There is a lot of misinformation that swirls around about Cuba and visiting the island. Part of the reason is the political situation between the US and Cuban governments, which remains strained. But that doesn’t mean visitors to the island will face hostility – whatever your nationality. Cubans are a kind and welcoming people, and while individual incidents do occur, generally Cuba is safe to visit. In fact, daily life is such that a visit to Cuba is safer than a visit to many American cities! Cast your doubts aside by learning everything you should know to stay safe when visiting this unique Caribbean destination.
Staying Safe on Cuba’s Streets
The best way of ensuring Cuba is safe to visit is with a professional local guide. You’ll have the opportunity to connect first hand with someone who has spent their life in Cuba and knows where is safe and where isn’t, while learning about the country at the same time. However, Cuba is considered safe enough to visit as a solo tourist without having to worry.
As you might expect, there is more petty crime in the bigger cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Keep your eye out for pickpockets and bag snatchers in crowded areas such as markets. Avoid isolated areas after dark, and avoid flashing valuables such as watches or smartphones which may be tempting to more unscrupulous people.
The police presence is relatively strong, and there’s a large feeling of community spirit in most areas that should also ensure your visit to a particular destination is nothing but joyous.
Traveling Around Cuba
Traveling around Cuba is safe for visitors and is usually done by taxi, tourist transport such as small vans, and for short distances by bicycle taxi or on foot. National buses do exist and they are called “las guaguas,” We’ll just say that they are uncomfortable, unreliable, crowded; they are a unique local experience, if that is what you are interested in! Traveling by bus is safe for visitors and you have the option of the state-run transportation companies which have dedicated ‘tourist’ services. They are slightly more expensive than national buses, and a lot more comfortable.
It is safe to visit Cuba’s historic city centers and neighborhoods on foot too. Doing so will give you a real insight into the lives of ordinary Cubans. Don’t hesitate to stop and check out the produce in a market stall or a shop but be mindful that tourists restricted from entering schools,hospitals and some government offices. In general, be aware of your surroundings and take cues from those around you.
For trips that are too long to walk there are bici taxis. This is a fun way to cover some ground. The cyclists love to chat and point out sights along the way. Be sure to set the price before you get in and that it is not a per person price. If you prefer a car you have the option of a modern vehicle or a classic car taxi. The vintage American vehicles from the 1950s, for which Cuba is known, may not be the most comfortable but they are definitely the most fun and a highlight for many travelers.
Both types of taxis await arrivals from Havana’s International Airport and can also be flagged down on the streets. It is a good idea to have your destination written down and not to rely on the internet for maps. The Internet is limited to hotspots in hotels and public parks and requires a local SIM card.
With the faces of Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara adorning walls and imagery across the country, it is difficult not to discuss politics. Cubans may share how they have dealt with the challenges of living in their country. Seeing their life through their eyes will give you a new perspective and we recommend having a curious and open mind to understand the complexity of Cuba and its politics. Avoiding any major discussion on the rights and wrongs of any specific policies is the best course of action.
Those who approach you out of the blue on the street or in a café may simply be interested in where you have come from and what you’re doing in Cuba. However, scam artists whose sole aim is to extract money from you for an imaginary service do exist. Politely decline any requests for money with “no gracias.” They can be subtle, so always step back and think before handing over any cash.
Staying on the Right Side of the Law
As a visitor to Cuba, you must adhere to the laws of the country. Be careful when and where you are taking photographs for instance. Point your camera anywhere near a ‘military location’ or even a police officer and you might find yourself in trouble. Stick to capturing structures such as Havana’s Capitol building or the sands of the Bay of Pigs.
Drug use, including marijuana remains illegal. There are extremely harsh penalties if you are caught using or in possession of them.
Because of the ongoing U.S. trade embargo, it is illegal to import most Cuban products into the United States. Avoid stocking up on Havana Club rum or the country’s famed cigars, as they’ll only be taken away from you at customs. It’s fine to import these goods in the correct quantities to European and other Latin American and Caribbean nations.
Food and Drink
Is Cuba safe to visit with regard to its food and drink? With a little bit of care, it is.
The biggest issue is clean water either for drinking, ice making or the washing of fruits and vegetables. So, avoid eating from vendors on the street as they don’t generally have a place to wash their hands. Drink bottled water and consider refilling your bottle from larger containers provided at your accommodation in order to reduce plastic consumption. Rely on the recommendations of a local such as your guide or host. Most restaurants serving tourists are careful of the hygiene required to keep you safe.
If you are like us and you enjoy salads, use common sense and get a feel for the cleanliness of the restaurant. You don’t have to avoid fruits or vegetables, just confirm that they are disinfected properly and feel free to also ask if the ice has been made using filtered water.
Answering Your Worries: Is Cuba Safe to Visit?
Cuba is safe to visit. In fact, all things considered it is one of the safest places you can go to in the world. The vast majority of trips to the country are entirely hassle free, and if you follow our advice yours should be too! In conclusion, take the general precautions of being in a new place and the magic of Cuba will reveal itself!