Explore the Flavorful Culture of Cuba: Food, Festivities, and More
“Cuba is culture, nature, history, magic and traditions.” That’s how Cuba’s tourism portal describes this beautiful island and they couldn’t be more right.
Cuba is a very prosperous island, with exceptionally fertile soil and perfect weather for growing sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, and all kinds of tropical fruits and vegetables throughout all of its territory. It’s a cultural and natural paradise full of activities to enjoy in your next vacation.
Let’s learn about what makes Cuba such a beautiful and magical destination.
All About Cuba
Two major islands, Cuba and Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), make up La República de Cuba (Republic of Cuba), in addition to more than 4,000 islets, keys, and archipelagos that span 42,857 miles.
Despite being an island, a quarter of the Cuban territory is mountainous with notable formations such as la Sierra del Escambray, la Cordillera de Guaniguanico, la Sierra Maestra y la Sierra de Turquino. The rest of the territory consists of sprawling, flat plains.
Cuba possesses more than 600 beaches all throughout, from which a few have natural and artificial reservoirs, and limestone caves. The country also possesses a river network with low flow short rivers, and exceptional and abundant natural harbors.
People of Cuba
Cuba’s capital city, Havana, is also the largest. The three major ethnic groups in the island are white, mixed, and black. According to the last census, Cuba has a population of 11,193,470 people who live across the 14 provinces of the island.
The demonym—name to identify a group of people in relation to a place—is cubano or cubana in Spanish, or “Cuban” in English. Cuba’s official language is Spanish, and the whole country possesses an amazing literacy rate of 99.75%.
Government in Cuba
The government of Cuba identifies as an Unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist Republic and these are their official representatives:
|First Secretary and President||Miguel Díaz-Canel|
|Vice President||Salvador Valdés Mesa|
|Prime Minister||Manuel Marrero Cruz|
|President of the National Assembly||Esteban Lazo Hernandez|
The official Cuban currency is el peso cubano (Cuban peso), also known as CUP, and its symbol is “$.” The exchange rate is almost $25 CUP for every US$1.
Religion in Cuba
Regarding religion, 59% of Cubans profess Christian and Catholic beliefs, 35% profess no religion, a 5.4% folk religion, and 0.4% other different beliefs.
Brief Historical Review of Cuba
We can’t talk about Cuba and its people without taking into consideration the history of this country.
Like all the other countries in Latin America, Spain also conquered Cuba during the 16th century. It wasn’t until 1902 that Cuba obtained its independence, after being under Spanish and North American control for hundreds of years.
After gaining its independence, Cuba faced several challenges—such as another occupation of the United States, which complicated the development of a democracy in the island, and led to several social disturbances and manifestations through several decades.
All this discontentment fueled what we know today as la Revolución cubana (Cuban revolution) led by Fidel Castro in the 1950s, which spurred the creation of the current Cuban Republic.
Learn more: Surprisingly Complicated History of Cuba
Exploring Cuban’s Creative Culture
Cubans stand out in almost every form of art, and they are proud of their rich, diverse, mixed culture. Cubans display their customs and culture as a part of their identity for others to appreciate.
5 Must-Eat Traditional Dishes of Cuba
Cuba is famous for its delicious and hearty dishes that make you feel like home when you eat them. There are so many that it might be difficult to choose what you want to try when you visit, so here are some suggestions that are a must.
1. Ropa vieja
Don’t let the name fool you! While this dish’s name means “old clothes,” it’s actually exploding with flavor. This delicious dish consists of soft and tender shredded beef cooked with tomatoes, served often with a side of rice. Some people like to add beans and other vegetables, but honestly, just the rice and meat is enough to make your mouth water!
The tostones are made with green plantain, also called platano macho (male plantain) . People prepare this dish by smashing the unripe plantains into flat circles, and then frying them.
Tostones are an easy and fast snack to prepare, and you can eat them alone or as a side dish with rice, beans or salsa.
These are deep-fried, donut-like treats made from yuca. They taste sweet, especially when you dip them in aniseed syrup. The consistency of the buñuelos is really light, flaky, and crunchy at the same time. Eat them with coffee or tea as a great midafternoon snack.
4. Rice and Beans
This is a delicious and simple meal, perfect after long days of visiting the streets and parks in Havana, or to regain your strength at lunch for an afternoon full of adventures and good times.
This dish is simple, as it consists only of seasoned beans and rice. But you can also add some fancy ingredients, like bacon, chives, vegetables, and even more meat! This simple dish is famous in and outside of Cuba.
5. Cuban Sandwich
A sandwich as a meal is never a bad idea, they are easy to prepare and usually cheap. But the cuban sandwich is taking this delicious simple food to the next level. Also known as a Cubano, this dish consists of layers of roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, and pickles all between a piece of light and flaky cuban bread, and pressed and toasted to perfection.
5 Must-Do Cultural Activities in Cuba
With a culture so rich, it’s no surprise the Cubans have a lot of festivals and activities all year long. The best part? You are always welcome to enjoy them if you go to visit!
Here are some of the most famous festivals you can attend while on the island.
1. The Burial of Pachencho (El entierro de Pachencho)
Celebrated in Santiago de la Vegas—a small town near Havana—every February 5, el entierro de Pachencho is a unique celebration where life is celebrated and death is mocked. The festivity consists in an enactment of a burial, when the “dead man” is revived at the end of it all because he still has a lot of things to do and enjoy.
2. The Brass Bands of Bejucal (Las charangas de Bejucal)
Celebrated every year on Noche buena (Christmas Eve), this celebration has been considered National Cultural Patrimony in Cuba since 2015. The only requisite for attendance is to show up on December 24 with lots of energy and the desire to dance.
It consists of something like a “band battle” between two parties: el alacrán (scorpion) and el gallo (rooster). It’s an amazing performative celebration, where you find yourself so involved you can’t do anything else but participate.
3. The Parties of Remedios (Las parrandas de Remedios)
This is one of the most famous celebrations in Cuba. Parranda means “party”—but not any kind of party. Usually a parranda begins really early and ends really late, with a lot of dancing, food, and good times in between.
This parranda takes place in San Juan de los Remedios from December 8 to the 24. Two neighbors dispute which one is the best through dancing, dynamism, who is the loudest and happiest, and who dresses better. There are fireworks every night, and people celebrate non-stop for several weeks.
4. The Fire Festival (La fiesta del fuego)
This festival is celebrated the first week of July, in Santiago de Cuba. The Santiagueros—which is the name people call those who live in Santiago—are the ones who give life to this festival, with their energy and rhythm.
If you attend, you’ll find yourself dancing to the beat of drums and trumpets, and enjoying the delicious aroma of roasted pig, the smell of rain, and the usual heat of the season.
5. San Juan Camagüeyano
This celebration begins at midnight on June 24 in the city of Camagüey. This festival includes festive floats, comparsas—groups of singers, musicians, and dancers—and live music. It presents an amazing opportunity to watch the rhythm of the Cubans in action, and to be part of the celebration, too.
4 Must-See Places to Visit in Cuba
With warm weather all year round, and two seasons, Cuba is perfect for tourism, an activity that supports a lot of the economy of the island.
Here are some of the most amazing places you can mark in your map so you can visit them on your next trip to Cuba.
1. Santa Lucía Beach
Situated in the Atlantic Ocean in the Santa Lucia key, this beautiful beach is on the north coast of the Camaguey province. With an extension of 13 miles (22 km) of white sand and blue-turquoise water, with some secluded areas perfect for more privacy and really close to one of the largest coral formations in the world.
2. Havana’s Cathedral
Also known as la Catedral de San Cristóbal, this church is one of eleven Catholic Churches in Cuba. It is ubicated in Old Havana. The remains of Christoper Columbus were kept inside this cathedral from 1976 to 1898. Havana’s cathedral was built with coral stone, in a baroque architectural style. You can’t go to Havana and don’t visit this place, it is so beautiful and breathtaking.
3. Santiago de Cuba
This is the second largest city in Cuba and visiting it is a definite must on your list. There is so much to do in a city as big as this one, so you won’t get bored! Santiago mixes modern architecture with the classic colonial buildings, and its rich Afro-Caribbean heritage is the reason for its classification as the “most Carribean city” in the country. Here you can visit the colonial Castillo de (Castle of) San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, the Cespedes Park, the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, and the museum Casa de Diego Velazquez.
4. Topes de Collantes National Park
This beautiful natural reserve in Cuba in la Sierra del Escambray is at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level, and it is a perfect place to visit while on the island. The highest peak is Pico San Juan (San Juan Peak) and its protected natural landscape is extremely useful for scientific and biological research. Additionally, its spa is perfect to visit—especially after walking el sendero Vegas Grandes or visiting el Salto del Carbuní, which is an amazing waterfall in the middle of the reserve.
Keep In Mind When Traveling to Cuba
It’s no news that coronavirus is still an important health and sanitary situation to keep in mind when searching for flights to Cuba, or anywhere in the world for that matter. So let’s talk about what we need to do before we arrive in Cuba for the next tourist season.
First and foremost, you need a traveling card, also known as a Cuban Visa.
To enter Cuba at this moment you need to:
- Present a negative result for a PCR COVID-19 test
- Be able to quarantine if necessary
- Be mindful of the restrictions and lockdown while visiting
For more details you can check this post.
Practice Spanish With a Native Speaker Before Your Trip
Don’t leave your Spanish studies and practice to the last minute! Sign up for a free, 1-on-1 class with our native Spanish teachers and prepare for your next trip to Cuba.
Learning Spanish to travel throughout Spanish-speaking countries is a great way to connect with the locals in a holistic way the usual language barrier doesn’t allow you. And not only that! You will be able to pick on all the details and keep up with what is going on around you.
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