What is Cuba? Where is Cuba? What is the history of Cuba? If you’re curious to learn more about this Caribbean nation, you’ve come to the right place!
What is Cuba?
Cuba—that of Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs, and the world’s best cigars—is a sovereign country located just 90 nautical miles away from the United States. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and the second-most populous.
Officially the Republic of Cuba, the island is well-known for their favorable climate, beautiful beaches, colonial architecture, and distinct cultural history. As such, Cuba has long been a popular tourist destination for Canadians and Europeans. Being a communist nation, however, has led to a historically tenuous relationship with the nearby US.
Can you name the current communist countries?
Where is Cuba? Finding Cuba on a Map
Cuba, comprised of the main island of Cuba and several archipelagos of smaller islands, is located in the northern part of the Caribbean, directly east of Mexico. It is also just south of Florida, which has a significant Cuban population due to its close proximity. Havana, Cuba’s capital city, is just over 100 miles from Key West, Florida. Cuba is considered part of the North America.
Cuba enjoys a tropical climate year-round, which is what draws many visitors to its incredible beaches such as Varadero, Cayo Coco, and Holguín. It is also a fascinating place because of its unusual history, relative lack of modern progress, and beautiful rural culture, yet it remains steeped in mystery for most outsiders.
Havana is considered one of the most intriguing cities to visit in the Caribbean, filled with classic architecture, old American vehicles, and a festive population. Smaller, traditional cities like Trinidad seem rooted in the past, their colorful colonial architecture drawing large numbers of tourists. The beautiful valley of Viñales is famous for its tobacco and traditional cigar manufacturing, not to mention its lush rolling hills and quaint villages.
History of Cuba
Before the Spanish arrived and called dibs on most of the Americas, Cuba was inhabited by three different indigenous tribes—the Taíno, Ciboney and Guanahatabey—the earliest of which likely arrived around 5,000 BC. Along with many other places in the area, Columbus arrived in Cuba in 1492, claimed it for the Spanish, and named it Isla Juana in honor of the Prince of Asturias.
Baracoa was the first Spanish city, soon followed by San Cristobal de la Habana, which would eventually become the capital. The indigenous people were forced to work under a feudal system and over the next century, staggering numbers perished due to diseases such as measles and smallpox.
While Cuba was a major player in the slave trade throughout this time, they really amped things up in the late 18th century. From 1791 to 1804, the Haitian Revolution took place. It was the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a new country (Haiti) that was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former captives. Following the revolution, Cuban plantation owners opportunistically stepped in to fill the gap, becoming the dominant slave state in the region. The slave trade in Cuba thrived until it was abolished in 1875, a process that took another decade to be fully completed.
Cuba in the 20th Century
The United States essentially “won” Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Even though Cuba was granted independence soon after, in 1902, the American government retained the right to “intervene and supervise”, as needed. Not surprisingly, this led to many years of disputes and conflict between the two countries, although it also became a very popular vacation spot for Americans, especially during prohibition in the 1920s.
Fulgencio Batista, a military leader, initiated a successful coup in 1933, leading to decades of political unrest. This all ended in 1959, when Fidel Castro successfully ousted him and installed the Communist government that unerved much of the Western World and that remains in power today.
In 2009, Fidel’s brother, Raúl, became president and set about eliminating many of the economic and human rights restrictions that had previously kept the Cuban people in relative poverty. As of 2013, it finally became possible for Cubans to travel outside the country, and during the Obama regime, many parts of the long-standing embargo between the US and Cuba were eliminated, allowing for much greater trade and increasing prosperity. Fidel finally died in 2016 and Raúl recently resigned, outlining his vision for the future and turning power over to Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez.
So, while Cuba is rapidly evolving, it remains a snapshot of a bygone era in comparison to most other Caribbean countries. With no history of capitalism or entrepreneurship (they only became legally entitled to own a home in 2011), Cubans are learning as they go when it comes to running businesses and managing their own tourism industry. Any visitor is sure to walk away strongly moved by Cuba’s unique populace and natural beauty.
Do you like learning about Latin America? Check out the following posts from the Sporcle Blog. Or test your trivia knowledge with some fun Latin America quizzes on Sporcle.
- The Capitals of South America
- South America Geography Facts
- Where Is Mexico?
- What Is Venezuela?
- What is the Capital of Bolivia?
And did you know Sporcle has its own nifty Cuba badge that registered users can earn? It’s called Havana Good Time, and all you need to do to earn it is get get 50% or more on The Cuba Quiz, Provinces of Cuba, and Top 25 Cities of Cuba on a Map. What are you waiting for?!