Terrain shapes and bedrock
COUNTRYAAH, Cuba is elongated and has a weak arch shape, much like
the island chain it is part of, the Great Antilles.
Mountain areas occupy only a quarter of the area,
although the island, with its southernmost part, is part of
the alpine mountain range that extends westward from
Hispaniola to the west and meets Central America at the
height of northern Honduras and western Guatemala and
continues toward Mexico. The mountain range in Cuba extends
along the southern coast of the Oriente area. It is called
Sierra Maestra and has the country's highest peak, Turquino,
1,974 m above sea level.
In the middle of the island is a smaller highland, Sierra
de Trinidad, with hill topography and a peak, San Juan, at
1,156 m asl. It, like the highland area in the westernmost
part of the island, belongs to the so-called alturas,
regions of Cuba with moderate altitude. The highland area to
the west, the Guaniguanico chain, which also includes the
Sierra de los Órganos and the Sierra del Rosario, has a very
peculiar, tropical karst topography.
In the limestone, the rainwater has formed karst plains,
over which cone-shaped karst mountains rise up to 300 m
above the surroundings. Between these are rows of hollow
shapes, such as dolines, caves and canyon valleys. The water
flowing here often disappears below the karst cones and then
emerges in the form of karst springs.
The bedrock in Cuba is made up of sedimentary rocks of
Jurassic and Cretaceous. Crystalline shales and other
tertiary rocks are located in the southeastern mountain
range. Many areas with tertiary volcanic bedrock testify to
previous volcanic activity. Along the coasts, the rocks are
mostly from Quaternary times.
About two-thirds of Cuba, are plains and low hill
landscapes, e.g. Santiago de Cubas and Guantánamos basin
areas in the southeast. A large central valley sink leads
into a pen plane and extends west over most of the island
and is the site of extensive sugarcane cultivation. Many of
the coastal plains in Cuba are marshlands, especially around
the Cauto River in the east, on the Guanahacabi Peninsula
furthest to the west and on the Zapata Peninsula with the
Western and Eastern Zapata Peninsula on both sides of the
Gulf of Gris.
The drainage of the island takes place through a large
number of short rivers with a small amount of water, most of
which flow south. Large groundwater resources are utilized,
especially in the Havana Province. The lakes in Cuba are
small and of the type freshwater and saltwater lagoons.
The soil of the island shows great variation due to
changing topography and bedrock. A large number of soil
types have emerged, most with good fertility and suitable
for cultivation. Particularly known is the so-called red
earth, where the sugar cane cultivation is located. It is
formed by weathering of tertiary limestone and sandstone and
has a high porosity, which makes surface runoff and soil
erosion very low.
Cuba has a long coastline, which is very irregular and
flaky. The coast is mostly surrounded by coral reefs and is
designed both as a rocky steep coast with rows of caves and
as a flat coast with wide sandy bays, mangrove beaches and
Cuba is located just south of the northern tropic and
thus in the tropical climate zone. It is also quite close to
the subtropical high-pressure cell in the Atlantic and is
therefore under the influence of the northeast passage,
which means relatively abundant rainfall, or on average
1,400 mm per year, more inland than on the coasts. The rain
falls mainly during a rainy season, which lasts from May to
October. The climate can therefore be classified as a
tropical savannah climate.
The average temperature for the year is 26 °C and the
annual amplitude is quite small. Thus, January has an
average temperature of 22 °C and August 28 °C. The night
temperature during December to February can often fall to 10
°C, and during the summer the temperature of the day can
rise to 38 °C on the southern coast. Between July and
October, the country is often hit by tropical hurricanes.
They usually achieve high wind speeds with a great deal of
damage to buildings and port facilities and also produce
large amounts of rain. During the dry season, the island can
be hit by cold fronts, which also causes rainfall.
Plant-and animal life
The flora is very rich. There are approximately 6,000
species of vascular plants, of which 270 species of orchids,
500 species of fern plants, 40 species of cacti and 80
species of palm trees. The tropical tree often planted in
the tropics as a royal palace originates from Cuba and is
the country's national tree. Almost half of the plant
species are endemic. The island was originally covered by
lush forests, partly of rainforest nature, partly of
deciduous types; now only 10 percent of the forests remain.
In the lowlands they are replaced by cultivations of sugar
cane, coffee and rice. Notable forests are mainly found in
the Sierra Maestra, with mahogany species, palm trees and
tree fronds. In other parts of the island there are some
drier forests with, for example, kapok trees, which are
The higher fauna is rather poor species, while the lower
one is more numerous. Originally, only terrestrial bats,
rodents, and endemic Cuba's lobster (Solenodon cubanus)
were found in land mammals. About 300 species of birds have
been observed, of which about 1/3 are nesting, for example
cubatodi (Todus multicolor), which is endemic.
There are two species of crocodiles, the lizard crocodile
(Crocodylus acutus) and the endemic cubac crocodile
(Crocodylus rhombifer), which are endangered, as
well as some turtles and snakes, many lizards and four genus
frogs and toads.
In 2010, there were several nature-protected areas in
Cuba. Of these, eleven were national parks, including two
marinas. The largest protected area was the Gran Parque
Sierra Maestra (5 270 km2).