If you’re travelling to Cuba, find out which of these Cuba travel tips are actually true and which are just Cuban myths.
Cuba is probably one of the most mysterious yet intriguing countries in the world, especially for many travelers. Its complex history has given rise to many speculations and of course misconceptions as well.
Before my trip to Cuba, I’d been quite aware of the many Cuban myths that existed.
Admittedly I too believed a few of them which made me prepare for my two-week trip to Cuba twice as diligently as I would any of my other travels.
After all, a part of being a responsible, prepared traveler is doing your fair share of research.
Despite coming across many similar travel advice, I still held a healthy skepticism that not all could be factual.
With as much knowledge as I could gather, I travelled to Cuba with an open mind and made my own observations.
So how many of these Cuban myths are actually true?
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Are these Cuban Myths Actually True?
Cubans do not Speak English: False
One of the most popular tips for travelling to Cuba is to learn some Spanish.
While I am a strong believer in learning basic words in the native language of a country, it always seemed that travelers could not get by without knowing Spanish extensively. We somehow get the idea that Cubans simply cannot speak English.
This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. In tourist towns like Havana, Trinidad and Vinales you’ll definitely be able to speak with Cubans in English. I’ve even had a few waiters switch to English once they realized I was struggling to brush off my dusty Spanish skills.
However, it’s less likely to find English speaking Cubans in more rural towns. So, if you’re an adventurous traveler who wants to explore the path less explored, you’d better brush up on your Spanish!
The Food is Plain & Tasteless: False
This myth about Cuba came up time and time again while I did pre-travel research. It seemed as if Cuba would not be a foodie’s paradise… AT ALL.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised!
Seemingly due to Cuba’s new legislations and slow transition to a more global scene, the culinary scene on the island has leapt bounds. A wide array of restaurants and cafes are available especially in tourist-friendly towns such as Havana. Meal options range from traditional Cuban meals such as Ropa Vieja to Italian pasta.
Even in local run home stays, “Casa Particulares”, the food is delicious. I mean, they ARE prepared with love. In fact, the best meals I ate in my entire two-week trip to Cuba were from a lovely Cuban family who owns a Casa in the town of Moron.
Toilet Tissue is Scarce: False
No, you do not need to pack a ridiculous number of tissue rolls in your suitcase because guess what? Toilet tissue isn’t as scarce as you may believe it is.
I’d known this Cuban myth since I was a girl growing up in Jamaica so naturally I stashed a few in my suitcase for my visit. As it turned out though I rarely had to draw for my secret stash of fluffy white gold since all my Casa Particulares had a roll in their bathrooms. While they may not be the fluffiest, rest assured that your accommodation has got you covered!
The only places that you may not be able to find tissue readily are in public restrooms. For these situations a small pack of wet wipes or hand towels would be a great idea.
Supermarkets are Sparse: True
This was the most interesting Cuban myth that I was curious to find out for myself. I think we’re all familiar with the embargo placed on Cuba by the United States. As a result, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has been living on products either locally made or from the few countries who do trade with them.
So yes, their selection of foreign made goods are minimal which is evident in their supermarkets. Often, you’ll notice that shelves are stocked mostly with the same products which sometimes occupy multiple shelves. An even, diversified selection of products is rare to find. However, in tourist-friendly towns like Trinidad, there is more diversity in terms of products such as snacks and drinks.
Despite that, I believe Cubans are resourceful people who simply have a different lifestyle. In the less touristy town of Moron, I observed on every street, a bakery, a butcher shop or a small store. Rather than stocking all products such as meat, bread and household items in one store (like most of us are used to), they have multiple that serve each purpose. As such I don’t believe that the idea we have of their seemingly empty supermarkets is all totally correct.
Carry Only Cash: False
Another popular tip for travelling to Cuba is to carry cash only since your debit or credit cards will be of no use to you.
I wish I had known this wasn’t entirely true before my travels since it would have saved me a nightmare at the airport! Awkwardly enough, my partner and I forgot our entire sum of cash at home the morning of our departure flight to Cuba. After a few hours of scrambling around to retrieve our cash we eventually made it on our flight and safely to Cuba.
Throughout the trip, however, we noticed that there were indeed ATMs around that DID accept our credit cards (VISA & MasterCard).
I mention all of this to say that while having your cash on hand is the best way to travel the island, there are other means of accessing your money (American affiliated banks are a strict no). What you should note too is that most restaurants & attractions do not accept payments via cards. They are strictly cash only.
There’s no Internet: False
I know, most of us cannot survive a day without pulling out our cellphones to check our emails. So how will you survive an entire trip to Cuba without the internet?
The answer to that question is, you will.
Because it DOES exist in Cuba, albeit not as accessible as we are used to. Cuba’s internet service provider is ETECSA and you’ll be able to find multiple parks where they’ve set up Wi-Fi hotspots.
How’ll you know where these parks are?
Simply look for a crowd of people bunched together staring at their laptops or phones.
To access the internet though, you’ll have to purchase an ETECSA card which typically allows you access for 1 hour.
Cubans Have No Access to the Outside World: False
It’s easy to think that Cubans are cut off from the greater world since they are an island apparently stuck in time.
Well yes, their architecture and infrastructure may be a blast from the past but not all aspects of Cuban life are as archaic as you may believe.
Despite widespread belief, Cubans DO have access to the internet and they love Facebook just as much as you and I. In fact, they are quite up to date with all the latest social media happenings and trends. I even saw a few casa particular hosts who browsed the internet right from the comfort of their living rooms.
Cubans do travel too. On my trip I chatted up a local (in English & German, go figure!) who told my partner and I of his own travels to Switzerland and Germany. Although I was admittedly a bit surprised, it’s good to lay that silly myth to rest in my mind.
Cubans Only Drive Vintage Cars: False
I’m sure when you think of travelling to Cuba your immediate thought is of streets filled with colorful vintage cars. I don’t blame you, I imagined the very same thing. What a shock it was to discover that this wasn’t actually the case!
No, they don’t only drive in vintage American cars. In fact, I was able to spy a few Lada’s, Peugeot’s and even a Mercedes Benz or two! The vehicles for public transportation in Cuba (well, the ones allowed for tourists), I observed, were even from China.
Conclusion: Popular Cuban Myths Don’t Represent Modern Cuba
By the end of my travels I’d been able to observe for myself some of these common Cuban myths. What I’ve concluded is that while some of these misconceptions may had been based in truth, they are mostly no longer an accurate reflection of contemporary Cuba.
What other myths have you heard about Cuba?
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Great article! I remember that when I traveled to Cuba in 2015, ATM cards worked for European cards but not for American cards. Did you notice if any Americans were able to withdraw money from ATMs now?