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:
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.