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Land and Resources

Windward Passage, Nuevitas, nickel mines, Isle of Pines, intensive cultivation

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The main island of Cuba covers 105,006 sq km (40,543 sq mi). It is 1,199 km (745 mi) long and 200 km (124 mi) across its widest and 35 km (22 mi) across its narrowest points. Isla de la Juventud, or the Isle of Youth (formerly known as Isla de los Pinos or the Isle of Pines), off Cuba’s southwest shore, covers 3,056 sq km (1,180 sq mi). Four sets of smaller archipelagos—the Sabana, the Colorados, the Jardines de la Reina, and the Canarreos—and numerous other islands make up the rest of the republic.

Three-quarters of Cuba’s land area is fertile, rolling country consisting of plains and basins with sufficient naturally occurring water to allow for intensive cultivation. The soil mostly consists of red clay with some sand and limestone hills. Cuba is unique among the Caribbean islands because so much of its land area is arable and accessible to harbors. The access to harbors enables Cubans to transport agricultural products easily for shipment to foreign markets.

Cuba has three major mountain ranges. In the west the Sierra de los Organos range rises to the height of 800 m (2,500 ft) above sea level. In the south central region, the Sierra de Trinidad, or the Escambray mountains, tower 1,150 m (3,800 ft) above sea level and overlook the colonial city of Trinidad. In the east, Cuba’s tallest mountains are in the Sierra Maestra, topped by Real de Turquino peak at 2,005 m (6,578 ft) above sea level. The Sierra Maestra soar near the Caribbean’s Windward Passage, a strip of water that separates Cuba and Haiti.

Cuba has several other prominent mountains and hills. Lying north of the Sierra Maestra are the Baracoa Highlands, which climb to 1,230 m (4,050 ft) above sea level. In the far western end of the island are large, haystack-shaped eruptions called mogotes in Spanish. These unique hills form the Sierra de los Organos, which rise steeply from flat, lush valleys to heights of more than 300 m (1,000 ft).

Cuba’s 3,735-km (2,321-mi) coastline has deep harbors, coral islands, and white, sandy beaches to the north. On the southern shore are coral islands, reefs, and swamps. The largest harbors are Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Nuevitas, Guantanamo, and Santiago de Cuba. Since the arrival of European explorers in 1492, Cuba’s harbors have served transatlantic fleets in trade, ship repair, and naval defense.

Rivers and Lakes

Of Cuba’s 200 rivers, only 2 are navigable. The Cauto, located in the southeast and 343 km (213 mi) long, provides only 120 km (75 mi) of transport waterway. The Sagua la Grande, in central Cuba, is large enough to provide hydroelectric power and is navigable for short stretches. Several waterfalls throughout the island provide small amounts of hydroelectric power. The rest of the rivers are small and shallow, but several are internationally known for their trophy-sized fish.

Natural Resources

The land and climate of Cuba favor agriculture, and some 28 percent of the land is cultivated. Only about one-fifth of the island is still forested. The country also has significant mineral reserves. The nickel mines located in northeastern Cuba are the most important reserves, along with deposits of chromium, copper, iron, and manganese. Reserves of sulfur, cobalt, pyrites, gypsum, asbestos, petroleum, salt, sand, clay, and limestone are also exploited. All subsurface deposits are the property of the government.


Cuba’s geographical expanse and the varieties of mountain ranges, savannas, caves, swamps, beaches, and tropical rain forests produce microclimates, small regions that exhibit differing temperatures, rainfalls, soil conditions, wildlife, and vegetation. The climate of Cuba is semitropical, the mean annual temperature being 25°C (77°F). The temperature ranges from an average of 23°C (73°F) in January to an average of 28°C (82°F) in August. The heat and high relative humidity (80 percent) of the summer season are tempered by the prevailing northeasterly trade winds. The annual rainfall averages 1,320 mm (52 in). More than 60 percent of the rain falls during the wet season, which extends from May to October. The island lies in a region traversed occasionally by violent tropical hurricanes during August, September, and October.

Article key phrases:

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