Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and with over 11 million people, it’s also the most populous, albeit with a much lower population density than most Caribbean nations. Cuba is located just 150 kilometers south of Florida and the same distance west of the Bahamas. Cuba is an archipelago of many small islands and one huge main island.
The topography of Cuba is an important element of the overall geography of Cuba. Cuba is characterized by huge mountains which cover more than one third of the total land area. The remaining portion of the island consists of flat, plain lands. There are 200 bays and 289 beaches in Cuba. Cuba is also characterized by the large number of its water bodies. Most of the rivers in Cuba are shallow.
Despite its proximity to some of the most popular travel destinations in the world, Cuba is still a mystery to the avid travelers. The country is slowly returning to its glorious past by unearthing and coming face-to-face with its long lost beauty. Be at the resort town of Varadero, one of the largest Caribbean resorts, the rugged Holguin, which was referred by Columbus as ‘most beautiful land eyes have ever seen’ or Old Havana with its colonial style architecture, the country is seeing a revival in tourism in the last few years.
Other locations in Cuba are becoming more and more popular to tourism such as Cayo Largo with its beaches considered the best of the world, Cayo Santa Maria which is a little paradise and Cayo Coco, famous for its crystal clear ocean and shallow waters. Sailing, diving, hunting, fishing, hiking, shopping, nightclubs and many more activities are making Cuba lively again.
But all was not so hunky-dory in this country a couple of decades back. Before 1960, Americans flocked to the glamorous casinos of Havana and bought luxury beach homes, making Cuba the most sought-after haven for Americans until 1959. Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista regime in 1959 and a Communist regime was put in place in Cuba. Tourism almost died in this country. It was not until 1990s that Cuba once again opened its doors to international tourists. Although Americans were still missing, Canadian and European tourists made their way to rediscover this fantastic country.
Today tourists from all over the world, and even America, have started looking at Cuba as an exciting travel destination. American tourists will be surprised to see that common Cubans bear no animosity towards them and are welcomed with open arms. But Americans need a valid license for traveling legally to Cuba that is issued by the US Department of Treasury.
It would be misleading to say that Cuba has completely come out of its turbulent past; but it can certainly be said that this nation is reviving rapidly. What you’ll see there is not some dull, oppressed nation, but a lively place bubbling with excitement. You’ll be astonished to hear taxi drivers quoting Hemmingway and people laughing and dancing on the streets.
Life in Cuba is edgy and austerity exists, but you’ll find people singing and dancing away their worries. In today’s commercialized tourism, Cuba is one of the few places left that is edgy yet enthralling. With most of the island south of the Tropic of Cancer, the local climate is tropical, moderated by northeasterly trade winds that blow year-round. In general (with local variations), there’s a drier season from November to April, and a rainier season from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C (69.8 °F) in January and 27 °C (80.6 °F) in July.
The warm temperatures of the Caribbean Sea and the fact that Cuba sits across the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico combine to make the country prone to frequent hurricanes in the Cuba zone. These are most common in September and October.
Cubans are friendly and definitely not in a rush, making them remarkable people. They’re always smiling and willing to serve tourists. The country and its economy depend largely on tourism. In Cuba, crimes involving tourists are treated extremely harshly, a fact which residents are well aware of, which explains in part the friendliness of the people.
Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Most tourists use the CUC for all purchases, hotels, taxis and activities. The CUC was created to replace the US dollar that was used in the tourist industry until the late 1990s.
A warning to American old car collectors: you’ll go crazy when you see the Cuba classic cars!