Cuba is a country that has been shrouded in mystery ever since the United States government banned travel for Americans there in 1962. Since then, Americans haven’t been able to explore the country, unless they had explicit permission from their government – or went in via Canada.
Now, the United States and Cuba are improving diplomatic relations, and there is talk that soon, we’ll all be able to visit the country freely. Still, in the past 50+ years, a lot has transpired. Here are 40 strange facts about the country you probably haven’t seen – and some of them will make you want to go as soon as possible.
#35. It has snowed once in Cuba: On March 12, 1857.
#34. It is mandatory for government vehicles to pick up hitchhikers.
#33. A drink of rum and coke and lime is called a “Cuba Libre” in Latin America except in Cuba. There, it’s called a “mentirita,” or “little lie.”
#32. In Cuba, ballerinas are at the height of stardom and popularity. In fact, they often earn more money than doctors.
#31. Only 5% of Cubans actually have access to the uncensored, open Internet.
#30. Cuba is the only country that Americans need government permission to visit.
#29. It’s illegal to take a photograph of any military, police or airport personnel in Cuba.
#28. Fidel Castro grew a beard because the US embargo cut off his supply of razors.
#27. Cross-dressing is illegal in Cuba.
#26. Found in Cuba, the Manjuari is a fish not found anywhere else in the world.
#25. The United States pays Cuba $4,085 a month in rent for the controversial Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Cuba has never cashed the checks.
#24. Cuba is the natural habitat of the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world.
#23. On New Year’s Eve, Cubans burn dolls in order to symbolize forgetting bad times and looking forward to new and good times during the New Year.
#22. The CIA operation to invade Cuba and take down Castro was dubbed “Operation Castration.” There were at least 8 plots the CIA worked up to kill or discredit Castro – one of them even involved an exploding seashell.
#21. The aerial view of Cuba resembles an alligator, and it’s sometimes referred to as Ell Coccodrillo.
#20. When Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, he immediately ordered all game sets of Monopoly to be destroyed.
#19. Cuba is one of two countries where the sale of Coca-Cola is prohibited.
#18. John F. Kennedy bought 1,200 Cuban cigars hours before he ordered the US trade embargo.
#17. South Korean soap operas are popular in Cuba – apparently they just love the drama of it all.
#16. Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” while living in Cuba.
#15. Blowing your nose in public is considered to be extremely rude.
#14. Cuba had over 150 nuclear weapons at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
#13. Until 2008 Cubans couldn’t buy their own computers.
#12. In Cuba, sex change operations have been permitted since 2007. They’re also covered under the national health care system.
#11. There is a statue of John Lennon in Cuba’s John Lennon Park. The glasses have been stolen so many times, there is now a guard there to hold them.
#10. There is a native species of leaping Cuban crocodile. It’s highly endangered, and totally terrifying.
#9. The US attempted to invade Cuba several times. In 1848, they decided to give up and offered Spain $100 million dollars for Cuba, but the offer was rejected.
#8. Cuba has over 200 bays and 250 beaches to explore, meaning there is no shortage of fun in the sun.
#7. Christmas did not become an official holiday in Cuba until 1997.
#6. In Cuba, cigars are called puros or habanos. One company makes all the premium brands for the country.
#5. Cubans were prohibited from owning cell phones until 2008.
#4. Bacardi rum was originally manufactured in Cuba. The production moved to Puerto Rico after Fidel Castro took over.
#3. Cuba holds one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.8%.
#2. Cuba has two different currencies: One is used by tourists, and the other is used by Cubans.
#1. Until 2011, there was an import ban on cars in Cuba. That meant that the majority of the cars on the road were classic cards from the 50’s.