Cuba has been off limits to Americans for decades and only within the last 10 years has it been open to U.S. citizens for travel. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there’s this mystery surrounding Cuba. What is it like there? Is Cuba dangerous? Don’t they hate Americans? I just got back from Cuba and I can tell you that Cuba is not dangerous at all.
Is Cuba dangerous to visit?
When we don’t know what to expect we tend to draw pictures in our head of what we’ll find. Even though people from other countries have been traveling to Cuba for decades, Americans have not. Chances are good most Americans don’t even know anyone that has traveled to Cuba. All we know about Cuba is what we’ve read in history books.
So it might be a huge surprise to learn that Cuba is VERY safe. It actually has one of the lowest crime rates in The Caribbean. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be concerned with but you’re probably safer walking around in Cuba than you are in your own city.
Crime in Cuba
To understand how Cuba can be so safe, you need to understand why. Right or wrong, Cuba is safe because of it’s harsh laws. The penalties for commiting even the smallest of crimes is met with harsh punisment. Protesters in Cuba can spend several decades in prison just for voicing their opposition to the Cuba’s government. There is no tolerance for illegal drugs so you won’t find those in Cuba. You also won’t find prostitution, guns, or gangs in Cuba.
Tourism is Cuba’s biggest source of income and the government will not stand for anything that interferes with it. You’ll find a police presence in busy areas just to make sure people are safe. Pickpocketing is rare as are scams but that doesn’t mean you should not be careful.
When you go to a restaurant, always check the math when looking at your bill. Your bill will come to you with an amount in pesos, and an amount in dollars and euros. Businesses typically accept all 3 forms of cash. If you’re paying in dollars or euro you’ll want to do the currency conversion to make sure it’s correct and matches up with the pesos. You can expect it to be a little off but no more than a few dollars.
Only once while in Cuba did I see a bill from a restaurant double the amount owed if we paid in dollars. Maybe that’s just a standard way that particular place does business but to me it felt like a scam. If paid in Cuban Pesos, the bill comes out to around $16 but you can see they doubled that amount in the dollar and euro conversion.
Are the roads and cars in Cuba safe?
One of the biggest things to do in Cuba is to ride in a classic car. The classic car is probably one of the things people look forward to seeing in Cuba the most. The cars look nice and are taken care of in the best way they can. They can’t get identical replacement parts in Cuba for these vehicles so they fix these cars with parts from other cars. When we rode in one there was a big gasoline smell. The fumes were pretty overwhelming. That’s probably the biggest issue with the cars.
The roads in Cuba are not very well maintained. They are full of potholes and the cars have to dodge them constantly. The good news is that there’s not a lot of cars on the road outside of Havana so it’s pretty easy for the taxis to dodge the potholes. Forget car lanes on the highway because cars kind of just weave from lane to lane avoiding the potholes.
You should try to avoid driving the roads in Cuba at night whether you rent a car or you hire a driver. There are no street lights in Cuba so you run the risk of damaging the tires by not being able to avoid the potholes. You also risk hitting an animal on the road.
Drivers in Cuba
Just a warning: the drivers in Cuba do drive pretty fast, at least on the roads between towns. The roads are empty and so the risk of a car crash with another car is really low. You’ll see a lot of checkpoints if you drive from one town to another. The police stopped our taxi driver from Havana to Trinidad on five separate occasions. They checked his paperwork, probably his drivers license, insurance, and taxi license.
Is Cuba safe for female travelers?
Yes, Cuba is safe for female travelers but you should still exercise caution. The worst thing that will probably happen is you’ll get asked by everyone to come into their restaurant. Just keep walking if you’re not interested. You’ll want to follow common sense in Cuba if you’re traveling alone.
Always be aware of your surroundings and try to stay in well lit areas. Avoid walking in areas that are dark and where there isn’t anyone on the street. If you order a drink, keep your eye on your drink at all times. And avoid drinking too much if you’re alone. If you’re walking back to your hotel, make sure you’re ready to unlock the door but also make sure nobody is following you before you get to your accomodation.
Is Cuba safe at night?
Yes, Cuba is safe at night but again I would still be cautious if you’re going out alone. I would say this for anywhere in the world. Avoid streets that are empty and try to walk in well lit areas. Trust your instincts and if something feels off, avoid it.
Scams in Cuba
Although crimes in Cuba are met with a harsh penalty, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are still plenty of scams in Cuba to be aware of. And trust me, you probably won’t even think it’s a scam because the Cuban people are so friendly.
You’ll find a lot of Cubans will talk to you about their country and want to show you the best places to go for the best mojitos. And who doesn’t want an amazing mojito in Cuba!?! So they’ll take you to the restaurant or bar and either expect you to pay for theirs or they might come right out and ask you to buy theirs. You’re under no obligation to do so but they’re so nice to you that you almost want to. It’s fine if you want to but just know in the back of your head that the point of taking you to the restaurant for the “best mojito in Cuba” is to get a free drink.
Another thing to be aware of is getting approached with a sad story about not being able to feed their baby and asking you to buy some food for them. While it might be true that the Cubans have a very low income, you can’t save everyone. You’re under no obligation to give anyone, no matter how nice they are, any money.
You also might be approached asking if you want to buy “the best cigars in Havana”. As tempting as it might be, don’t buy them on the street. Only purchase cigars from reputable places or travel to Vinales and buy them directly from the tobacco farmers. Many times the cigars on the street aren’t real authentic cigars.
Avoid changing money on the street. You will hear a LOT of people ask you if you need to change money. Doing so might leave you with no money at all. You might get shortchanged or they might just grab all your money and run off with it. That would probably be rare but it is a possibility. You might even get counterfeit money in exchange for your dollars. Avoid it and only change money through your host or a currency exchange.
Other Safety concerns in Cuba
One of the biggest safety concerns in Cuba is the water. You DEFINITELY do not want to drink the water in Cuba. It is not safe at all. Even the locals don’t drink water from the tap! Buy bottled water or boil your water first. We have a Grayl Geopress Water Filter Bottle that we brought with us. You can put pond water in it and drink it. I wouldn’t (unless I really had to) but you could.
Cuba is in the Caribbean which means it’s climate is tropical in nature. It’s hot the majority of the year but from June to November it’s also hurricane season. Cuba sits in the path of hurricanes so if you plan on visiting during this time of year then you need to be prepared for that. Even if there isn’t a hurricane during your visit you should be prepared for rainy weather.
What NOT to do in Cuba
While you don’t need to worry about your safety in Cuba, there are definitely some things you want to avoid doing while there. Cuba is still a communist country and the last thing you want is to end up in jail in Cuba. Although, what a story you’d have to tell!
- Whatever you do, do NOT criticize Fidel Castro or the government.
- Do not take photos of the police.
- Don’t drink the water.
- Don’t blow your nose in public. It won’t land you in jail but it’s considered very rude.
- Leave your expensive purses and clothing items at home. It will only draw attention to you and you’ll become a magnet for a scam.
- Don’t put all your money in one place. Spread it out in different places and don’t carry it all at the same time.
- Don’t ride in taxis that aren’t licensed.
Safety tips for Cuba
Most of the safety tips for Cuba below are really just common sense tips for staying safe anytime you travel to another country but it doesn’t hurt to hear them again.
- Research everything. You’re already ahead on this one if you’re reading this. There’s a lot of info on Cuba so be sure to read up before you travel.
- Keep your money hidden and don’t carry it all with you at once.
- Make a photocopy of your passport or keep pictures of it on your phone in case you lose it.
- Trust your instincts because they’re usually right.
- Carry a small first aid kit with you. Medicines are hard to come by in Cuba.
- Make sure you have travel insurance.
- Bring a water filter, buy bottled water, or boil the water before you drink it.
- Don’t leave your belongings unattended. It’s an invitation to be stolen.
- Make sure you understand the Cuban currency and how to convert it before you travel.
- Watch your step in Cuba. Many of the roads are cobblestone and it’s easy to trip.
- Only take licensed taxis only. They are yellow and you’ll see a license in the window.
- You likely won’t have internet in Cuba so download offline maps.
Emergency numbers in Cuba
Here’s some numbers to write down or take a photo of before you leave for Cuba. You never know when you might need them.
U.S. Embassy in Cuba: +53 7-839-4100
Is Cuba safe for tourists?
Yes, Cuba is one of the safest places you can travel to. Crime there is very low and very rare. There’s no drugs, no guns, and no gangs.
What should I avoid in Cuba?
The number one thing to avoid in Cuba is drinking the tap water. You will end up very sick and you’ll miss out on seeing the country.
Is Cuba safe to travel alone?
Cuba is safe for traveling alone but you definitely want to watch your surroundings and still exercise caution.
Is Havana safe?
Havana is the largest city in Cuba and considered the safest. There are some areas of the city you should avoid but they aren’t in the tourist areas so chances are you won’t be anywhere near those areas.
Is Cuba safe for solo female travelers?
Cuba is safe for solo travelers, women and men. Crime is rare and as long as you follow good common sense, you will be safe.