What Is Cuba Known For?

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A tropical island with a contentious past and future, Cuba is one of the most unique and beautiful destinations in the world. Many people think Cuba is inaccessible to visitors, and while infrastructure is still improving, the country is actually home to vibrant cities, incredible landscapes and a thriving Caribbean-Latin American culture found nowhere else. Although many visitors often head straight to Varadero, Cuba’s most famous stretch of white sand, which is filled with resorts, the capital of Havana hides spectacularly preserved architecture and fascinating history, along with plenty of things for tourists to see and do.

So, what is Cuba known for? You can find out what to expect in Cuba through the many famous things that were birthed here – namely, cigars, cocktails, rum and Latin American music genres. The Cubans love to party and dance, cigars are better quality than anywhere else, and the famous Havana Club rum is made right on the island. This Communist country also has a complex history, spanning the Cuban Revolution and Cuban Missile Crisis, and ongoing tensions with other countries. Whether you go horse-riding in the lush mountains of Vińales, explore the cobblestone streets of Havana or beach-hop around the coast, the country has endlessly incredible experiences to check out.

What Is Cuba Known For?

1- Havana

Havana Skyline
Havana is the number one city Cuba is most known for.

Havana is Cuba’s exciting capital city, where cigar smoke drifts out of windows, classic cars cruise the streets and live music floats out of every bar.

The quarter of the city known as Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its cobblestone streets, colonial architecture and green plazas where locals congregate.

On the city’s seafront, the Malecon is a famous stretch of road winding down the coast, where you’ll see people fishing, chatting and jogging each day next to the ocean.

Havana’s parliament building, El Capitolio, might also look familiar to those who have been to Washington, D.C., as the building is almost identical.

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Despite embargoes on many food items, Cuban cuisine is mixed and delicious, and Havana has restaurants from Italian and Russian to local haunts serving Spanish-style tapas, while the dozens of bars serve Cuba’s famous cocktails.

Check out the Hotel Nacional, Havana’s oldest five-star hotel where celebrities and the elite like to stay, for a classic mojito at the bar.

2- Rum

Whiskey On The Rocks
Rum is one of the top products Cuba is known for producing.

If Cuba were known for just one thing, it would most likely be rum.

Rum has become an essential part of Cuban culture and is produced in vast quantities across the country.

Cuban rum is smoother and lighter than that of other Caribbean islands, making it one of the main economic drivers in the country, as well as the fact that Cuba grows the most sugar cane in the world.

Havana Club and Bacardi, sold around the world, are the most famous brands, but there are many more that you can find in minimarts on the islands, and prices are ten times cheaper than you’ll pay at home!

There’s also a rum museum in Havana, where you can discover more about the history of the spirit and taste a few samples.

3- Cocktails

Mojito Cocktail In A Bur On A Rustic Table
Cocktails is what Cuba is known for – Cuba Libre, mojitos, daiquiris and canchanchara.

If rum is the country’s drink of choice, then it may be unsurprising to learn that this has led to a few famous drinks being invented in the country.

There are four significant Cuban cocktails, the first of which is the Cuba Libre, the country’s national drink made with rum and coke.

The second is the much-loved mojito, made with rum, sugar, sparkling water and mint, which was supposedly invented in the 16th century but is now most famously served at Havana bar El Bodeguita del Medio, which has queues around the block.

Thirdly, the daiquiri is made with rum, lime juice and sugar, much like a mojito; however, in modern days, it’s often frozen or given fun flavours like passionfruit and strawberry.

Visit El Floridita bar in Havana, where the daiquiri was invented for the best cocktail you’ll try and pull up a seat where Ernest Hemingway famously liked to drink at the bar.

The final drink enjoyed by locals is the canchanchara; a delicious blend of rum, lime and honey that’s a must-try in Cuba!

4- Cigars

Cigars And Humidor
What product is Cuba extremely well-known for? Cuban cigars tops the list.

Tobacco has always been popular throughout the Caribbean, but if you look at the most famous cigars sold around the world, most of them hail from Cuba.

Cuban cigars are considered to be the best in the world, with numerous factories across the country where locals sit all day, carefully rolling dried tobacco leaves into neat cigars before they’re packed up and branded.

In Cuba’s western region of Viñales, the farms grow and dry the tobacco and you can tour plantations here, while in Havana, you can also tour the rolling factories themselves and learn more about the process.

Some of the most famous cigar brands from Cuba include Cohiba, Montecristo, Partagas, and Romeo y Julieta.

Avoid buying from people on the streets as the quality is questionable, but don’t worry, there are cigar shops everywhere and prices are pennies compared to what cigars cost in the Western world.

5- The Cuban Revolution

Che Guevara Statue And The Mausoleum
The Revolution is what Cuba is known for.

The Cuban Revolution is the country’s most famous point in history.

The revolution began in 1953, leading to the overthrow of then-President Fulgencio Batista by followers of Fidel Castro in 1959.

This was a turning point in Cuba’s history as the country became a communist nation from this point.

Fidel Castro led the country right up until 2008, with many more issues and tensions arising throughout his rule.

One of the best places to understand the history better is at the Museo de la Revolucion in Havana.

The museum has lots of historical artefacts dating back far beyond the revolution, but also interesting sights from this period, such as exhibits on the warfare that took place in Cuba’s mountain regions where Castro himself fought, alongside another famous Cuban figure, Che Guevara.

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6- The Cuban Missile Crisis

Another period of Cuba’s history most people are likely to have heard about is the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This period of history involved serous tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union after the latter placed nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in Cuba.

After the United States discovered this, they attempted to block more missiles from being delivered to Cuba and both regions came close to full-blown nuclear war.

It’s a fascinating and scary period of history, and if you’re keen to learn more, head to Cuba’s most famous hotel, the Hotel Nacional.

Although the hotel has long been a haunt for the rich and famous, you can do a tour that takes you through underground tunnels used during the crisis, plus a small museum with more information.

This period of history is essential to understanding Cuba today, as it led to many present day political situations, such as the current embargo on Cuba by the USA and difficulty in visiting for US citizens.

7- Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro With Rebel Soldiers Entering Havana
Fidel Castro is a famous person Cuba is known for.

Fidel Castro is one of the most famous figures to come out of Cuba, who as we have mentioned, was the leader of the country between 1959 to 2008.

He initially began participating in revolutionary societies and protests while he was still at university before getting into politics.

After President Batista took power, Castro started a resistance movement with multiple attacks on the government that eventually led to the Cuban Revolution.

Castro changed Cuba’s history forever by making it a communist country, and while many have criticised some of his policies, he did many good things for the Cuban people, such as providing electricity to rural areas, free education and healthcare, and subsidised housing.

If you’re visiting Cuba, you’ll notice that even after his passing, he is still loved and celebrated by the Cuban people, with portraits, posters and artwork of him, and graffiti saying ‘Viva Fidel’ (long live Fidel) everywhere you go.

8- Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

Havana City, The Building With Che Guevara Mural
Che Guevara is another famous figure from Cuba.

Fighting next to Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution was another now-famous figure, Ernesto Guevara.

Che Guevara was actually born in Argentina but played a major role in the Cuban Revolution, as well as other movements in South America.

In Cuba, Che Guevara, commonly known just as ‘Che’, is everywhere.

You can buy t-shirts, posters and flags with his face on, and street art of him is all over Havana, most famously in La Plaza de la Revolucion.

The Hotel Nacional was said to be the revolutionary base of Castro and Guevara, and you can also visit the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, where his remains are buried.

9- Coffee

Cuba Flag On Coffee Bean
What product is Cuba extremely well-known for? You’d be pretty safe to say – coffee.

We’ve had rum and cigars, but many people don’t realise Cuba also produces some of the world’s best coffee.

Cuba grows coffee in three regions due to climate: the Sierra Maestra mountainous area, Pinar del Rio and Escambray; however, in southeast Cuba, you can also find the country’s first coffee plantation in Guantanamo.

The production of coffee in Cuba began in the 18th century, and now, Cuba is one of the world’s largest exporters.

The plantations here are even UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

You can buy a cup almost everywhere, and you may find it’s a lot darker and richer than you get back home, although traditionally, they also add demerara sugar to sweeten things up.

10- Classic Cars

Old American Cars In Havana
Classic cars is what Cuba is best known for.

As soon as you arrive in Havana, you’ll spot classic cars everywhere.

Cuba is world-famous for having hundreds of shiny, brightly coloured vintage American cars on the streets, and there’s a fascinating reason why.

After the Cuban Revolution, the USA placed embargoes on Cuba and effectively cut off imports, meaning no new cars have arrived on the island in over half a century!

Instead, classic cars you’d see in the 50s and 60s are completely normal in Cuba, and Cuban people often save for years to invest in buying one.

Although they’re constantly being repaired, they’re all in excellent working condition and make for a fun ride.

One of the most popular things to do in Havana is take a city tour in one of these iconic cars with the top down – you can find dozens of locals around Parque Central offering to take you for a ride.

11- Music

Music is the beating soul of Cuba, as it is with many other Caribbean and Latin American countries.

Live music can be heard in restaurants, bars and cafes throughout the day, although be prepared that these bands will often ask for a tip, which can add up very quickly.

Cuba may be small, but Cuban music is popular worldwide, and the country invented rhythms like the rumba and bolero, among others.

The music involves all kinds of instruments, such as guitars or bass, piano, drums, saxophones, and singing, and it takes influence from other islands, Latin America, and even Africa.

Cuba’s music world is also not short of a famous face, with artists such as Gloria Estefan and the Buena Vista Social Club both hailing from the island.

12- Guantanamo Bay

Most people have heard of Guantanamo Bay and, based on its reputation, assume it’s on a remote, forsaken island somewhere out to sea, when in fact, it’s in sunny Cuba.

That’s not to say it’s a nice place – Guantanamo Bay is a United States military detention camp where some of the worst offenders in the world are sent.

George W Bush first created it following the 9/11 attacks, and it quickly became known as one of the worst and harshest prisons in the world, where currently only around 30 of the original 780 prisoners now remain.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), tourists can’t visit Guantanamo, but you can visit the beautiful region of Guantanamo itself, where there are white sand beaches, crystalline waters and a number of world heritage sites.

13- Architecture

Authentic View Of A Street Of Old Havana
Old Havana is what Cuba is known for.

No matter where in Cuba you go, from Havana to Trinidad or Santiago de Cuba, the unique architecture is one of the first things you’ll notice.

There’s a heavy Spanish influence after they discover the island, but you can find a huge mix of styles here, from Baroque to Neoclassical, Moorish and Art Deco.

Havana has some stunning buildings if you’re interested in seeing a variety of architecture, such as Catedral de Habana and the buildings in Old Havana.

Across Cuba, you’ll notice many squares and streets with covered walkways, while buildings like the Capitol show the influence of the United States pre-revolution on the island.

Another two UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, which are filled with cobblestone streets and feature stunning 18th-century colonial buildings.

14- Beautiful Beaches

Varadero,Cuba
Beautiful beaches is what Cuba is famous for.

As mentioned, many people go straight to Varadero in Cuba’s north for their fix of beaches, and you wouldn’t be wrong for doing so, as the beaches here are as soft and white as anywhere in the Caribbean.

However, Cuba has 3,500 miles of coastline, meaning it isn’t short of incredible beaches, classic palm trees, sparkling water, and epic underwater adventures.

Although the resort-packed Varadero is beautiful, head for southern areas such as Trinidad’s Playa Ancon or tricky-to-reach spots like Cayo Jutias in the northwest for fewer people.

Other excellent choices include Punta Perdíz and Playa Giron, or the Bay of Pigs, known for a failed 1961 military invasion, as well as Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) and Playa Perla Blanca (White Pearl Beach), which describe themselves, and some of the harder to reach keys off the mainland.

15- Unique Wildlife

Todus MulticolorCUBAN TODY (Todus Multicolor)
Unique birds and wildlife is what Cuba is known for.

Thanks to the still somewhat limited infrastructure (there are no trains, and tourist buses are limited), lack of huge resorts besides those concentrated in Varadero, and how tricky it can be to get into Cuba, especially for Americans, the island remains blissfully untouched.

This means wildlife and nature is still thriving and you can find some amazing landscapes, habitats and species here.

The island has more than 7,000 plant species, including the mariposa, which is Cuba’s national flower.

You can also find the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest frog and the world’s smallest bat!

The country’s most endangered native reptile, the Cuban Crocodile, is only found on the island, plus there are almost 400 species of bird and 100 species of palm tree.

You can find all kinds of scenery too, from spectacular coral reefs, caves and waterfalls to jungles-covered hills, beaches, mangrove forests and scrub desert.

World Map With Magnified Cuba

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India-Jayne Trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.