There is a Cuba underneath the vibrant colonial houses and the American 50s cars. It is a Cuba that we don’t see with the bare eye. A Cuba that most visitors don’t see and don’t know about.
So, to help you get a deeper insight into Cuba, and everyday life here. Therefore, I put together this list of things I believe nobody tells you about Cuba:
After saying more than four months in Cuba, I believe I have seen a thing or two. However, there are so many more things unknown in Cuba.
So, if you have anything to add, an experience or anything, please share it in the comments!
#1 I have never done so many illegal things in my whole life
Everything is so controlled and regulated that I have never done so many illegal things in my whole life like my 4 months studying in Cuba.
When I went in a private non-authorized taxi from Havana to Cienfuegos, the driver told me just to shut off if the police stopped us. As if me not speaking would cancel out the fact that my whole present screamed yuma (the Cuban slang word for foreigner).
As a foreigner, you can only legally rent certain state-authorized casas particulares. So, when I rented a private apartment in Havana through the father of one of my Cuban friends, it had to be completely low-key. I shouldn’t open the door for anybody, I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell anybody…
Oh no! I just told you! Okay… It’s only between you and me! DO NOT tell the Cuban state, okay? Oh no, they are properly already reading this post… Now I can’t ever go back… No seriously, what the Cuban state knows about you (foreigner or Cuban citizen) is crazy.
When I lived in a casa particular in Havana, the woman in the house told me that she had got a phone call from some state officials. The officer knew who she was dating, who was staying with her in her casa particular (one white European looking girl (me) and two younger African looking girls). And he knew what we were going to the university for classes! How creepy is that?
Do you want to know more about exploring Havana like a local? Check out my alternative guide to Havana here.
#2 Familiarize yourself with phrases such as no hay, no hay más or se acabó
If you are not so strong in Spanish and are planning to travel alone (or with others not speaking Spanish), do yourself the favor of familiarizing yourself with phrases such as no hay, no hay más or se acabó meaning “there isn’t any more” and “it ended”.
Material shortage is a reality in Cuba in all aspects; food, medicine, toiletries… You get it; EVERYTHING.
Check out these 10 phrases of Cuban slang that will become helpful for you when visiting Cuba.
#3 Cuba and its relationship with the U.S.
Cuba was the last country to gain independence in Latin America from the Spanish empire. That was in 1898. However, so much for that independence; the Spanish colonial power handed over power to the U.S.
And, it was not until 1901 that Cuba adopted its first constitution as an independent state.
Nevertheless, that only lasted until 1906 when U.S. troops reoccupy Cuba after a request from the Cuban president himself. It lasted until 1909 when the U.S. occupation ends…
If you were doubting the historical relationship with the U.S.; yes, they high influence each other.
If you are a U.S. citizen traveling to Cuba, check out these 5 steps on how to travel legally to Cuba after the modifications in 2019.
#4 Education system is free but the state decides where the newly graduated should work
Even though, the education system in Cuba is said to be free all the way up through university. Did you know that in the first 2-3 years after graduating from university, the Cuban state decides where the young Cuban professional should work?
The state can send them anywhere on the island; close or far from family and friends. It doesn’t matter, the state decides.
#5 The younger generations choose jobs in low-qualified jobs over education
It is a common perception among Cubans that the younger generations choose jobs in low-qualified jobs such as taxi- or bici-taxi drivers over education. Simply, because they can earn a better income there than by becoming professionals.
One could say that this produces the reverse of the revolution’s ambitions for free education for everyone. What does it matter to have free education if the economic situation only encourages people to stay in low-income jobs?
#6 You can be sentenced to prison for killing a cow
You can be prisoned up to 25 years for killing a cow for private use. Almost all selling and buying for the meat is illegal in Cuba. The meat is exclusively for tourism and exportation.
#7 It is difficult for health care professional to get the necessary equipment
Even though Cuba has a health care system well above the average of other countries with the same economic level, it is hard for the professionals to get the equipment necessary.
I have heard plenty of stories from Cubans working in health care, telling them that they have had to “built” their own equipment. The hygienic conditions aren’t the best seen – for the same reason: lack of materials.
#8 Remember to ask ¿Quién es última persona? or ¿Quién es última? when entering a queue
When arriving to a queue you will always have to ask ¿Quién es última persona? or ¿Quién es última? (who is the last person).
Somebody will mark that they are the last arrived and you will have to remember who they are as well as who is the person coming after you.
When you sort of know that the waiting is done all over the place; forget about some straight lines from the supermarkets in other countries.
#9 Get used to queuing!
And, you have to get used to queuing – as in queuing a lot!
I once (back in 2014) waited for two hours to get inside one of the state-owned ETCSA internet cafes. And, another time 1.5 hours to get to withdraw money at the Casa de Cambio (CADECA). And then, just as I got inside the electricity of the whole block went off…
Leading to the last point…
#10 Get used to electricity shot downs
Apart from if you are not staying in the all-inclusive resort (which the Cuban state has been so smart to supply good with electricity), anywhere around the island sudden and without reason electricity cuts are the norm.
It has become even more frequent now due to the political crisis in Venezuela and the “little” oil-issue Cuba has with Venezuela. Beforehand, Venezuela and Cuba were good amigos and exchanged Cuban doctors for Venezuelan oil. That went quite well…
Until… Venezuela entered a political and economic crisis and cut the exchange with Cuba. No more free oil to Cuba! It has taken hard on Cuba, especially cutting down the supply of oil and complicating the transportation possibilities of many Cubans.