Cuba is a country of indefinable magic. Think beautifully kept colonial cities, pristine beaches, awe inspiring nature, intriguing culture, an innate musicality, and food that will leave you licking your fingers wanting more.
Cuba tourism is booming now that their relationship has warmed with the United States, and a lot more people are starting to plan travel to the island.
But exactly how safe is it? You might be surprised to hear that, according to a recent survey conducted by the Center of Responsible Travel, Cuba is one of the safest destinations for tourists in the world.
How Safe is Cuba for Tourists?
Why is Cuba so Safe?
One of the reasons why Cuba is so safe is that the socialist government of Havana makes it a priority to protect tourists. Cuba’s main source of revenue is tourism, and no-one wants bad press that will kill their biggest economy.
If someone hustles you, look around for the nearest police official and tell them you will call ‘la policia’. Harassing tourists or stealing from them are considered serious crimes in Cuba.
The odds of travelers being targeted for crime are close to zero, but ‘la policia’ is a good safety word to have in mind just in case.
Crime in Cuba
The truth is that Cuba doesn’t have organized crime, gang wars or an opioid crisis. In fact, the Cuban government heavily penalizes those found in possession of weed, let alone hard drugs (there is no such thing as recreational marijuana in Cuba).
Of course, like any other city around the world, tourists might experience pick-pocketing, bag snatching or hustle, but even this can be avoided with some basic tricks.
First, learning at least a bit of Spanish will go a long way to keeping you out of trouble. Most of the time hustlers will leave you alone if you just say ‘no gracias’ instead of ‘no thank you’. In their minds, knowing the local language determines if you are more or less prone to fall for tricks or tourist traps.
Secondly, don’t be flamboyant. If you pose with your $3,000 dollar Canon camera, or flash wads of cash around in the street, you’re probably going to attract opportunity thieves.
You should also plan to avoid the slums. In Havana, avoid Central Havana or Guanabacoa at night and do not wear expensive jewelry or watches. The above tricks should keep you pretty safe from any crime.
Don’t Drink the Water
Cuba is very safe, but you don’t want to drink the tap water here. Tap water in Cuba is not safe to drink, even for the locals, who boil all their drinking water first.
Bottled water is available in abundance in the big cities, but can be hard to find in the countryside. So if you plan on heading off the beaten path it often pays to traveling with a water purifier.
A fantastic purification device for travel is the SteriPEN Freedom; these kind of steripens use ultraviolet light to sterilize the water so that the bacteria are unable to multiply thus making the tap water safe to drink.
A couple of things to keep in mind: don’t brush your teeth with water from the tap; check that natural bodies of water are safe before you swim; keep your mouth closed in the shower; and don’t accept ice in your drinks.
Mandatory Health Insurance
Traveling with international health insurance is always a good idea, though while many travelers go without, Cuba doesn’t give you a choice in the matter.
Cuba makes having international health insurance a mandatory requirement for entering the country. If you cannot provide proof of coverage you’ll have to buy insurance from the local Cuban insurance provider who has an office set up in the airport.
Cover purchased in Cuba is likely to be less comprehensive than most local policies from your home country, and are generally likely to have more expensive premiums, so we highly recommend covering this before you travel.
Cuba is a country where it’s best to travel with cash – ATM’s in general are unreliable, and outside of big tourist resorts, credit cards aren’t always accepted. American cards won’t work at all due to economic sanctions.
For keeping your cash safe while traveling, it’s important not to be flashy with it. If you have to exchange money, don’t do it on the street but go to banks or houses of exchange, known in Cuba as CADECA.
There are two currencies in Cuba, so it pays to familiarize yourself with the banknotes. That said, as a tourist you’ll likely only be using the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), which is on par with the US dollar and was established as a second currency solely for tourists.
A common rip-off involves overcharging in restaurants or giving you back less than the due change. Always look over your bill meticulously to ensure you’ve been given the correct change.
Another common scam is selling tourists cheap knock off version of Cohibas (Cuban cigars). Be careful and ask your tour guide if you want advice on where to find the real deal.
It’s important to have easy access to your original documents while in Cuba (passport, insurance etc), as it’s common for local service providers and authorities to request to see them.
That said, you don’t need to have the originals on you at all times; if you’re only heading out for the day and exploring around town, traveling with a copy will suffice (leave the originals at your accommodation in a safe place).
The other thing that comes in really handy for keeping your passport safe in Cuba is a passport protector; Cuba has a tropical climate, and the exposure to extreme humidity can ruin your passport (it may become damp and soggy which might mean it’s not acceptable for travel anymore).
Store it in a room which is as climate controlled as possible. If you’re traveling with it stored in your bag, make sure you have some form of waterproof cover.
Safe Transport (Getting Around)
Cuba has a variety of alternatives when it comes to public transport. These range from taxis, buses, trains, cars for rent, and even horse carts. However you do need to make sure the transport you’ve booked is reliable.
Public transport, including buses, trains, and Colectivo taxis are cheap but may be inconvenient if you are looking for punctuality and want the vehicle to be in good condition (taxis are often shared between 5 passengers and following a determined route).
Tourist taxis and vintage cars are more expensive, but these don’t have fixed prices, so you’ll need to spend time negotiating with the driver before you take off if you don’t want to get charged too much.
If you need a ride, the safest way to go in our opinion is to book a car with Zun Zun Car. They have classic vintage cars that come with drivers, and you can adjust your itinerary to go wherever you like.
They offer a reliable service with transparent prices, and you can book airport transfers, or a car for a full day (with a driver). Booking is online and in advance so that you don’t find yourself stranded like often happens when relying on public transport.
Plan a Safe Vacation
Cuba is very safe compared to other Latin-American countries. Exercise common sense and you will enjoy an incredible vacation!
To book safe hotels, transfers and activities for your trip to Cuba, check out the CubanEden website; they’re an online travel agency who specialize in safe and economical travel to Cuba, and have all the info you need to start planning a safe vacation.
You can book one of their all inclusive packages, or put together your own itinerary by booking hotels, transfers and activities independently.
The default language for the website is Spanish, but just click the button that says “Idioma” at the top of the screen to choose English.
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