The largest and most populous island in the Caribbean, the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Largely uncorrupted by the over exposure to commercial tourism that has blighted some other Caribbean destinations, Cuba still retains its sense of adventure and mystery and its reputation as one of the most fascinating countries in the Americas.

Cuba's original inhabitants were the Ciboney about a thousand years ago. In 1511, forces from Spain claimed the island as a Spanish territory. The Spanish forced many of the native people into slave labor. Most died from overwork and from diseases brought by the Europeans. Hundreds of thousands of African slaves were then brought to Cuba, mainly to plant and harvest sugarcane.In the early 1800s, Cuba's sugarcane industry boomed, requiring massive numbers of black slaves. A simmering independence movement turned into open warfare from 1867 to 1878. Slavery was abolished in 1886. In 1895, the poet José Marti led the struggle that finally ended Spanish rule, thanks largely to U.S. intervention in 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor.An 1899 treaty made Cuba an independent republic under U.S. protection. The U.S. occupation, which ended in 1902, suppressed yellow fever and brought large American investments. The 1901 Platt Amendment allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba's affairs, which it did four times from 1906 to 1920. Cuba terminated the amendment in 1934.The United States had a strong influence over the island until 1959, when the revolutionary army led by Fidel Castro, took control.