In 1962, the United States enacted a travel ban on the country of Cuba. Throughout all of those years, Cuba became a mysterious forbidden fruit for many curious Americans who wanted to visit the northern Caribbean country. Now that relations have improved and the travel ban has been lifted, many Americans are opting for a vacation in Cuba. If you’re considering making the trip as well, you might want to read about these little known facts about the country.
Although thoughts about Cuba’s weather would most likely conjure up beach landscapes and warm, sunny days, there are always exceptions to the norm. Although you would most likely book a beach destination vacation should you choose to vacation here, you should know that there can be some rougher weather in Cuba at times. There is a hurricane season that can sometimes see dangerous storms. It has actually even snowed once in Cuba, all the way back in March 1857.
A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Cuba
If you were planning on trying to save some money on a rental car by thinking about hitchhiking your way through Cuba while on vacation there, you might want to think twice about this plan. This is due to the fact that in Cuba, all hitchhikers must be piked up by government vehicles. However, private cars are very rare in Cuba, therefore, hitchhiking has become a popular method of transportation. As a traveler, you would also be expected to pay for a ride, particularly if you are not a Spanish speaker.
A popular drink of choice in Cuba is the combination of rum and coke. Although this drink is most often referred to as a Cuba Libre, which translates to “Free Cuba” in many Latin American countries, this is not the name that is used for the drink in Cuba. There it is referred to as a “mentirita,” which is Spanish for “little lies.” The drink usually consists of dark or light rum and cola. Usually a lime is also included for freshness, but sometimes it is substituted with a lemon.
A Love Of Dance
In many cultures, dance is not taken seriously as a career option, ballet in particular. In most countries it is not considered a lucrative job as well. However, that is not the case in Cuba. In Cuba, dance, and in particular ballet, is extraordinarily popular. Ballerinas are considered to be celebrities and are very well regarded in popular culture in Cuba. What is even more interesting is that in Cuba, often, dancers earn a higher salary than doctors even do.
Often in the United States, we take our freedoms for granted. Most people do not even realize that many everyday things like the open Internet and uncensored access to news and information are not a privilege in every country like in the United States. For example, the Internet is highly restricted and censored in many countries around the world, for example countries like China, North Korea, and even Cuba. Only around 5 percent of the country can access the open Internet meaning most Cubans cannot access social media sites such as Facebook.
U.S. Citizens Need Permission
United States citizens also enjoy another privilege that many citizens of the world do not: the ability to travel to most countries in the world without previous permission or even having to go through the process of getting a visa. However, this is not the case for United States citizens that wish to book a trip to visit Cuba must first obtain permission to do so. Cuba is one of the only places in the world that requires U.S. citizens to have government permission to visit.
Cuba boasts many gorgeous architectural designs, particularly in Havana. Many of the constructions in the country emulate architectural styles that range from Greek and Roman styles to Spanish Colonial designs. It is natural that visitors that come to take in everything Cuba has to offer would love to photograph nearly every part of the country. However, visitors to Cuba must be careful with photographs, as it is illegal to capture photos of police, airport, or military personnel.
The Castro Beard
Former leader and dictator of Cuba Fidel Castro sported a rather well-known beard that became an iconic part of his look. Reportedly, he began to grow out his beard when his supply of razors were being cut off due to the U.S. embargo. Once he grew it out, Castro had said: “If you save 15 minutes a day by not shaving your beard, you gain about 10 days a year that you can devote to work, to reading, to sport, to whatever you like. And you save on razors, soap and hot water, too.”
No LGBTQ Rights
In Cuba, there are still many strides that need to be made in the fight for equality for the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ Cubans face many challenges legally that other citizens do not have to deal with, as well as much public antipathy. Interestingly, Fidel Castro actually preached tolerance towards homosexuality and blamed the machismo culture for the mistreatment of homosexuals in Cuba. Crossdressing is highly looked down upon, as the general attitude towards homosexuality is still rather negative.
The Cuban gar fish, also sometimes referred to as the Manjuari fish, is a very interesting specimen of fish. This type of fish can only be found in Cuba, particularly in the Demersal zone located in the Isla de la Juventud and Western Cuba. The tropical freshwater species inhabits rivers as well as lakes. Although the eggs of the fish are poisonous to humans and should not be eaten, it is safe for humans to eat the flesh of the fish.
Guantanamo Bay is a controversial American military prison that is located in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The detention camp, also referred to as Gitmo, is located on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In order to rent the 45 square foot area, the United States had been sending Cuba checks for $4085 a month for over 50 years. Interestingly, Cuba has not even once cashed in the checks, although now that relations have improved, the question of whether it is time to cash the checks has come up again.
Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs was an attempted and ultimately failed military invasion into Cuba done by a U.S. and CIA sponsored and trained group of Cuban nationals who made up the paramilitary group Brigade 2506. The failed invasion took place on April 17, 1961 and also helped solidify Fidel Castro’s position of power. It helped make him look like a powerful hero who could not be overthrown. It only took three days for Castro’s Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces to overtake Brigade 2506.
Every country has its own traditions that help characterize its own culture. Cuba certainly is no exception to that, as there are many local traditions and customs that can be seen celebrated on a yearly, monthly, and weekly basis. One of these traditions is the burning of dolls on New Year’s Eve. Cubans believe that doing this will symbolize forgetting bad experiences from the previous year and can help make way for new and better times during the upcoming new year.
Throughout the many years of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, there have been as least eight plots, if not more, to try to take him down. There have also been many attempts to kill Castro, but all were unsuccessful. The CIA started an operation that focused on discrediting or taking down Castro, which was nicknamed “Operation Castration.” Castro was in power from 1959 until 2011. He had served as Prime Minister, President, and also as the First Secretary of the Communist Part of Cuba.
Many people might wonder why there are so many classic cars from the United States from the 1950’s in Cuba. The reason is that only American cars that were acquired and registered before the revolution took place were are allowed to be sold and purchased for private usage in Cuba. Today, there are nearly 60,000 American cars in private use in Cuba, many of which have been updated. A walk down any major intersection of Havana will certainly make any car lover’s day.
Much like the Internet, television broadcasts are also rather limited in Cuba. Television, and also radio, broadcasted from Miami, Florida reach less than 1% of the 11 million person population in Cuba. The signals are often blocked by the Cuban government. The United States spends a yearly sum of around $34 million in order to have broadcasts reach Cuba. That means that over the last two decades, the U.S. has spent around $500 million in broadcasting to Cuba that has barely reached anyone.
When you hear the word ‘Cuba,’ chances are one of the first things that comes to your mind is the image of a Cuban cigar. Cuban cigars are extraordinarily popular, so much so that before the U.S. embargo was placed on Cuba, then President of the United States John F. Kennedy decided that he had to order a supply of them before it was too late. Apparently JFK ordered a supply of 1200 of his favorite Cuban cigars the night before he signed the embargo.
Coca Cola Distribution
Cuba is one of the last two countries where Coca Cola is not legally officially distributed in. The other country that does not allow the distribution of the soda is North Korea. Myanmar was another country that did not allow it, but has recently began distributing the popular drink. However, Coca Cola products can still be found in Cuba, despite the fact that they were not distributed there officially. Most of the Coke products found in Cuba have come from Mexico.
Although many people may find this fact surprising, Cuba has one of the world’s highest literacy rates, which is currently at 99.8 percent. Dictator Fidel Castro considered literacy to be of utmost importance. In 1961, he decided to shut down schools in Cuba for an entire year in order to have students who were in sixth grade and above help teach all illiterate Cubans how to read. It seems as though his plan worked, as now the country boasts an extraordinarily high literacy rate.
Cuban boxer Teófilo Stevenson was very proud of his Cuban heritage and he even turned town $5 million in order to become professional and an opportunity to box against heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali. He decided to turn down this offer and when asked why, his response was: “What is one million dollars compared to the love of eight million Cubans?” Stevenson went on to win three gold medals at the Olympics while representing his beloved home country of Cuba.
Lennon In Havana
In Havana, Cuba, there is a park named John Lennon Park where one can find a statue of John Lennon sitting casually on a park bench. The sculpture was created by Jose Villa Soberon. The statue features an inscription of lyrics from the song “Imagine,” translated into Spanish. Apparently, the glasses from the statue get stolen or vandalized so frequently that a security guard has been hired to stay near the bench in order to make sure the glasses stay on the statue.
Although baseball may be commonly referred to as “America’s favorite past time,” the United States only holds four World Baseball Cup championships. Interestingly, Cuba holds the most World Baseball Cup championships, having accumulated 25 titles overall. The World Baseball Cup was sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation and was founded in the year 1938 and was held in intervals that lasted between one to four years. Beginning from 2001, the tournament took place every two years. Since 2011, there has not been a tournament.
Despite the fact that Cuba has consistently had difficulty with receiving and acquiring medical supplies, medicine, and medical equipment due to the embargo enacted by the United States, Cuba is one of the world’s leading countries in providing medical personnel to underdeveloped countries. In fact, Cuba sends more personnel to developing areas than all of the G8 countries put together. However, Cuba still does not have regular access to medical resources and does not come close to having the access a developed country usually has.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba was first enacted in 1958 and was impost on arms sales to Cuba. Later, it was expanded to exports (except for food and medicine) in 1960. Finally, in 1962, it was extended to nearly all imports. Despite this, the U.S. is still one of the largest exporters to Cuba. With 6.6 percent of Cuba’s imports coming in from the United States, it is currently the fifth largest importer to Cuba. Due to the embargo, Cuba must pay only cash for the imports.
Cuban Running Legend
Félix de la Caridad Carvajal y Soto, also known as Andarin Cavajal, was a Cuban Olympic runner who participated in the 1904 Summer Olympics. He became a notable contender because of his interesting choice in outfit while competing. He wore cut-off shorts, a beret, and a long sleeved shirt while running. Even though along the way he stopped to eat apples, which resulted in a stomach cramp, then his having a nap, he kept running and managed to come in fourth place overall.
Cuba is often referred to by its nicknames ‘El Caiman’ or ‘El Cocodrilo,’ which translate from Spanish to ‘alligator’ or ‘crocodile.’ If you look at a map of Cuba, you may notice that the shape the country makes is similar to the shape of an alligator or crocodile when looked at from an aerial bird’s eye view. Additionally, there is a species of crocodiles that is native to only Cuba, which is aptly called the Cuban crocodile. It can be found in the Isle of Youth and Zapata Swamp.
As is common in many countries, food and dance are an essential part of Cuban culture. Most Cubans do not write down or formally keep track of recipes, but rather rely on passing down recipes by word of mouth, experiences, and sharing stories. They are often passed down generations within families. As for dance, many of the most popular types of dance have originated in Cuba. Some examples of these dances include the Cha Cha, Mambo, and Bolero dance styles.
Cuban Medical Professionals
Due to the fact that Cuba boasts the highest ratio of doctor to patient of all countries in the world, it is no surprise that medical aid from Cuba is so common. There is such an oversupply of doctors in the country that oftentimes doctors are sent abroad. Frequently, Cuban doctors are sent to countries where there is a shortage of medical personnel. Cuba was one of the leading countries to send medical aid to Haiti after the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
The Island of Cuba
Cuba is frequently wrongly associate with South and Central America, most likely due to the fact that Cubans are Spanish speakers. However, Cuba is actually an island in the northern part of the Caribbean. Cuba is actually the largest island located in the Caribbean region and takes up 42,426 square miles in area. It is also the Caribbean island with the second largest population of all the island in the area and also boasts the 16th largest population of all islands in the whole world.
Too Much Capitalism
When dictator Fidel Castro came into power, he decided to order every set of the game board ‘Monopoly’ to be destroyed. The famous board game stood for everything Castro was against, namely capitalism. Since the nature of the game is to eventually have one player take control and have a monopoly of all the properties, which essentially forced other players into bankruptcy, he could not tolerate this game. His banning of the game certainly saved many families from long-winded arguments that tend to arise while playing the game.
A Little South Korea In Cuba
One might think that telenovelas would dominate as the most popular type of television shows in Cuba. However, that would be an incorrect assumption. Surprisingly, South Korean soap operas seem to dominate television in Cuba, captivating a large amount of Cuban audiences. Many attribute the South Korean shows’ popularity to the stark differences in cultures, which could hold a fascination with Cuban audiences. The most recent popular show brought to Cuba is called Jewel In The Palace.
Christmas In Cuba
To many younger members of the Cuban population, Christmas is a new ritual, despite the fact that it is one of the most commonly celebrated holidays in the world. This is due to the fact that when Fidel Castro came into power, in true Grinch fashion, he declared the country to officially be an atheist one, which meant that there was a ban on Christmas. For thirty years, it was illegal to celebrate Christmas, meaning it was a working day. The ban was lifted in 1997 and Christmas is now celebrated in Cuba.
Before The Revolution
Even though Fidel Castro would grow up to be one of the most anti-capitalism and one of the most prominent leaders of the Communist Party, this was not always the case for Fidel Castro. In 1940, as a 12-year-old child, young Fidel Castro penned a letter to then President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his letter to the U.S. President, young Fidel Castro asked the president to send him a U.S. ten dollar bill, since the boy had never seen one before. Oh, how times would change.
Cuba In The Olympics
Cuba has had a strong presence at the Summer Olympic Games ever since they began to participate in the year 1900. Most likely due to the country’s climate and typical weather, Cuba has never actually participated in the Winter Olympics. Throughout the years of participating in the Summer Olympic Games, Cubans athletes have amassed 220 medals total. Of the total medals, 75 have been bronze medals, 68 have been silver medals, and 77 of them have been gold medals.
Cuba is home to the bee hummingbird, which is also called the Helena hummingbird, or the zunzuncito bird. This species of the hummingbird is considered to the the smallest bird in the whole world. The bird can only be found in Cuba, within the Isle of Youth and the main island. It is most commonly found in the mogote area of Cuba. An adult bee hummingbird will only grow up to two inches and is known for its iridescent feathers.
Cuban Involvement In Wars
Fidel Castro led Cubans into several wars that include anti-Colonialism wars as well as Cold War proxy wars abroad in Africa. Along with 500,000 Cubans, Castro participated in several wars that actually led to the independence of several African countries. The countries that gained independence were under control of Portugal and include countries such as Guinea, Mozambique, as well as Angola. Over three decades, Castro spent many of the limited resources of Cuba to bring his ideas of revolution to Africa.
Cell Phone Free Zone
Can you imagine living in a world without access to cell phones? Well, that’s exactly how Cubans had to live their lives up until the year 2008. Cell phones were banned in Cuba up until the year 2008. This ban on cellular devices was finally lifted when President Raul Castro took control of the government. However, is it highly likely that even though cell phones are now allowed, there is still limited access to apps for smart phones due to the fact that the Internet is still highly regulated by the government.
An Inspiration For Hemingway
Famous writer Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time living in Cuba. He wrote two of his most famous novels while living in the country. These books are The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. He owned a plantation home that was called ‘Finca Vigia,’ which translated to ‘Lookout Farm.’ The home was located in the modest, working-class town of San Francisco de Paula. Hemingway also met with Fidel Castro while he spent time in Cuba.
While planning your trip to Cuba, there are endless options for vacation fun. While visiting the gorgeous and architecturally impressive Havana is a must when traveling to Cuba, venturing out of the city is also a necessity. Need some convincing? Cuba boasts more than 250 beaches as well as over 200 bays, which means it is perfect for a relaxing beach getaway. One of the most popular areas include Varadero, which is a beach resort town located in the Hicacos Peninsula.
The Famous Cigars
Cuba is definitely known for its fine cigars that are considered to be some of the best in the whole world. The Cubans call cigars ‘habanos’ or ‘puros.’ All of the country’s premium brands of cigars are made and manufactured by just one company. A ‘puro’ cigar refers to one that has been made purely of tobaccos that come from just one country, hence the name ‘puro,’ meaning pure. Cuban cigars include fillers, binders, and wrappers that are all found and grown in Cuba.