History of Cuba

The history of Cuba is rich and fascinating, ranging from Spanish occupation to the infamous Cuban revolution masterminded by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Touring Cuba's historical areas, cities and buildings can be an exciting aspect of our tailor made itineraries, so join us on this brief history of Cuba, where we outline the most memorable moments of the island's past...

Early in Cuba's history, when Christopher Columbus visited Cuba in 1492, he declared it a tropical paradise and visitors today will still find the beautiful unspoilt landscape that impressed Columbus so much! The Spanish arrived after Columbus and colonised Cuba for almost 400 years until their departure in 1899. The Spanish influence on Cuban history has been retained in the intriguing Cuban architecture.

After this, in the 19th century, Cuban history was dominated by its value to the world economy as the world's leading sugar cane producer. European settlers arrived to try to benefit from the wealth to be made in Cuba, and sugar cane production brought in slaves from Africa to work on the plantations. Once slavery was abolished, the African community continued to thrive on the island, and later large numbers of Chinese migrants arrived in the early 1900's creating the biggest Chinatown in Latin America. Although smaller than it was, Chinatown still exists in Havana and can be found behind the Capitolio building. This mix of immigration has contributed to the culturally diverse sounds, sights and flavours you'll experience when touring Cuba.

Prior to Castro, there was another revolutionary hero in Cuba's history: Jose Marti. Jose Marti was born in Havana to Spanish parents but opposed Spanish rule of the island. He died in combat in 1895 but remains a national hero of Cuban history, both for his attempts to remove the island's rulers and for his poetry.

The United States was involved in Cuba's historical removal of the Spanish. The US only managed to replace the Spanish with their own dictators, including Fulgencio Batista, who was eventually overthrown by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the infamous Cuban revolution. Batista was largely unconcerned by the needs of Cuban people, and instead made Cuba the 1950's playground of the United States. Many famous people visited the island at this point in Cuba's history, and the Nacional Hotel in Havana became the centre of this party playground. There was, however, also investment from the American underworld in gambling, corruption and drugs, and Cuban land was sold to overseas investors taking money away from the people.

In 1953 Fidel Castro led the first failed coup at the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Castro then planned a further attempt while exiled in Mexico and, together with Che Guevara, returned to Cuba in 1959, taking two years to defeat Batista and complete the revolution - the most famous part of Cuban history. Castro's first duties of business were to remove ownership of land, end illiteracy, improve healthcare and raise the quality of life for the people.

Castro's era of Cuban history got off to a difficult start, as the island was to be isolated from much of the world, in particular the United States, their close neighbour. Financial blockades imposed by the United States created hardships for the Cuban people but support came from other communist allies. In the late 1980's, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of the USSR, Cuba lost financial support from the Soviet Union and entered a time from 1990-1994 known in Cuban history as the ``periodo especial''. A lack of fuel caused power blackouts and food was in short supply. Cuba needed to look for alternative foreign investment and Fidel Castro accepted the need for the country to be less isolated. Tourism was to become the focus for Cuba, and with its beautiful landscape, pristine beaches and friendly people it became a fast growing destination for foreign travellers. Today, tourism in Cuba is the country's biggest industry, but the island is still able to offer 'off-the-beaten-track' destinations for visitors. Tourists are able to combine a fantastic beach holiday with an opportunity to capture a sense of the fascinating history of Cuba. There has never been a better time to take a holiday in Cuba than now!


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