Cuba 101: A Few Facts that Most People Don’t Know

What do you picture when you think of Cuba? Most people associate it with the world’s finest cigars, cool rum drinks, vintage cars and lively music. Sports fans know that Cubans love baseball, and if you paid attention in English class, you might remember that Earnest Hemingway wrote sections of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “the Old Man and the Sea” from Cuba. But there’s much more to the story of this island than many realize, as revealed by the following facts:

Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca Santiago de Cuba 

Cultural Facts

  • The list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites includes nine places in Cuba.
  • Cuban athletes have never participated in the Winter Olympic Games, but sincei 1900, Cuba has competed in 18 summer Olympics. Cuban boxers are the biggest winners, taking home 67 of the country’s total 208 medals.
  • Cuba didn’t recognize Christmas as an official holiday until 1997, just before Pope John Paul II visited the island.
  • Cuba ranks high in literacy, hitting the list slightly above the United States.
  • Bacardi rum was originally manufactured in Cuba, but the business moved to Puerto Rico after Fidel Castro’s takeover.


Geographical Facts

  • Cuba is the largest of all islands in the Caribbean and includes more than 4,000 smaller islands in its surrounding waters. It’s also the most populated country in the Caribbean with more than 11 million inhabitants.
  • Cuba is a long, skinny island: 750 miles from east to west and only 60 miles across in most places. The island is sometimes called “El Caimán” or “El Crocodrilo,” is Spanish for “The Crocodile,” because the shape of the island represents that animal when viewed from the air.
  • Cuba and its neighboring countries form the Greater Antilles, a group of islands that constitute over 94 percent of the land mass of the entire West Indies and are home to more than 90 percent of its population.

Seminario San Carlos y San Ambrosio, Havana Vieja, Cuba

Historical Facts

  • Columbus claimed Cuba for Spain on 1492. When he first saw Cuba, it’s said that he thought it was actually mainland China.
  • Before the Spanairds arrived, Cuba was inhabited by three different indigenous cultures: the Ciboneyes, Guanahatabeyes and Taínos.
  • Cuba remained a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American War of 1898 when it became part of the United States until its independence in 1902.


Scientific Facts

  • The prehistoric fish, the manjuarí, is now only found in Cuba.
  • Cuba is home to the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. Adults are approximately 2 inches in length.
  • Some people claim that there are no animals in Cuba that pose a threat to humans, but the Cuban Crocodile might disagree.

 Want to learn more about Cuba? Talk to people who know and love the island. Book one of our many Cuba Tours.

Text by Lise Waring
Photos by Robin Thom