Could you brief me on Cuba travel safety concerns?

Question: Are there safety concerns for travelers visiting certain parts of Cuba, what are the safest areas to visit? With teenage children.

Answer: Cuba is one of the safest destinations you will find in all the Americas. But that does not mean that it is crime free.

Havana has an active night life with many people walking on the trafficked streets way into the night.  There are also police in highly frequented areas.

Some of the normal precautions you would take in any city are worth applying in Cuba as a safeguard.  Don’t go into poorly lit streets or outlying neighborhoods at night.  The center cities are the safest. Be on guard for purse/bag/camera snatchers in touristy areas.  Don’t take unlicensed taxis. Tell hustlers (be it for sex or cigars, etc) that you are not interested right from the start.

There are special times like the carnivals when you should take extra precautions to avoid theft.

The following recommendations from Christopher Baker’s  Moon Handbook; CUBA are also sound advice:

Security:

Most hotels have security personnel. Theft can be an issue though, especially in budget hotels. Most hotels have security boxes either in the room or at the hotel reception. Make sure to use one of those for your valuables: passport, camera and money… Lock your door and make sure to leave windows closed. Keep your suitcase locked when out of the room.

Walking Havana is virtually as safe as walking any other city in the world. The same can be said for other Cuban cities. Most crime is opportunistic snatch-and-grab. Be wary of darker back streets at night. Theft from hotel rooms can happen.

Your biggest problem will probably be the persistent scams pulled by restaurants, hotels, and other tourist entities. Insist on you bill and add it up diligently. Count your change.

Do not exchange currency on the street. Many scams happen by returning the visitor with the wrong currency. Use your hotel exchange desk or the known exchange houses (CADECAS) or banks.

More on Safety in Cuba from Havana Times contributor Dawn Gable:

Well, I would respond that everywhere in Cuba is safe in comparison to anywhere else one might think to travel. If we are talking about independent-age teenagers who might be out and about on their own, the main concern for them is not getting too drunk with Cuban teenagers and ending up lost or sick. Teenagers out on their own in Havana will definitely find themselves befriended by kids their age who will take them to the nearest party. The tourist kid will be expected to buy the rum, but he/she will never be able to keep up with their Cuban counterparts’ consumption.

In Havana and Santa Clara, and I would imagine in Santiago de Cuba and other cities, the big “danger” is getting pick-pocketed or having your bag lifted from you. Keep valuables, including your passport, in your hotel room. Just take enough money out each day as necessary to spend or keep extra in a money belt.

When you’re at tourist sights in the day, be sure not to leave your camera laying around. Keep it in your bag when you’re not using it. Don’t wear one of those passport carrier pouches or long flimsy string purse around your neck either. Those are too noticeable and easily snatched.

Also be sure you are clear on whether you are paying in CUC or MN before you follow anyone to a casa particular (boarding room) or paladar (restaurant in someone’s home). If the deal changes when you arrive, just leave. When cramped during rush hour, local city buses are the best place to get pick-pocketed. Unattended items left on the beach while swimming will likely walk away.

That’s about it. Basic common sense for traveling. Cuba is not a dangerous place (for example hitchhiking is a normal daily mode of transportation and informal taxis are totally safe). There is very, very little violence anywhere in the country. If you take day trips or organized trips offered by tour agencies found in hotels, no worries at all. If you are in a make-shift group out on the town, same. If you speak Spanish, even better.

Oh, one last note on teenagers… drugs of any kind are big time bad news. Make sure they don’t bring any and make sure they know that partaking in the consumption of drugs is strictly forbidden on the island and they can be sent home on the next plane if caught. That includes pot.
 

16 thoughts on “Could you brief me on Cuba travel safety concerns?

  • January 2, 2012 at 10:37 am
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    I would agree with the other (excellent) posts. I have a friend who cycled the Island for a few months with his wife and two sons. They had the time of their life and never had a moments worry about crime. I would also recommend (caution: promotion ahead) our travel safety services at tripsentry.com. While crime is not really a concern, you should always be aware of entry/exit changes, local laws and customs, natural disasters etc. We track that information from dozens of source and keep you informed. (promotion ended).
    Seriously, have a great trip. My friends certainly did.

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    • December 23, 2012 at 8:32 am
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      I read so many reviews about Havana in so many websites and came to the conclusion that Havana is really not as safe as some people suggests. If someone is telling that Havana is very safe more than likely he is either a guide , or any other service provider in Havana who is tring to catch some customers from internet. I initially planned to visit Havana, Varadero, Trinidad. After my research I decided to drop Trinidad, just spent as much time as possible in a 4 star Varadero Hotel and leave the country. I travelled all around the world and never once something was stolen from the hotel safe. Havana is the only place many warns about this. I was never as scared to visit any other place too…

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      • November 18, 2013 at 11:53 am
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        generally safe, witnessed hitchikers at 3am on moterway without any signs of fear, in uk i would be scared to do this. one scam i nearly succumbed to was a fishing trip booked through hotel, at the harbour i gave the lady in the office my ticket and asked where my boat was? she sent me to the wrong one so when i found my boat he asked to see my ticket, i told him i gave it to the lady in the office, he (the skipper) said can he see it at the office, when we got to the window the lady who took my ticket said i didn’t give her a ticket. Now i saw the scam, i pay again for trip or dont go, however being clumsy back at the hotel i lost my ticket so the lady at the desk re issued me another and said if you find the mislaid one please return it to her, i did find it but forgot to give it to tour rep. now back at the harbour with the boat skipper, a couple of large security guards waiting with the desk lady to see my ticket she thinks she has pocketed i produce the spare ticket i had, the look on her face made my day, sad she tried this scam on christmas day, in two weeks this was the only scam i saw.
        alybingo

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  • February 1, 2012 at 10:42 am
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    I just returned from Cuba, I think it is safer than most places around the world .

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    • November 14, 2013 at 12:31 am
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      How on earth can you say that! have you been to “most places” around the world. Have you read crime figures for “most places” around the world. Of course not.

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      • February 15, 2014 at 11:28 am
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        How on earth can you say /that/? You don’t even know who this person is, let alone their life story. Maybe they are well-seasoned travelers, or informed on crime rates. Don’t assume you know people.

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  • February 16, 2012 at 8:57 am
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    I felt 100% safe in Cuba. I didn’t have to worry about being robed while wandering the streets of Havana with my boys.

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  • December 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm
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    I disagree that cuba is one of the safest places to travel. I have been to cuba 3 times, and visited both beach resorts and Havana. On my first trip to a 5 star all inclusive hotel near holguin my room was broken into. I decided to give cuba a second try and wrote this off to a bad experience. On my second trip I found the people in hotels and bars to be rude, arrogant and at any point would try to steal from you. I spent part of my vacation with a Cuban friend and when with him, I was ignored, but there were no issues in terms of theft. When he was no around I would order something from the menu at 3 cuc, and then when the bill came I would be charge 12 cuc. When you challenge them they become aggressive, and I didn’t think a few quid was worth the hassle so each time I would just pay what ever extortionate rate they were charging me. While walking back to the hotel nacionale I was mugged and my bag stolen. I told the hotel who didn’t want to know. I asked for help they said no. So my cuban friend took me to he police station. They did not want to know and after asking me to explain 3 times with my friend translating into Spanish they sent me to another station (my friend told me later this was to check my stories matched and I was not lying!). So at the second police station they did not want to know either. They
    Eft a physically disabled person who had just been assaulted with no money to find their way back to the hotel several miles away. Cuba is not a safe place, especially for single female travellers. If they think you are a tourist they will try every con and scam in the book to get money from you. And when hat doesn’t work, they turn nasty! I have been back a 3rd time, for the only reason of visiting my friend, and I stayed in miramar. I didn’t leave the resort at all during my stay, and all was okay. At the airport however on the way home there was a French couple in front of me paying their 25cuc exit tax. They handed over 60cuc for the two of them (I saw the 3 x 20 cuc notes) and the airport official pocketed the money, and demanded a further 25cuc claiming they only handed over a 20 and a 5. The French couple got very upset and started arguing with the official, and next thing two security guards no questions asked dragged them from the line and escorted them off somewhere! When in miramar at the lounge bar I also spoke to a Canadian who had been 5 times, and said that the theft of tourists is common, and that it’s to be expected that they charge you double of whatever the price is on the menu. So my advice – if you go to cuba, go all inclusive. If you want to tip do, don’t carry more than 50cuc with you, don’t use the safes in the room (I keep everyone in my suitcase and double lock it with combination locks that can’t be broken. Of course the case can be stolen from the room but then this is far more obvious and less likely to happen. Never go to particular businesses- that is private businesses run from locals homes set up as restaurants, b&bs, selling cigars etc and they will rob you. If you befriend a Cuban, and you go for drinks or a meal, expect it to be an expensive night. I learnt this the hard way with local friends I had made. Now I make it clear I have 20cuc (£15) to last me each day so I don’t mind buying a few coffees, or a cheap meal, but no particular restaurants charging 30cuc per person for fried chicken legs and rice.

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  • March 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm
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    I have been to Cuba 6 times and not once have I ever felt unsafe. I think you always have to be sensible >I travel like I live with openness but also precaution. I found the cubans to be beautiful and nice. Planning a trip to Havanna one place I haven t stayed in Cuba, I hope it doesnt dissapoint me.

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  • March 13, 2015 at 9:59 am
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    I was scammed at marina hemingway. I purchased baseball memorabilia at the market in the plaza de armas. after i returned to the boat the security people came aboard and said the purchase was illegal and took many of the items. when i complained they added a fine. i have been to cuba three times since and that was the only time i was scammed.

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  • April 14, 2015 at 7:14 am
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    Some travelers report assault, physical aggression and theft indeed, if very common in Cuba.
    Theft from hotel rooms, even from luggage at the airport. Swindlers and fraudsters are also found in abundance.
    Mugging and gang-attacks are common on the streets.
    Don’t walk at night on the streets, especially if you’re alone!

    Reply
    • March 23, 2017 at 5:51 pm
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      What movie are you talking about? Sounds interesting! I have traveled to a lot of places, Costa Rica, China, Russia, Mexico, Panama,… The safest city I have ever been is Havana…

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  • July 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm
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    Well Fiona, I guess you were just unsafe. Soon, i’ll be travelling to Cuba for the 20th time in my life and never have I felt unlucky. The Cuban people are wonderful people!

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  • November 6, 2017 at 11:12 pm
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    When you stop and think about the major cities in the US and all the gang banging and mugging. could Cuba be any worse? I doubt there are stray bullets flying around as in the US. Cuba here I come

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  • November 6, 2017 at 11:13 pm
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    Forgot to mention all the car jackings that take place in the US. I don’t imagine they put up with that crap in Cuba.

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  • November 21, 2018 at 12:03 am
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    I’ve been to Cuba twice now, both trips as a solo female. On my first trip I flew to Varadero, and got a ride to Havana right away. I had, and still have zero desire to go to an all inclusive resort in Cuba, so I stayed in Casa Particulars. My time there was spent in Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. I visited museums, parks, cafes, chatting with locals everywhere I went as I did not have a schedule. Walking the Malecon in Havana was awesome, locals fishing, playing music, waves crashing over the wall, it was a fabulous place to walk at sunset! My second trip to Cuba was spent exploring Holguin, Santiago, Camagüey, Trinidad & Havana (again) and Viñales. I can say that I have never felt unsafe in Cuba. Walking at night in the cities, walking beyond the touristy areas, overnight bus trip from Camagüey to Trinidad, renting a scooter with a local who took me all over Santiago for a personal tour, (I was literally on the back of the scooter with him driving for 6 hours all over, one of my favourite travel days yet!) to agreeing to a ride to my next city with a stranger I met getting off a bus. Really the only annoyance was the constant “cat calling” from the men….but, I took it with a grain of salt, and it really didn’t bother me. After spending 5 weeks combined traveling throughout Cuba, I never felt unsafe, never had anything stolen and only met the most wonderful, curious, social, friendly souls. I’m actually heading back in 2 weeks for another visit! My suggestion is to stay in Casas, eat at the paladores, talk with the locals. You will experience the real Cuba. Viva Cuba!

    Reply

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