A Caribbean country comprised of the large island of Cuba, Isla de Juventud and a number of small archipelagos, the Republic of Cuba is famed for its lively atmosphere, friendly locals and fantastic natural beauty. Situated where the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, the country is best known for its exuberant capital of Havana, bursting with fascinating history, a lively art and music scene and an electric atmosphere which delights visitors on holiday in Cuba.
The faded elegance of its colonial buildings and the character of its city plazas make it the perfect place to begin a tour of Cuba. The main island is the largest in the Caribbean with a population of over 11 million inhabitants. Aside from historic Havana, the cities of Trinidad and Santiago are also unmissable highlights on a multi-centre holiday to Cuba, whilst the laid back beach resorts of Varadero and Cayo Santa Maria offer exceptional beaches, watersports and energetic nightlife. The country is known for its distinctive Latin American flair, seen in the country’s culture, dance, cuisine and architecture.
History of Cuba
Many visitors opt for a tour of Cuba for an insight into the enthralling history of the country. Before the arrival of Spanish colonialists there existed an indigenous population composed of three main groups: the Taino, Guanahataby and Ciboney peoples.
In 1494 Spanish conquistadors arrived on the island of Cuba, led by famous explorer Christopher Columbus, with orders to convert, colonise and conquer the population. Cuba was integrated into the New Kingdom of Spain and communities of settlers soon arrived, marking the beginning of forced labour for the indigenous population, many of which soon succumbed to disease and overwork.
Cuba’s rich natural resources of sugar and tobacco, fuelled its development, with empires such as the French, British and Spanish all competing for increased influence of the territory over the coming centuries. African slave labour was used on the country’s plantations between the 17th and 19th centuries although this exploitation culminated in the famous 1868 freedom movement of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who freed the slaves from his plantations and formed an army with them in order to fight the Spanish for Cuban liberty.
This event sparked the beginning of the Ten Years War, a contributing factor in the abolition of slavery in 1886. In 1902 Cuba gained partial independence from the US. The country’s most enigmatic era of history is, of course, the Cuban Revolution of the 50s, led by Fidel Caston and fuelled by a desire for political change.
After years of conflict, exile, popular insurrection and a guerilla campaign, Castro took power, oppressing other opponents and dissidents and establishing a political ideology based on Marxism-Leninism Communism. Today, the country has one of the few official socialist states in the world, ensuring a unique insight into both past and present for visitors on holiday in Cuba.
Nature in Cuba
Lying south of the Tropic of Cancer, Cuba enjoys a tropical climate with plenty of sunshine and year-round warm temperatures, making it a popular destination for beach holidays. The country has a rich biodiversity, and although it’s natural wealth is sometimes overlooked due to the many attractions of its cities, it is worth stepping away from the tourist trail to discover the road less travelled where you will soon realise there is much to explore.
With well-preserved coral reefs and immaculate beaches, Cuba is a popular diving destination, especially on the west coast of the country where the popular diving resort of Maria la Gorda is located. Another of the country’s natural attractions is the verdant Vinales Valley, where lush vegetation, abundant wildlife and picturesque mountains invite visitors on a trip to Cuba to take part in outdoor pursuits such as horse-riding, hiking and mountain biking.
For avid wildlife lovers, the Cienaga de Zapata National Park, located on the Zapata Peninsula, southeast of Havana, promises an eco-system of swamps and mangroves that play host to a wide array of animal species, although its crocodiles and flamingos are the most significant. Finally, the perfect place for hiking and nature walks, the Sierra Maestra mountain range and accompanying national park, famous as the hideout of revolutionaries in the 50s, is home to tropical forest habitats and gives visitors the unique opportunity to hike in the footsteps of Castro himself.
Culture in Cuba
A multi-diverse country, Cuba boasts a population composed of a number of different cultures, ethnicities and origins. Owing to its varied history, Cuba’s culture is composed of influences from the indigenous populations, Spanish colonialism and African traditions, owing to the Africa immigrants who were brought to Cuba in the era of the slave trade.
This makes for a complex and fascinating national culture which attracts visitors worldwide who choose to holiday in Cuba to experience its flamboyant and unique cultural delights. Perhaps the most famous expression of Cuban culture is its musical exports, with a number of Cuban artists gaining international notoriety, such as Gloria Estefan.
Dancing is a very important aspect of the country’s culture and is considering to be an essential part of life for the locals. Dance styles such as Salsa, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha and the Rumba all have their roots in Cuba and it is common to see public displays of dance and impromptu community dance meet-ups. Classical dancing is supported by the Cuban government and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba is one of the world’s most famous ballet companies.
The warmth of Cuban hospitality is another element of the culture that keeps visitors returning to the island. Owing to the country’s turbulent history, rationing of goods and the nature of Communism, a rich community spirit can be seen throughout the country. This warmth often extends to visitors who can opt to be accommodated in the plentiful homestays or Casas Particulares when visiting Cuba, the best choice for an authentic experience of local life. Of course, you cannot mention Cuban culture without pointing out the country’s most recognisable icons: the Classic Cars and Cuban cigars, which are characteristic of Cuba in the popular imagination.
An eye-opening history, a near-perfect climate and hospitality so warm you are sure to feel at home, a package holiday to Cuba is the right choice for travellers of all interests and motivations.