range and the sea, offering tourists plenty of options to explore because of this. There are abundant options for hiking as well as to enjoy the warm Caribbean Sea. Aside from this, Trinidad is known for its many Spanish colonial-era buildings.
After Havana, Trinidad is the most popular Cuban city with tourists
The city of Cienfuegos, situated on Cuba’s southern coast, was founded by the French, which is still reflected in its many street names in French. This city is known as the “Pearl of the South”. Its many historic buildings and beautiful coastline definitely make it worth a visit.
Apart from vibrant city life, Cuba has much to offer when it comes to wildlife tourism. The island nation has 14 national parks, with each boasting of a specific kind of natural environment. Hikers therefore are only too happy to explore the Cuban hinterland to enjoy its natural landscapes.
Viñales Valley (Valle de Viñales in Spanish) is high on many a backpacker’s list. This valley in Cuba’s outer West is known for its “Mogotes”, which are limestone rocks with rounded-off pinnacles as a result of erosion. The active traveller will benefit from the many cycling routes in this area.
Cuba’s Viñales Valley is something else due to its signature limestone rocks
Hiking enthusiasts also enjoy visiting Topes de Collante nature park south of Trinidad. Here you can make a spectacular hike to Leaping Chaburní, or, in Spanish, Salto de Caburní, a 62-meter high waterfall. Don’t forget to take a dip into the waterfall lake while you’re at it.
Another well-known natural landscape can be found in Cuba’s far east, a few miles/km west of the city of Baracoa. Here you can hike up to the mountain tops of El Yunque de Baracoa. Although it may prove difficult to walk up the hiking paths due to dense foliage, its spectacular mountain views will definitely make it worth your while.
Economy and currency
Cuba is governed according to strict socialist principles. This means the state has direct control of many economic sectors. The government sets sales prices for many everyday items, and starting businesses for profit was strictly prohibited for a long time. Over the last decades the rules have been loosened somewhat, making it possible for Cubans to open small businesses. Central government however, retains full authority over economic policies.
In Cuba payments are made using the Cubaanse peso (CUP). There are banknotes in circulation for the amounts of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos. There are also 1, 3 and 5-peso coins as well as 5 and 20-cent coins. Cubans themselves tend to pay with cash, so please make sure to carry sufficient cash money with you when travelling. In Cuba’s main cities there are cash machines, but you can only take out money here using a credit card. Please note that credit cards issued by American banks often aren’t accepted for payment. Havana’s city center
Tipping is customary in Cuba when it comes to a number of services. Please note, however, that sometimes money is charged for unsolicited advice, especially around tourist attractions.
Compared to many other Latin-American countries, Cuba is fairly safe. Still crime exists. Please avoid passing through dark alleys and always be aware of possible pickpockets.
From the months of June to November tropical storms regularly occur in Cuba. Please keep an eye on local weather reports and always keep the national emergency number at hand.
Mosquitos in Cuba can carry diseases. Make sure you bring sufficient anti-mosquito agents with you, to prevent mosquito bites.
To travel to Cuba you need a visa. You can apply for it using an online form at a cost of £44.95 per visa. Upon approval, the actual visa is sent by post, following which the applicants themselves need to fill out their information on the visas. When travelling to Cuba from the United States, you need a different and more expensive type of this visa.
Apply for the Cuba visa straight away
e-Visa.co.uk is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the Cuba visa. e-Visa.co.uk acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for a visa directly with the immigration service (17 EUR per visa). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.co.uk, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 17 EUR in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as £30.29 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous Cuba visa was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.