10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba

Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba

Are you planning a visit Cuba, and don’t you want feel like a complete lost foreigner? Wouldn't it be nice to understand a little bit more of what is going on around you?

Even if you understand some basic Spanish, it can be very hard to make sense of Cuban Spanish . Then, these 10 phrases of Cuban slang might be very useful for you, and help your interacting with the Cubans.

However, take this only as guide lines to help you understand. There is a delicate balance between when it is and isn't appropriate to use most of the phrases. And sometimes the expression can become a lot stronger when a foreigner use them than when Cuban do. As foreigners we might not get the right emphasis in the word or use them in an incorrect context.

So, just a word on caution to be a little careful before you jump out in using the expressions yourself. That said! Let's get started:

1) ¿Qué vola? is a bit like "What's up?" or “how is it going?”

An extremely popular and common greeting in Cuba is to say ¿Qué vola?.  It is though very informal, and mostly used among friends. When walking the streets of any Cuban city, you can be certain to hear this phrase many times. ¿Qué vola, hermano?

Nobody is completely sure where it comes from. Thus, several times I heard the explanation that it is a baseball term which somehow got transferred into colloquial Cuban language. The explanation is that at baseball matchs when the ball is flying through the air, the crowd should apparently shout: que voolaa ("how it flies" from the Spanish verb volar).

As most Hispanics don't have a pronounceable difference between how v and b, you might as well see it spelled like qué bola

2) Yuma is foreigner

If you are just half as  white as me, you will most likely hear that phrase used about you. For Cubans yuma is another and more common way of saying yankie - or white foreigner. 

It doesn’t direct mean anything bad. However, most Cubans are not used to foreigners knowing this slang. So, they might be saying unpleasant things about you using yuma to refer to you. If you come about revealing for them that you actually did understand that they were talking about you, they will mostly likely be very surprised - and possibly a bit ashamed as well.

3) Asere/Acere is friend 

Asere is a Cuban way of saying amigo – or friend. It can be spelled both with s or with c.

Oye, asere, ¿qué hacemos hoy?

4) Pinga is… Well,  a multifunctional word (keep on reading)

Well, well it this is a word with mutual usages and meanings. Literally translated it refers to the male genital organ.

However, conjugated in a wide variety of ways and placed into all sort of different contexts, it can mean anything from "it is horrible" (está de Pinga), "amazing" (empinagado), "what the hell is up with you" (qué Pinga te pasa a tí)… And, well, the list just continues.

If you have bit of more Spanish background knowledge, this video explains almost all the different usages I have heard of while in Cuba:


However, a word of warning: This is a very informal way of expressing one self and mainly used among friends. You should therefore not use it among people that you don't know as it will be taken as rude.

Generally, for a Scandinavian like me, Cubans tend to shout and swear a lot more when they a making fun with each other than I’m used to. But when they are serious and talking quiet there are usually big problems.

5) Candela is to be on fire

Candela basically means candle but it is mostly used as "fire", "on fire" or "flame". When used about persons it can either mean that the person is super-hot or a troublemaker (ella está candela).

You can also hear it in the exclamations: ¡Qué candela! which depending on the context can be either a positive or a negative meaning of "how great" or "how awful".

6) Papaya versus fruta bomba

The fruit that in most other countries is known as papaya, is in Cuba called fruta bomba (the bomb fruit).

Why is that? Well, because in Cuba papaya means... vagina… Now you know, so watch out what you are asking for at the market!

7) Agua is not water  –  at least not only

True, true, in plain Spanish agua means water. However, in Cuba it is also used as a type of exclamation for something incredible good. ¡Agua!

8) Coger botellas is the Cuban term for hitchhiking

The closest you get to a Cuban term for hitchhiking is coger botellas. It means going to the stoplights to stop cars and ask for a free ride.

In Havana it is not so common anymore due to the many competing taxi whose method of picking people up is basically the same.

9) Ser un mango is to be a mango… No, okay?

To be a mango (ser un mango) is in Cuba used to express that a person is very good looking or hot: la chica es una mango e.g. the girl is hot.

10) Pincha is to work

Pincha means work, and can be used both as a subjective: no hay pincha (e.g. there is no work) and as verb: estoy pinchando (I'm working).

So, ¿Qué vola, asere? (do you remember what that means? 🙂 )
Did you learn some new words for your Cuba trip?
Or have you maybe already been to Cuba? Is there any Cuban slang you I missed out on? Please share your thoughts and knowledge below!
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10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba
10 phrases of Cuban slang you should know before visiting Cuba


  1. Anete

    OMG I enjoyed this post so much! those phrases are really catchy 🙂 🙂



    1. Rebecca

      Hi Anete! Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the post – then my mission is completed! 😉


  2. Kim

    What a fun read! I love that mango is a compliment, sorta, in a way. That was unexpected!

    Simply Lovebirds


    1. Rebecca

      Thanks Kim! So glad to hear that you found it funny! Then my mission is completed! Yes, watch out who you say mango to ?


  3. Amy Poulton - Page Traveller

    Ah! I’m hearing such great things about Cuba at the minute and I feel like I’m missing out! I’m so close at the moment (Mexico), but need to work online, so Cuba isn’t exactly ideal for me right now. Next time?


    1. Rebecca

      Hi Amy, thanks for dropping by! Yes, Cuba is super interesting buut it is still an issue to visit if you are depending on working online! Better safe it for a time where you have time to be offline 😉


  4. Greta

    Loved this! So many useful phrases, I did hear them all the time when I was in Cuba haha


    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Greta! So happy to hear that you enjoyed the read 😉 Yeah, you can be more than sure to hear these phrases at least a couple of times while in Cuba!


  5. Sylvia

    Brilliant Rebecca! Even though i also speak Spanish, of course i wouldn’t jnow slang words used in Spanish speaking countries! Very grateful for this!


    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by, Sylvia! Exactly, that’s what’s so amazing about Spanish; it changes according to the country. And Cuba surely is no exception 😉


  6. Wiki

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I wanted to subscribe to your newsletter, but I couldn’t find it. Do you have it?

    Keep up the good work on your blog.



    1. Rebecca

      Hi Wiki,
      Thanks for dropping by! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed your visit! Oh! They are so sweet your cats! And what a good idea to create an Instagram for them!

      Thank you for your kind request. Unfortunately, I have still not created a newsletter. Sorry for that! Thus, you can follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/becciabroad) where I post regularly with things from the blog.

      Kind regards


  7. Katie

    Ah this takes me back to my trip…. I have one you missed – vamo echando asere! Or let’s go buddy! The locals loved it when we said this as we were leaving ?
    Katie recently posted…Alcotraz Bar Brick LaneMy Profile


    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by, Katie! Oh, yeah! That’s a good one! Thanks for reminding me of that, asere 🙂


  8. Isabelle

    You nailed it! Haha, I wish I had read this 3 years ago before I went to Cuba for the first time and was like”huh?!!” Pinga is my favorite one! LOL. Especially when something bad happens.


    1. Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Isabelle! So happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! Haha, yeah, pinga is by far also my favorite – and the one you will hear the most! Eso está de pinga! Jajaja. Besitos


  9. Adam

    You forgot tirame un cabo wich literally means throw me an anchor but its really like saying help me out in english.


    1. Rebecca

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for dropping by! Oh yes! “Tirame un cabo” a good one too! Thank you for adding that one! 🙂 Hope you enjoyed the read!


    2. Rebecca

      Hi Adam! Oh yeah, that’s right! Thank you so much for reminding me of that!


  10. Jaja

    I’m Cuban and Its funny the way you explained everything..some things are not correct though like #2…yuma…means the USA…example “ellos son de la yuma”. They are from USA so “que bola la yuma esta?” that you wrote for #3 means nothing…dont ever say that to anyone they will laugh at you…and wont know what you’re traying to mean.. #9 is Mango when refering to someone hot you say “esa jeba(girl) es un mango”…#4 is well you know..i read a few of the comments saying that this word was your favorite but believe me only the lowest form of expression…it sounds extremely dirty in Cuban and if used infront of the locals they will view you as trashy…..it sounds funny in English but extremely low class in Spanish….


    1. Rebecca

      Hi! Thanks for dropping by! I’m honored to have a Cuban reading along!
      Regarding #2 “yuma” it is a term which I discussed a lot with my Cuban friends. Some say that it refers to the US (as you mention) while others say it refers to “abroad” or “people from abroad” in more general terms. And Cubans I met along the way did call me “yuma” despite knowing that I wasn’t from the US. Could it be that there exists a difference within Cuba of how to understand/use “yuma”
      #3 – cool, thanks for clarifying! I will change the phrase.
      #9 – your point is exactly my point in the text 😉
      #4 – one clarification; it is my “favorite” in the way that “me llama la atención” how much Cubans use it! I am aware that is super low and not nice to say; and especially, if it comes from a foreigner (if you check out the beginning of the post, I also warn about use some of these words as a foreigner in Cuba. However, it is useful for us who aren’t Cubans understand a bit better the slang to know what people are talking about – that’s the point of the post). Thus, admit that Cubans use that word/phrasing a LOOOOOOT, right?


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