Official name: Republic of Cuba
Area: 110,860 square kilometers (42,803 square miles)
Highest point on mainland : Pico Turquino (2,005 meters/6,578 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres : Northern and Western
Time zone: 7 A.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 89 kilometers (55 miles) from north to south; 1,223 kilometers (760 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries : None
Coastline: 3,735 kilometers (2,017 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
The long, narrow island of Cuba has a shape that has been compared to a cigar caught between the fingers of Florida and the Yucatán Peninsula. It is flanked by Jamaica on the south, Hispaniola on the southeast, and the Bahamas on the northeast. Slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, Cuba extends some 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) from Cape Maisí on the east to Cape San Antonio on the west, about the distance from New York to Chicago. The largest of the West Indian islands, its territory almost equals that of all the other islands combined. In addition to the main island, the Cuban archipelago includes the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines) near the south coast in the Gulf of Batabanó plus over one thousand coastal cays and islets.
Cuba has no territories or dependencies.
Cuba has a pleasant subtropical climate strongly influenced by gentle northeast trade winds, which shift slightly to the east in the summer. The island's long, tapered shape allows the moderating sea breezes to cool all regions, and there are no pronounced seasonal variations in temperature. July and August are the warmest months, and February is the coolest. The wet summer season is between May and October, and the drier winter season runs from November through April. Annual rainfall averages over 180 centimeters (70 inches) in the mountains, 90 to 140 centimeters (35 to 55 inches) in the lowlands, and 65 centimeters (26 inches) at Guantanamo Bay. On average, rain falls on Cuba 85 to 100 days per year with three-quarters of it falling during the wet season. The humidity varies between 75 percent and 95 percent year-round. The eastern coast is subject to hurricanes from August to October, and the country averages about one hurricane every year. Droughts are also common.
|S EASON||M ONTHS||A VERAGE TEMPERATURE|
|Summer||May to September||27°C (81°F)|
|Winter||November to March||22°C (72°F)|
Well over half of the terrain consists of flat or rolling plains with a great deal of rich soil well suited to the cultivation of sugarcane, the dominant crop. There are rugged hills and mountains in the southeast, and the most extensive mountainous zone of Cuba lies near its eastern extremity. Smaller mountain zones with lower elevations occur near the midsection and in the far west.
Cuba is cradled between the Caribbean Sea to its south, the North Atlantic Ocean to its northeast, and the Gulf of Mexico to its northwest.
Cuba is surrounded by coral reefs.
Cuba is separated from Florida to the north by the Straits of Florida, and from Hispaniola to the southeast by the narrow Windward Passage. Off the central northern coast, the sea-lane of the Old Bahama Channel at some points is only ten miles wide as it passes between the Cuban shelf and the shallows of the Great Bahama Bank. The Gulf of Batabanó borders the northwestern end of Cuba's Caribbean coast.
The 220-square-kilometer (570-square-mile) Isla de la Juventud is the westernmost island in a chain of smaller islands, the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, which extends 110 kilometers (68 miles) across the Gulf of Batabanó. The extreme northwestern coast of Cuba is flanked by the Archipiélago de los Colorados. Offshore to the north of Sagua la Grande lie the islands of the Archipiélago de Sabana. East of those islands, stretching around the coast from Morón to Neuyitas, is the Archipiélago de Camagüey, the largest of the archipelagos that surround Cuba. Overall, about 4,200 coral cays and islets surround Cuba, most of them low-lying and uninhabited.
Except for near its western tip, a wealth of excellent harbors indent Cuba's shoreline. The coastline includes more than 289 natural beaches. In the north, the beaches tend to be longer and whiter with rolling surf and undertow, while the southern beaches are darker, feature sea urchins, and are rockier or more swampy. While rugged beaches comprise most of the northern coast, swamps still occur there, as well as on the Isla de la Juventud.
Cuba's coastline is indented by some of the world's finest natural harbors. There are about two hundred in all, and many are shaped like pouches or bottlenecks, with narrow entrances that broaden into spacious deepwater anchorages. Ports on the north coast with these kinds of harbors include Mariel, Havana, and Nueyitas. South coast bottleneck ports include Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Crenfuegos. The principal open bay ports, Cárdenas and Matanzas, are located on the north coast.
There are no large lakes in Cuba, but many coastal swamplands extend throughout the country. Zapata Swamp, the largest on the island, covers more than 4,403 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) on the Zapata Peninsula.
About two hundred rivers run northward or southward from an interior watershed and are predominantly short and rapid. They provide good drainage but are not generally suitable for navigation.
There are no deserts on Cuba.
Almost two-thirds of the Cuban landscape consists of flatlands and rolling plains. Cattle graze on these fertile flatlands, and sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco are grown there. Three-fourths of the national territory consists of grasslands, hills, and the lower and gentler mountain slopes.
The Oriental, Central, and Occidental Mountains cover 25 percent of the country. The loftiest mountain system is the Sierra Maestra; it is the steepest of the Cuban ranges, and its peaks include the country's highest summit: Pico Turquino, at 2,005 meters (6,578 feet). The southeastern tip of the island is mostly mountainous and includes such ranges as the Sierra de Nipe, the Sierra de Nicaro, the Sierra del Cristal, and the Cuchillas de Toa. The Escam-bray Mountains are the principal mountains of central Cuba. They are located in the southern part of that region, and are separated by the Agabama River into two ranges: the Sierra de Trinidad in the west and the Sierra de Sancti Spíritus in the east. The principal ranges of the western highlands are the Sierra del Rosario and the Sierra de los Organos.
The limestone formations known as karst are most characteristic of the western highlands, where they form numerous sinkholes and underground caverns.
Situated in Cuba's western highlands, known collectively as the Cordillera de Guaniguanico, are limestone formations weathered into strange shapes. Ranks of tall, erosion-resistant limestone columns resembling organ pipes gave the Sierra de los Organos its name.
Cuba's infrastructure includes such impressive engineering feats as: the Havana Sewer Tunnel (1912); the Carretera Central (Central Road) (1931), a 1,139-kilometer (708-mile) thoroughfare that spans the island from west to east; the Bay Tunnel (1958), which expanded access to eastern Havana by allowing travel under Havana Bay; and the Viaducto de La Farola (La Farola Viaduct) (1965) connecting Guantánamo and Baracoa.
Desembarco del Granma National Park, a park in southwest Cuba near Cabo Cruz, features dramatic cliffs lining the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as limestone terraces uplifted by geological forces.
Baker, Christopher. Moon Handbooks: Cuba. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000.
Coe, Andrew. Cuba. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.
Stanley, David. Cuba. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2000.