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What is Cuba Really Like? True Stereotypes of Cuba

In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I detailed my stereotypes of Cuba that turned out to be false. Although they were far fewer, I definitely had some stereotypes of Cuba that turned out to be true during my travels there.

Stereotype:  Cuba is like traveling back through time

stereotypes of cuba

Trinidad, a colonial city over 500 years old – Trinidad, una ciudad colonial de más de 500 años

Everyone knows Cuba has old 1950’s American cars, but I was skeptical as to how many there actually were.  I thought I would see an old car every now and then, but I was proven wrong immediately after leaving the airport.

Not all the cars in Cuba are old, but there are TONS of these yank tanks belching fumes & rattling down the streets.  You’ve never seen so many classic & vintage cars in your life.

And it’s not just the cars that look transplanted from the past.  You’ll see families crowded around ancient-looking tube TV’s, teenagers listening to old-school radios, and the largest & clunkiest refrigerators you’ve ever seen in your life.  Streets are shared by horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, wagons of all sorts, & basically anything with wheels.

Not to mention, it seems like there hasn’t been a new building constructed in Cuba for decades. The architecture is already very Spanish colonial, but years of neglect have left the buildings crumbling before your very eyes, and make them seem even more out of place today.  The only thing that reminds you that we’re actually living in 2015 is the clothes that people wear.

stereotypes of cuba

Time travel is possible in Cuba – Estar en Cuba es como viajar en el tiempo

Stereotype:  The Government Controls Everything

As tropical, colorful, lively, exhilarating, sexy, nonlinear, loud, & friendly as Cuba is, it can be easy to forget that their system is based on communist principles.  But if you’re interacting with Cubans in real Cuban life (beach resort life doesn’t count, sorry), you will be reminded of the big brother reality here often.  And brother is he big.  

One of the most noticeable things, at least for me, was the lack of internet.  The world wide websticles can only be found in designated telepunto internet cafe-style places, or in large, luxurious hotels/resorts.  That’s because the government says that Cubans must be “supervised” when they access the internet.  It’s very expensive, and many of the best resources, including Google & Youtube are fire walled.  Don’t go to Cuba if you can’t live without internet.

Of course all TV, radio, newspaper & other major forms of media are strictly regulated & censured.  Everything is pro-government.  Anti-government demonstrations are prohibited.  I was not surprised to see that many Cubans over the years have figured out how to steal American TV channels & radio stations using antenna.

stereotypes of cuba

Translation of the propaganda – “Independence or Colony!”

Until recent years, the Cuban government did not let their citizens leave the country at all. Now Cubans can apply for a passport & visas to visit other countries, but most Cubans don’t have the money to go through the process.  Even more frustrating is when the government denies the overwhelming majority of those who do have the money, and don’t refund the applicants.

No country is perfect, but the suffocating governmental control & discrimination of certain humans rights remain the “black eye” on the face of Cuba in the eyes of the world.  For me, the saddest part of Cuba was seeing the burning desire in the eyes of the Cubans to see the rest of the world & learn for themselves, but not having the resources, nor freedom to do so.


Stereotype: Cubans Want to Come to the USA

Before all the conservative, anti-immigration people jump all over me, let’s say hypothetically you are:

  • Stuck in a country earning $20/month, with a government that doesn’t want you to leave & see the rest of the world, but..
  • Only 90 miles away from a democratic country known for it’s job opportunities & freedom, that also…
  • Has passed a law that basically grants you citizenship if you can get there, legally or illegally. (Wet Feet-Dry Feet Policy)

Hmm.  Did you arrive at the same conclusion that I did?

Add in the fact that most Cubans already have some family members living in the USA (mostly Miami, of course) and you can objectively see why Cubans want to go.

stereotypes of cuba

The Elian González fiasco in 2000 brought Cuban/U.S. immigration into the limelight – La situación de Elian González en el año 2000 trajo el tema de emigración a la luz pública

Stereotype:  All Cubans will marry you

Who?  Me?  Yes…you!  And him too!

Put simply & bluntly, if you are a foreigner, you are seen as a potential, & even better, legal “escape route” for Cuban citizens.  When marrying a foreigner, Cubans are granted a dual citizenship from their spouse’s nationality.  That means you just became Cuba’s most eligible bachelor/bachelorette.

stereotypes of cuba

Thank God I had this pretty lady to protect me – Gracias a Dios que tenía a esta chica bonita para protegerme

Of course lots of foreigners take advantage of this situation, but before you judge, know that many also marry Cubans for the sole purpose of helping them.  Most Cubans who live abroad support their families back home by working & sending them money.

We talked to some Cubans about this topic very openly.  They were not trying to deceive us, rather, present a possible marriage as an arranged agreement to help them get out of the country and nothing else.  I’m sure it’s possible to find true love in Cuba, but most of these marriages are for other reasons.

VERDICT:  TRUE (Ok, not all, but many will marry you)
stereotypes in cuba

You see foreigners with Cubans everywhere – Ves extranjeros con Cubanos por todos lados

Stereotype:  Cuba Has Beautiful Beaches

I’m a beach guy.  Even though I grew up in the mountains, I lived for those few weeks of sand & sun every year.

stereotypes of cuba

I did absolutely nothing on this beach for 4 days – No hice nada más que disfrutar esta playa durante 4 días

Now that I travel a lot, I always make it a point to test out the beaches of wherever I’m at.  I have to say that Cuba has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.  I have a criteria when ranking my beaches (as seen in this article) but in terms of pure water & sand color, Cuba is hard to beat.

stereotypes of cuba

The beaches of Guardalavaca are some of the best in the country – Las playas de Guardalavaca son una de las mejores en el país

Below the water, the scuba diving & snorkeling is absolutely world class. Decades of underdevelopment & slow economic growth means unspoiled reefs, unpolluted water & teeming wildlife.

Before everything went down the drain in the 50’s, Cuba was a favorite vacation destination for people from the USA.  Yep, those beautiful white sand, turquoise water beaches had thousands of fat, pale Americans laying all over ’em.  Basically the only thing that has changed is now it’s fat, pale Canadians instead of Americans.  I definitely recommend going to Cuba’s beaches before they turn into the next Cancun!

stereotypes of cuba

Cuba is an underwater paradise – Cuba es un paraíso debajo del superficie del agua

But don’t listen to me, go for yourself!

I’ve written this 2-part ‘Stereotypes of Cuba’ series to help give you all a better idea of how this misunderstood country really is, but ultimately these are my opinions and stereotypes.  The only real way to begin to understand a country is to see it for yourself by traveling there, meeting the people, and experiencing the culture.

Click here to read Part 1: False Stereotypes of Cuba


Or, check out my 1-3 week itineraries & 4-6 week itineraries for more information on what to do in Cuba!


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