The Cuban population is a melting pot of ethnic mixes from every corner of the world. In the early days, slaves cross- bred with masters creating the mulattos of today. Later, people of Russian, Chinese, and European descent created the make up of today’s Cuba. Nevertheless, three dominant societies blended, giving shape to the Cuban nation. The first of these societies were the aborigines. It is for this reason, the more significant roots in the Cuban nationality are Spanish and African. During the first century, after the Spanish conquests, most groups came from Castile, southern Spain. Later there was a massive migration from the Canary Islands, Galicia, and Catalonia into Cuba. During the last century, eastern European and Chinese immigrants further enriched the unique racial mix which makes up Cuba today.
African roots also influenced the development of Cuban culture. Arriving slaves working at the plantations gave rise to cultural associations among the African communities. In the present definition of Cuban culture, these three roots shape the basis of traditions, culture and popular beliefs.
Santiago de Cuba
Located in the eastern part of Cuba, and with nearly half of the province of Santiago de Cuba's million inhabitants in residence, the city of Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba. Its mean annual temperature is between 69.8 and 79.3F, with a high of 89F. The climate of Santiago is divided into two seasons: the rainy season from May to October; and the dry season from November to April. Rainfalls are between 47 and 82 inches annually, with an average relative humidity of 71.
Santiago is encircled by the Sierra Maestra mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean. Its harbor, too deep to be upset by sea storms, is one of the most important harbors in the country. Santiago receives a great number of vessels with a remarkable flow of goods. Many famous expeditions disembarked from this important city. Hernan Cortes, conquistador of Mexico, left from the harbors of Santiago, and later became the city’s first mayor.
pFounded in 1515 by Spanish settlers, Santiago de Cuba ("Santiago") was the island’s first capital, and remained so until 1550. Regarded by many to be the "Capital of the Caribbean," Santiago is Havana’s rival with respect to politics, music, and culture. In fact, the foundations for most of the cultural movements that would later become popular in the Caribbean can be traced to Santiago.
Frenchmen and Haitians fleeing the slave revolt in Haiti in the early 19th century settled in Santiago and heavily influenced the city's development. The immigrants brought their culture, dance, and music in the form of the trova (song movement), which combines French violins, Afro-Caribbean traditions, and Cuban folk music. In addition, it was the French immigrant population who built the first theatre in Santiago in 1799, adding to the historical significance of the architecture of the city.
Castillo de San Pedro (El Morro to the locals), an important 16th century fort, was declared "World Heritage" by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1997.
Camaguey, Cuba's third largest city overall and largest inland, is the capitol of the sprawling Camaguey province. It was one of the original towns founded by the first Spanish colonists (albeit in a different location and with a different name).
Today it is known for it's gracefully decaying churches, its many preserved colonial buildings and it's confusing, irregular street plan (the story that it was a deliberate ploy to deter attacking pirates is a urban legend, which was pretty unsuccessful in any case). Today most tourists tend to by-pass the city and its' considerable attractions to head for the coastal resort at Playa Santa Lucia. More relaxing and less tourist-orientated than Havana or Santiago, Camaguey is well worth a visit.
Havana (La Habana) is the largest city in the Caribbean and the center of all things Cuban. Despite its turbulent history, Havana suffered little damage in the wars and revolutions, and stands today much as it was built. There's an air faded glory about the city as big 50s and 60s American automobiles still dominate the streets and paint and plaster peel off everywhere. The city is peppered with glorious Spanish colonial architecture, much of which is under restoration. Havana has a swinging nightlife, with cinemas, historic theatres, cabarets, nightclubs and music venues that will exhaust even the most hardened campaigner.
Nowhere else but in the streets of Old Havana is the Spanish colonial architecture so abundant. Everywhere you look is a unique image waiting to be recorded. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, La Habana Vieja is one of the oldest settlements in the America's - full of charming, weatherworn buildings and narrow, intriguing roadways.
You needn't be an architecture buff to be instantly disarmed by the delightful atmosphere enveloping this city. Walking the streets of Havana Vieja will sweep even the most unsentimental of travelers from their feet. Crawling along in Havana's subtropical heat you will welcome these unique opportunities to meet ordinary Cubans.
Havana has grown immensely since then, and La Habana Vieja long ago spread past its old defensive walls into the neighboring areas of Centro Habana. That is where La Habana Vieja comes in. Drenched in history, it is a truly awe-inspiring place to wander aimlessly among churches, museums, gallerias and memorials. Street after street is graced with grand facades, boasting massive wooden doors, barred windows and narrow sidewalks.
Relaxing in open doorways, Cubans chat for all to hear with neighbors down the street. Strolling along the Bahia del la Habana on Avenida del Puerto, you will encounter the Castillo Real de la Fuerza. Built between 1558 and 1577, it is the oldest colonial fortress in the Americas and affords an excellent view across the harbor entrance. An art gallery sits on the main floor, where the massive stone walls offer cool respite from soaring Havana temperatures.
Tiny Trinidad, whose days of prosperity are preserved in aspic, is, quite simply, one of the finest colonial towns in all of the Americas. Wholly disproportionate to its small size, Trinidad ranks as one of Cuba's greatest attractions. Only a few square blocks of cobblestone streets, pretty pastel-colored 18th- and 19th-century houses, palaces, and plazas, Trinidad can be seen in just a few hours. But its serenity is so soothing that many visitors are easily coaxed into much longer stays. Magically frozen in time and tastefully scruffy where it needs to be, the streets tend to be more populated by horse-drawn carts than automobile traffic, and old folks still crouch by windows, behind fancy wrought-iron grilles, to peer out at passersby.
Founded in 1514 on the site of a native Taíno settlement, Villa de la Santísima Trinidad was the fourth of Diego Velázquez's original seven villas. Trinidad quickly grew and later prospered in princely fashion from the sugar-cane industry concentrated in the outlying Valle de los Ingenios. The sugar boom that took root by the mid-1700s created a coterie of wealthy local sugar barons, who built magnificent estates in the valley and manor houses in town and imported thousands of African slaves to work the fields. Trinidad's golden age, though, proved to be short-lived. Slave uprisings on plantations, intense European competition, and, finally, independence struggles throughout the Caribbean all took their toll on the Cuban sugar industry.
Pinar del Rio
The Vuelta Abajo region is the greatest tobacco producer of the world. Pinar del Rio and San Luis Guane are the highest quality tobacco leaves destined to the export. The coffee production, introduced in the 19th century in Rosario mountain range by the French, fell in declivity with the expansion of sugar cane production. In the San Cristobal, Candelaria, and Bahia Honda y Vinales counties there is still an impressive landscape formed by coffee plantations.
Now the province has become a paradise for the rural tourist. Hiking, fishing, hunting and cave exploration are activities that can be experienced by the traveler.
The colonial town of Cienfuegos was founded in 1819 in the Spanish territory but was initially settled by immigrants of French origin. It became a trading place for sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Situated on the Caribbean coast of southern-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the town first developed in the neoclassical style. It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape.
Among buildings of particular interest are the Government Palace (City Hall), San Lorenzo School, the Bishopric, the Ferrer Palace, the former lyceum, and some residential houses. Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architerctural ensemble representing the new ideas of medernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.