Think you know Cuba? Learn more about what this tropical vacation destination has to offer Canadian travellers
Number of beaches in Cuba: More than 300
Cuba is approximately 600 kilometres from east to west, so with 300 beaches, do the math. Cuba’s beaches range from the popular and stunning white sands of Varadero, a 25-kilometre stretch; beaches are reachable all along the island, some belong to resorts but many are open to the public. Closest to Havana are the Playas del Este, roughly a half-hour by taxi east of the city.
Average hours of sun per day: Eight
Bring your sunscreen, and use it! The amount of sunshine peaks in spring, when it averages nine hours per day. It can be more overcast in October and December, when sunshine averages six hours per day, but remember, that Cuban sun can be intense.
Number of UNESCO World Heritage sites: Nine
The charming beauty of Old Havana is just one of many UNESCO sites in a land that has more World Heritage sites than any other place in the Caribbean. From the island’s first coffee plantations in the southeast foothills of the Sierra Maestra to rare species of birds and lizards in Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and the brightly-coloured buildings of Trinidad, there’s an eye-popping area of heritage and history for everyone.
Ingredients in a traditional Cubano sandwich: Six
Sure, you can get a replica of a Cubano at many coffee shops in many countries (and there is some controversy about where the sandwich originated) but there’s nothing like the real thing. Cuban bread, sliced ham, roast pork, swiss cheese and garnished with butter, mustard and dill, wrapped in foil and grilled — you’re probably hungry just reading this.
Number of daiquiris served in El Floridita per day: More than 3,000
“Mi daiquiri en El Floridita,” is what Ernest Hemingway is believed to have said about his regular drink at his favourite bar. He may not have polished off 3,000 in a day, but visitors do at this popular must-see bar, which seems frozen in the 1950s. Speaking of frozen, the recipe of white rum, demerara sugar, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and ice, all blended until slushy, remains a classic to this day.
How long it takes to learn how to become a professional mambo dancer: More than one year
So you think you can dance? It’s not easy to master the mambo moves, but visitors can learn the basics at one of the many mambo shows at hotels and clubs all over Cuba. These shows usually feature at least one couple that has worked for more than a year to become mambo kings and queens.
Dancers on stage in the finale at the Tropicana: Approximately 200
Few experiences are more memorable than the nightclub under the stars in Havana. It’s a glorious extravaganza with amazing costumes, lights, music the makes you move and elaborate dance numbers. After the Tropicana, you’ll be humming “Guantanamera” all the way home.
How many members in the original Buena Vista Social Club: 20
Sometimes if feels like every great musician you meet in Havana — and there are many — will take you to what he or she says is the “original” Buena Vista Social Club. There actually was an original club, but by the 1990s locals in Havana couldn’t all agree on where it stood. The Buena Vista Social Club musicians are an ensemble that got together in 1996; they were championed by American musician Ry Cooder, celebrated in a movie and their music flourishes not only in Cuba now, but around the world.
Number of cigars an expert Cuban cigar-roller can produce in a day: More than 200
Cigar rolling is an art, and any cigar lover will tell you that there is nothing quite like a Cuban cigar. Since 1865, rollers have worked through their day to the sound of lectores, or storytellers, who read news, novels, stories, horoscopes or recipes. Visitors can arrange to see a cigar rolling factory — it’s like a podcast without the pod or the casting, just the lectore.
Flavours of ice cream offered at Coppelia: 14
Coppelia is not just Cuba’s most famous ice cream parlours, it’s one of the most renowned places to get ice cream in the world. Opened in 1966 in the centre of Havana, it was designed by Cuban architect Mario Giorna and became a meeting place for Cubans, who would line up for hours and pass the time talking and making friends. It opened with 26 flavours, though Coppelia was relaunched in mid-2019 with a more limited set of 14 choices.
Baseball teams in the Cuban national baseball system: 16
Cubans have been playing beisbol about as long as Americans, and they boast some of the best ballplayers in the world. The 60,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericno is spare and spartan, but it’s fun, and you can cheer for Havana’s home team, the Industriales.
Years since the city of Havana was founded: 500
Habana was founded on November 16, 1519 under the shade of a ceiba tree that is still growing in the old city, near the El Templete church on Plaza de Armas. Make a wish under the tree, or hire a 1957 Plymouth or Ford and take a tour of the town today. Five centuries later, you’ll see that this city, now with more than two million people, is one of the most instinctively resilient and interesting places on earth.
All illustrations by Emblem.
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