Popular Cuban Words & Phrases to Live Like a Local

After a visit to any Cuban nightclub, restaurant, or market, you’ll notice that the Spanish language is as vibrant as the country of Cuba itself. Although the larger cities and tourist areas are home to English-speaking Cubans, knowing these simple Spanish phrases will get you far during your Cuban journey.

Cuban Slang Terms

¿Qué bolá contigo?
What’s up with you? How’s it going? Bolá is also frequently spelled as volá.

A friend, a dude. This is an informal way of addressing anyone, just like amigo. So, “¿Acere, qué bolá?”

Candela has many meanings depending on context and region, but it is generally used as an expression of surprise when something bad happens or something is broken or complicated.


A very common form of transportation for Cubans is by bus or commonly known as “Guagua”

Almendron or Maquina: These are the names for the old cars that navigate the island typically they are American made and were produced before 1960. Some of these cars can be up to 90 years old and still running!

Taxi Colectivo: The Taxi Colectivos are Maquinas or Almendrones that have Taxi signs at the front windows. They ride a one way route; Cubans stand along the route and hop in and out.


Moros & Cristianos: The typical side dish to traditional Cuban meals. It is a combination of black beans and rice. The black beans represent the Moorish or African history and the white rice represents the Spanish.

Ropa Vieja:  Spanish for “old clothes,” is a popular Cuban dish. The original recipe consists of a meat dish made with leftovers. Now it is a common dish and is prepared with a shredded flank, brisket, or skirt steak slow cooked in a tomato sauce base.

Maduros: Maduros is short for platanos maduros or fried sweet plantains. This is a very typical side dish in Cuban cuisine and is always a favorite! A tip for making them at home is wait for the banana to get a bit darker and it will ensure its sweet taste.