CUBA IS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, AND EVERYWHERE YOU GO THERE'S MUSIC AND PEOPLE DANCING - EXPECIALLY IN HAVANA.
EXPLORE CUBAN CULTURE
Cuba is much more than the largest island in the Antilles. It is an intricate archipelago comprising the main island (two thirds the size of Florida), the Isle of Youth, and 4,195 keys (cayos) and islets. Their combined surface areas is some 110,992 kilometers. The country sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, 140 km from the Bahamas, 146 from Jamiaca, 180 km from Florida and 210 km from Cancun.
The Republic of Cuba is divided into 15 provinces, 169 municipalities and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventude (Isle of Youth). From west to east, the provinces are: Pinar del Río, Artemisa, City of Havana, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. Geography and environment Cuba is a long and narrow island (1,200 kilometers from Cabo de San Antonio, the westernmost tip, to Punta de Maisí, the eastern tip). At its widest point it measures 210 kilometers and at its narrowest 32 kilometers. It is dominated by plains and has four major mountain ranges: the Guaniguanico mountains, in the west; Guamuhaya mountains in the central portion; the Sagua-Baracoa range; and the Sierra Maestra in the east. The latter contains thecountry's highest peak: Turquino, 1,974 meters high. The landscape is diverse, ranging from semi-deserts to tropical rain forests. The country has a large biodiversity and
Cuba has some 12,000,000 people, with 75 percent of them living in urban areas. The average density is 100.3 residents per square kilometre, with the most heavily populated spots being the cities of Havana (nearly 3,000,000), Santiago de Cuba (1,023,000) and Holguín (1,021,000).
The country's official language is Spanish, although most Cubans working in the tourism industry can communicate in English.
Cuba's climate is moderately subtropical and predominantly warm. The island's average temperature is 25.5ºC and average relative humidity is 78 per cent. It also sees an average of 330 days of sunshine a year. Cuba's two clearly defined seasons are the rainy season (May to October) and the dry season (November to April). Even during the rainy season, however, downpours come and go and brilliant sunshine nearly always returns.
More than 300 protected areas in the country occupy some 22 per cent of the island. Six of these have been declared world biosphere reserves by UNESCO: Guanahacabibes Peninsula, Sierra del Rosario and Ciénaga de Zapata, in the west; Buenavista in central Cuba; and Baconao Park and Cuchillas del Toa in the east. More than half the island's diverse flora and fauna are indigenous. Historical summary On October 27, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Cuban archipelago during his initial voyage to the New World. Between 1511 and 1515, Diego Velázquez led the Spanish colonization of the island and founded the country's first seven townships: Baracoa, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba, Santísima Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (Camagüey) and San Cristóbal de La Habana (Havana). Spanish domination lasted four centuries and ended with the country's military occupation by the United States in 1898, which continued until 1902 when a neocolonial republic was established. The island's history has been marked by repeated struggles for independence. The first was on October 10, 1868; the last began on July 26, 1953 with the attack on the Moncada Garrison led by Fidel Castro. This revolution culminated in the establishment of the current republic on January 1, 1959.
The two pillars of the Cuban economy are tourism and sugar. Other major industries are tobacco, coffee, rum, honey, cocoa, citrus fruit, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, as well as construction materials, fishing and mining. Cuba has the world's largest nickel deposits (some 34 per cent of global reserves). It also mines copper and magnesium.
EDUCATION AND MEDICINE
Education is provided free of charge at all levels and is compulsory through the ninth grade. In 1961 the country eradicated illiteracy through the National Literacy Campaign. Specialized polytechnic institutes, universities and other higher education centers exist in all the provinces. Healthcare Cuba's primary health care system is considered unique in Latin America.
Medical services are provided free of charge to all Cubans. It is organized around an extensive network of medical centers (442 polyclinics and 281 hospitals), as well as other specialized centers. Cuba is among six countries in the world that produce interferon. Its vaccines against meningitis B and C and hepatitis B are unique in the world. These achievements are possible thanks to the existence of 211 scientific research and production institutes. Life expectancy is 73.29 years for men and 78.13 years for women.
Cuba has produced major international figures in literature and fine arts, film, ballet, modern dance and theatre. The country is also renowned for its original rhythms such as the danzón, son, bolero, mambo, cha-cha-cha and more. Cuba's prestigious cultural events attract international celebrities in dance, music, theatre and other arts. Among these events are the Casa de las Américas literary contest, the Havana International Ballet Festival, the Festival of New Latin American Cinema and the International Jazz Festival.
Every year, Cuba hosts numerous international sports events. A world sports power, the country is known for boxing, baseball and volleyball, and boasts stars in track and field, fencing, judo, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, chess and weightlifting. Cuba's national sport is baseball! Religion The country's Constitution guarantees total freedom of religion. The most commonly practised religion is Santería, a unique AfroCuban belief system. Santería is a mix of the West African religion of Yoruba and Catholicism. Slaves from Africa adopted this form of saint worship so they could continue practicing their faith under a guise that placated their Catholic slave masters. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews are also represented. Nearly 50% of Cubans practice no religion, with the other half practicing Santeria (80%) and a combination of these other faiths (20%).
Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spanish, African, indigenous and other cultures. The national dish is ajiaco, a stew of assorted root vegetables cooked with pork, poultry or beef. Other typical dishes are lechón asado (roast pork), fried green plantains (tachinos, chatinos or tostones), black beans, congrí (rice with red beans), moros y cristianos (rice with black beans), picadillo a la habanera (ground beef in tomato sauce), roast chicken and tamales among others. The Cuban sweet tooth ensures that each meal includes dessert. Learn more about Cuban food. Cuban cocktails The quality of Cuban rum is recognized internationally and comes in four distillations: refined, white, gold and aged. Gold and aged rums are better for drinking straight, while white rum (carta blanca or carta plata) is best for cocktails. Several of the world's most famous rum cocktails are Cuban, and are served in most bars around the globe. Drinks include the Cuba libre, the mojito, the daiquiri, the Cubanito and the saoco. Learn more about Cuban rum.
The kids are the most fun of all though and you'll see them out and about all over Cuba. They always seem happy, energetic and they all like having their picture taken.
Cuba is a very poor country by our standards, average income is about $10-20/mo. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals don't make much more, maybe $20-$30, although to retain its abundant medical professionals Cuba recently greatly enhanced compensation packages. It's a socialist thing where all are supposed to be equal, but for some this "equality" is very different. Professional baseball players may make about the same or a little more but they get more and better food. Recently there were some incentives issued for baseball players, the military and medical professionals. Baseball players also can make more for certain achievements.
Because there is never enough of the things rationed to them by the government and because there are basically 2 economies (local and tourist), most Cubans have 2nd jobs as taxi drivers, hotel workers or whatever to make ends meet. More than 800,000 private licenses were issued to Cubans in 2013 - 2015 so far to allow people to engage in tourism-related small business, from bicytaxi drivers to paladar owners. Working in the tourist industry is a highly desired position and produces good income for them. This way they earn CUC's (convertible pesos) in addition to CUP's (Cuban pesos) given to them by the government. Don't be surprised if your taxi driver at night is a doctor, lawyer or engineer in the day time so treat them with respect. Many don't know they are poor because they don't have much to compare to so no use flaunting anything you have that is better than what they have.
Unlike many areas of Mexico, Cuba is relatively safe in a majority of its areas. Occasionally you may be asked for personal care items like soap or shampoo as one or two rationed bars of soap a month per family is not enough. It is good to carry small hotel sizes or packages of shampoo and soap for personal use and occasional gifts.
Cuba consists of lots of old buildings, many date back to 16th & 17th century French/Spanish Colonial times, most of which are in poor condition. They are not wealthy and have limited goods or money for repair because of the embargo. Consequently, the whole country needs a paint job and there is a lot of repair work to be done. They are, however, renovating old historic buildings all over the country. Though some of the homes we see may not look inviting on the outside, most the ones I've been in are all clean and well kept. They just don't have all the choices of goods we do. They may only have a 19" TV instead of that 60" plasma TV we all have or want. You will very rarely see any new construction, it's mostly renovations and repairs.
There are lots of exotic looking people everywhere and many will be eager to meet you. If they invite you to their home, take them up on it. It will be an experience you'll enjoy as they are very hospitable. Bringing cosmetic items for their wives will make you an adopted son or brother. Perfumes, clothes, jewelry and anything American are treasured items by everyone. Those $5 sale items at Kmart or Walmart are well received in Cuba. The Dollar stores are a great place to shop for inexpensive gifts. Cubans use hand gestures quite often. If they touch their heart and extend their arm towards you it's a sign of affection or being very grateful. Often they will touch their lips with their fingers, not like the Italians with fingers bunched up but more like smoking a cigarette. Again this is a sign of love, appreciation or gratitude.
When meeting a male person shaking hands is appropriate. Hugging a friend is also appropriate. When meeting a female it is appropriate to shake hands or kiss. It's not really a kiss, it's actually touching right cheek to right cheek and making a kissing sound. You do this each day you meet them as a standard greeting, often when also saying good-bye.