There are a number of myths about Cuba that many people believe, and this is largely due to how the country is perceived by the outside world, and most of the time it’s all untrue. Some of these myths have some basis in truth, but this is only something that in fact used to be true, and is not an accurate reflection of contemporary Cuba.
So what are some of the most common myths about the island nation?
1. USA, A-OK? (They Don’t Like Americans)
Say what you like about the Cuban Revolution, but it put the country on the map, elevating it in international importance when compared to other island nations in the region (with no disrespect to these impeccable destinations). This uneasy relationship between the US and Cuba gave the the island a sense of intrigue, of being forbidden. It also led to one of the most common myths about Cuba – that Americans are disliked and unwelcome.
This really is not true, and while it might have been somewhat true at the height of hostilities, it’s important to remember that this was many decades ago. It’s always been possible for Americans to visit Cuba, either on a direct charter flight or by flying via an intermediary country (which for the sake of geography was usually Canada or Mexico). There have always been Americans visiting Cuba, although the improvement in the relationship between the two countries has resulted in a steady increase in visitor numbers. Some 4 million Americans went to Cuba in 2016, a 13% increase from the year before. So Americans are, and generally speaking, have always been welcome in Cuba.
2. Contemptible Cuban Cuisine? (The Food Is Awful)
This is one of the myths about Cuba that used to be true. Until a couple of decades ago, the food was pretty awful. Most restaurants were run by the state and didn’t need to worry about quality and competitiveness. A British journalist once described a meal he had in Havana during this period: “A so-called Italian restaurant served coagulated maize starch and milk with gristly meat and watered-down tomato ketchup, calling it lasagne.”
Changes to legislation have given Cuba’s culinary scene a much-needed overhaul. It’s now infinitely easier to open a privately-operated restaurant and the scene is booming. Fusion cuisine is popular, marrying international influences to traditional Cuban fare. Vegetarian meals are even becoming increasingly common, something that was extremely rare not all that long ago.
3. A Spanish Only Zone? (Nobody Speaks English)
While foreign influences on Cuba have been kept to a minimum, there has always been a large number of people who can speak English. The burgeoning tourist trade means that learning English is a valuable skill nowadays, and so the number of people who speak English as a second language is on the rise.
Signage in popular tourist areas is sometimes offered in English, particularly on restaurant menus. This becomes less true in rural areas, so some basic Spanish pleasantries can be helpful in these circumstances. But it’s not as though you’re going to need to worry about the language in major cities.
4. Be Careful What You Say? (Politics is a No-Go Area)
It might be thought that talking about politics in Cuba is very much a no-go area, something that is far too sensitive to bring up. This is not really true. You might not agree with Cuba’s system of government, and while it’s simply impolite to be too critical, it’s not as though the topic needs to be avoided altogether. Think of it this way – do you like the politics of each and every country you visit? The answer is likely to be no, but this doesn’t mean that the topic of politics needs to be avoided, provided it’s approached with the right amount of delicacy and respect.
5. You’ll Run Out of Money? (Cuba is Expensive)
Cuba can be expensive if you stay in a fancy resort and only go to the popular spots frequented by tourists. It can also be very cheap if you go off the beaten track. It’s really that simple.
6. No Online Access? (There’s No Internet)
This is another one of those myths about Cuba that used to have some truth to it. Internet is not all that widespread in Cuba, but it’s not really hard to find either. The new trend is for public wi-fi zones, which you will spot when you see a crowd of people all staring intently at the screens on their smartphones. There are now 35 (and counting) wi-fi zones throughout Cuban cities and towns. You buy an access card from a nearby kiosk and then you have an hour of internet, simply buying new cards as needed.
7. Just for the Tourist Brochures? (Those Classic Cars Are Not As Common As You Think)
It’s strange that people actually believe this one, but there are some people who think that those classic cars are not all that common, a side of Cuba that only exists in the tourist brochures. This really is not true. It was incredibly difficult to import new cars into the country, so those four-wheeled beauties have had to be lovingly maintained for more than half a century now.
They are quite literally everywhere, being used as private cars and taxis. Be sure to take a ride in one, since it’s an iconic Cuban experience.
8. One of the Biggest Myths About Cuba? (The Place is Changing So Quickly)
Despite what you might think, it’s not as though Cuba is on the cusp of a rapid change that will rob it of its authenticity. Sure, things are changing, and the country is arguably more open to the world than it had been in many years, but this change is something that will happen at a glacial pace. It’s not as though a whole bunch of fast food chain restaurants are going to open across the island anytime soon.
No country is immune to change, but Cuba will remain true to herself while this happens… not that it will even be that noticeable.