Cuba is well-known for its pristine coastline, cultural diversity, and enigmatic political figures. However, there’s a lot more to this beautiful Caribbean country than meets the eye.
When you put Cuba underneath the microscope, you’ll quickly discover it’s resounding history and fascinating people that have impacted the nation’s history. There are dozens of interesting things we could list about Cuba, but some are especially important when planning your trip to the Caribbean.
Here are 6 things many people don’t know about Cuba to prepare you for your island vacation!
Santeria is a Popular Religion
Much of Cuba’s culture links to the colonial era and the mass influx of African slaves to the Caribbean island. Although the Spanish conquistadors brought Roman Catholicism with them to the New World, African slaves had unique traditions that forever impacted Cuba’s culture to the present day.
The intertwining of Roman Catholicism and the religious practices of Africa’s Yoruba tribe spawned the creation of Santeria. Although the syncretic religion faced much opposition, it has become ingrained in Afro-Cuban culture.
Santeros and santeras held onto their traditional beliefs while masking it as a form of Catholicism. Even though Roman Catholicism remains the perceived most popular religion in Cuba, some believe around 80 percent of the country’s people seek advice from Santerian priests and priestesses.
Christmas was Banned in the 20th Century
This may be a surprise given Cuba’s Roman Catholic roots, but that all changed when Fidel Castro seized power during the Cuban Revolution. With the formation of the Cuban Communist Party, religious practices became severely restricted for the Cuban people.
The party practiced Marxist philosophy, and many tenets of Roman Catholicism ingrained in Cuban society withered away. Non-atheists could not join the party, and the Castro regime banned the distribution of the Bible.
Christmas, the most sacred holiday for Christians, was banned in 1969 due to Castro’s belief that it would hamper the country’s sugar production. The ban lasted for nearly 30 years and was called The Silent Christmases on the island. Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1997, and the event led to Christmas being restored as an official holiday.
Ernest Hemingway Lived in Cuba for 20 Years
Ernest Hemingway was one of America’s renowned novelists and journalists of the 20th century. Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory made a tremendous impact on aspiring writers, and he published seven novels and six short-story collections during his illustrious career.
The influential author also lived a daring lifestyle that took him to risky places such as the Spanish Civil War and Normandy landings. After documenting these historic events as a journalist, Hemingway decided to move to Havana, Cuba in 1940.
Although Hemingway continued traveling and war reporting, he found time to hone his craft at his island home. He penned two of his greatest works, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, while he resided in Cuba.
Hemingway named his Cuban residence “FincaVigia” and today it’s among the country’s most visited sites for tours in Cuba.
Cuba’s Literacy Rate is Nearly 100 Percent
After Castro seized power, his government launched an aggressive plan to battle illiteracy in Cuba. The literacy rate of Cuba was between 75-80 percent at the height of the Cuban Revolution, but the 1961 campaign boosted it to 96 percent.
1961 was called the “Year of Education,” and the government sent workers into rural areas to teach citizens to read and write. The impact of the literacy campaign resonates today as Cuba retains a literacy rate of around 99.8 percent, one of the world’s highest.
Cuba has 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Cuba is the largest Caribbean island, and the country is teeming with cultural and natural treasures. The country has numerous cultural sites dating to the colonial era and natural parks of untouched wilderness. With 9 total UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cuba dwarfs the other Caribbean islands in comparison.
Founded in 1519, Old Havana is one of Cuba’s main attractions with its gorgeous Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Other cultural sites include Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios, the Historic Centre of Cienfuegos, and San Pedro de la Roca Castle.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park gains prestige for its endemic species and diversity of landscapes. Desembarco del Granma National Park was named after the yacht Fidel Castro, and his supporters used to start the Cuban Revolution, but earned its UNESCO status due to its stunning coastline, tumbling waterfalls, and unspoiled sea cliffs.
American Bartenders Fled to Cuba During Prohibition
The Prohibition-era in America marked a nationwide ban on the production and consumption of alcohol. In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution drastically changed American society for over a decade.
How exactly did America’s purge on alcohol impact Cuba?
There was a mass exodus of American bartenders to Cuba’s cosmopolitan capital of Havana, and the city became flooded with new bars. It’s believed thousands of bars opened in Havana during the 1920s, and most of them had American bartenders.
Famous establishments such as the Rialto Café and Donovan’s Jigs opened during the decade, and this sparked the growing popularity of refreshing Cuban cocktails like mojitos, daiquiris, and El Presidente.