What is Cuba known for? Is it the stunning white-sand beaches, verdant countryside, and colorful cities? Or is it the lively music, vintage cars, and warm Cuban hospitality? Truth is, Cuba is a destination with many charms and there is so much that makes this part of the Caribbean truly special. It’s no wonder that the island remains a popular destination among tourists from around the globe.
While there are many things Cuba is known for, here is a list of a few of the most outstanding features which make the country one of the best Caribbean destinations.
Cuba Political Map with capital Havana, national borders, most important cities, and rivers. Photo Credit: © Peter Hermes Furian via 123RF.com.
Cuba, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and the Caribbean Sea on the south, is home to over 3500 miles of coastline. Along its coastline are some of the most alluring beaches in the Caribbean.
Cuban beaches, some white, some honey-golden, and some volcanic black, are always met with the most inviting turquoise water. One of Cuba’s most stunning beaches is Varadero beach. This glamorous beach is one of the largest resort areas in the Caribbean and is a popular holiday destination. Other favorites include the beaches of Havana.
The Cuban capital is famous for its pristine, white-sand beaches fringed with palm trees and crystal-clear waters. Visit the Santa Maria del Mar, popular among tourists and party-lovers, or the less crowded Playa Boca Ciega for a day full of tranquility. Other popular beach destinations in Havana include Playa Bacuranao and the aptly named Playa El Salado (Salty Beach).
The architecture in Cuba draws upon a number of imported themes and styles dating back centuries. Styles from Spain, France, and the United States greatly influenced that of Cuba throughout its history, which still shows today.
Cuba adopted a number of architectural styles from the Spanish explorers. One of the adopted styles is that of the Moorish empires, commonly exhibited in buildings and streets throughout Spain. The elegant designs of the Moorish can be seen in Cuba’s arched walkways. Also popular is Baroque, which originated in Europe during the 17th century. The famous Cathedral of Havana is a prime example of this.
Following the Spanish explorers were the French. The French brought along a number of architectural styles like Neoclassical and Art Deco, which is commonly seen throughout Havana the capital of Cuba.
Between the period of Cuban Independence in 1898 and the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba was greatly influenced by the architectural styles of the United States. This is clearly exhibited through the design of the Cuban capitol building, which is almost identical to the US capitol in Washington DC.
El Capitolio or the National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba. Photo Credit: © Rostislav Ageev via 123RF.com.
Known for its strong, sweet taste, this hot beverage is among the best things from Cuba. In fact, the locals love coffee so much that it has become part of their national culture. Today, the country’s coffee plantations have a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
While the country is known for producing quality international coffee, a must-try beverage for all coffee lovers is traditional Cuban coffee. Also referred to as cafecito, this distinctively dark and flavor-rich drink has become a staple for many locals.
Cuban coffee is traditionally prepared by mixing a raw type of brown sugar called demerara sugar with finely ground dark roasted coffee. This is done before brewing begins resulting in a slightly thicker drink. The coffee is then served espresso style.
Other popular coffee drinks include Colado, Cortadito and Café con Leche. Each is prepared slightly differently but all offer a flavor that is uniquely Cuban.
Rum has played a large role in Cuba’s history and is still big business for the country today. While the exact date of when rum was introduced in Cuba is disputed by historians, one thing that is certain is that sugarcane cultivation began in the 1500s.
Following this, with the rise of slavery in the country, sugar plantations were producing large amounts of sugarcane. A bi-product of molasses was then used in rum factories to make rum, both for local consumption and to export.
Today, Cuba is synonymous with rum. Producing some of the finest drinks in the world, it has become a rite of passage for visitors of the island to bring home a bottle or two. Regarding rum, one of the best products made in Cuba is Havana Club, which is fantastic in an authentic Cuban Mojito cocktail. The birthplace of Havana Club is the Arechabala Rum Distillery in the city of Cárdenas circa 1934. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the company owned by the family of José Arechabala S.A. was nationalized.
Another drink that is unique to Cuba is rum-in-a-box. Get a taste of the country’s history right out of a juice box-looking package. These are sold at walk-up windows of shops and cafeterias throughout the cities.
E Havana Club Rum used to prepare authentic Cuban Mojito cocktail. Photo Credit: © Marcin Jucha via 123RF.com.
If you’re wondering what is Cuba best known for, then the answer might just be cigars. While they can be found on the country’s streets for less than a single US dollar, the best ones come from the farms. Tobacco farms are fairly common on the island. However, the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio is the true hub.
In this province on a stretch of land called Vuelta Abajo, the world’s finest cigars are produced. Many attribute the quality produced to the great atmospheric conditions present in this particular region. This part of Cuba is also said to be one of the most beautiful, especially the verdant Valley of Viñales. Another popular farm is Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation in San Luis.
Classic American Cars
If you’ve seen a movie or music video which was shot in Cuba, then it most probably featured one or many vibrant colored, vintage-style cars. As a tourist visiting the country, one of the first things that will catch your eye is the sheer number of classic American motor vehicles lining the city streets.
Why are there so many classic American cars in Cuba? The reason is that, in the 1960s, there was a break in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. This resulted in the ban of car imports from the United States. The classic American cars seen all around Cuba today have been re-engineered and repaired many times over.
Around Cuba are many car tours that will take you around the city in style. Sit comfortably in a vintage convertible and soak up the sun while getting a spectacular view of the Caribbean coast.
A row of brightly colored vintage American cars parked in front of the landmark architecture of the Great Theater of Havana. Photo Credit: ©lazyllama via Shutterstock.com.
It’s been over 50 years since his death and still, no conversation about Cuba is complete without mentioning his name, Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a very well-known figure of the Cuban Revolution.
A Marxist revolutionary, diplomat, guerilla leader, military theorist, and author, Che Guevara was a man who played many roles. Most famously, he worked alongside Fidel Castro and traveled the world in an effort to start revolutions.
The most noteworthy of these efforts being the 1959 Cuban Revolution which was started to depose the Batista regime, reshaping Cuba’s future forever. Today, he remains a symbol of radical revolution for the people underrepresented in a capitalistic society.
If you’re planning to visit Havana, be sure to check out Hotel Nacional. This is said to be the base of Guevara and Castro during the Cuban missile crisis. The Memorial Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the revolutionary’s mausoleum and monument in Santa Clara, is also an attraction worth visiting.
A trip to Cuba is not complete without a visit to its vibrant capital, Havana. Known for its old architecture, vintage cars, beautiful beaches, and tasty Cuban cocktails, the city has become a popular tourist destination. At first glance, it may appear like a confusing jigsaw puzzle. But once you’ve put the pieces together, you’re left with something truly stunning.
Along with a rich culture, Havana also has a long history. Founded by the Spanish for its strategic location, the city has seen plenty – from the sinking of US battleships to the Spanish-American War. Today, Havana continues to serve as a commercial port and is one of the largest cities in the Caribbean.
Moreover, Old Havana was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other major landmarks in Cuba’s Havana include the National Capitol Building, Catedral de San Cristóbal, Plaza Vieja and the iconic esplanade of Malecon.
View of Havana on a sunny day with Revolution Square in the foreground. Photo Credit: © Karel Miragaya via 123RF.com.
Something that beautifully portrays Cuban culture and continues to define their international identity is music. With its primary roots in Spain and Africa, as well as many other influences from around the world, the music you’ll hear in Cuba is truly authentic.
Popular music genres in Cuba include son cubano, timba, nueva trova, jazz, and the world-famous bolero and rumba. The notorious salsa descends from son cubano but borrows heavily from other islands in the Caribbean as well.
While in Cuba you’re bound to hear music almost everywhere you go. In Havana, it is common to find yourself being serenaded by a group of soneros singing Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Chan Chan’.
Beyond the streets are a number of great places to experience many different forms of music. Callejón de Hamel in Havana is brought to life through rumba every Sunday afternoon. Jardines del 1830 plays an array of sultry salsa, jazz, hip-hop, and disco. No matter where in the country you find yourself, the rhythm and lively atmosphere is sure to have you moving.
Apart from Havana, Trinidad is one of the best cities to visit in Cuba. A city housing many beautifully restored buildings that date back as early as the 17th and 19th centuries. Walking through the cobblestone streets of this World Heritage-listed town feels as if you’re stepping back in time.
Some popular attractions in Trinidad include the cobblestone Plaza Mayor, the city’s central square, as well as the neoclassical Church of the Holy Trinity. Other highlights worth paying a visit to are the Museum of Colonial Architecture, Casa de Aldeman Ortiz art gallery, and Church and Monastery of Saint Francis.
Further east of Trinidad is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the lush Valle de los Ingenios. This green stretch of land contains a number of relics and monuments from the 19th century, back when the city’s sugarcane plantations prospered.
The Church of the Holy Trinity in Plaza Major in Trinidad, Cuba. Photo Credit: © Toms Auzins via 123RF.com.
Unique Flora & Fauna
Despite experiencing four centuries of devastating deforestation, Cuba continues to boast some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Caribbean. Moreover, the Cuban landscape is so unique and diverse that it changes as you move through the land. With beautiful coastlines and extensive tracts that remain cloaked in a dozen shades of green, this outdoor paradise is a must for nature lovers.
Comprising Cuba’s diverse flora are almost 7000 species of plants, half of which are endemic to the area. Among these is the country’s national flower – a brilliant white mariposa. This is a native species of jasmine that served as a symbol of rebellion and purity during the various wars for independence. The wide range of flowers and plants beautifully paint the countryside in an array of colors.
Regarding Cuba’s fauna species, many are found to be invertebrates. Among these is the world’s smallest frog, as well as the world’s smallest hummingbird. The country is also home to an endemic species of crocodile. Some also suggest that the shape of the island vaguely resembles that of a crocodile.
Cuban art comprises a diverse blend of African, European, and North American design. Through art, the island reflects its diverse demographics, rich culture, and deep history.
In the late 1920s, Cuban artists embraced European modernism as part of a critical movement of national regeneration. This began in opposition to American neoclassical control, the dictatorship of Gerardo Machacho, and the resulting economic crisis.
This saw a growth in Cuban Vanguardism, a movement involving several artists who studied a mixture of modern artistic genres. The genres studied include surrealism, cubism, and modernist primitivism. The pioneers of this movement were Antonio Gattorno, Carlos Enríquez Gómez, Eduardo Abela and Fidelio Ponce.
Another celebrated artist from the 20th century is Amelia Peláez, renowned for a series of mural projects. For art lovers visiting Cuba, be sure to visit the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, which exhibits an impressive collection of international and Cuban works.
National Museum of Fine Arts aka Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba. Photo Credit: © Magicbones via 123RF.com.
Final Thoughts on What Cuba is Known For
Cuba is famous for many things, many of which were not mentioned on this list. Other important landmarks in Cuba are the several other UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of these include the city of Cienfuegos, the city of Camaguey, and the massive military fortification, San Pedro De La Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba.
All in all, Cuba is a truly unique country with plenty to offer. From its diverse and unique landscapes to its lively, colorful cities and friendly people, this Caribbean island is certainly one worth visiting.
For those wanting to plan a trip to the Caribbeans, Cuba should most certainly be on your list. But before you go, be sure to take a look at this useful Cuba Travel Guide.