Terrain shapes and bedrock
According to 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 marshland.
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 native.
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).