Is Cuba safe to travel? If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, this is probably one of your burning questions.
Although Cuba is generally a safe country to visit, a trip to Cuba may expose you to “minor” crimes such as currency scams, pickpocketing, and theft. You should also be aware of threats to your health like contaminated tap water, mosquito-borne diseases, and terrible road conditions if you are driving.
This guide is a comprehensive resource for travelers who want to keep safety in mind during their Cuban adventure. We’ve included a packing checklist of safety products you should bring to Cuba.
TL;DR. Is Cuba Safe to Visit?
If you have your sights set on a trip to Cuba, you’ll be happy to learn that according to the latest report from the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Cuba is a safe country to visit.
That said, it is still possible to become the victim of crime. Despite its relative safety, Cuba is a developing country and shares many of the same flaws as other developing countries.
1. The Basics of Travel Safety
#1. Pack your medications
Cuba’s healthcare system is known around the world for its high-quality doctors and care, but you still don’t want to be caught unprepared if you get injured. Especially in rural areas or in the remote wilderness, clinics may be hard to come by.
Packing Checklist: Bring all the essentials like bandages, aspirin, and bismuth in an all-purpose First Aid kit small enough to fit into your backpack.
#2. Healthcare and Travel Insurance
In case of an emergency more serious than what your first aid kit can handle, you’ll want to have a solid healthcare and travel insurance plan in place with a travel-geared provider like RoamRight.
That way, if you’re involved in an accident, get sick, or even run into travel issues like lost luggage, you’ll be well taken care of.
#3. Keep original documents safe
You should always be ready to show a photocopy of your passport or of any other important document, in case the police or other service providers ask for them. Keep the originals in a safe place and carry the copies all the time with you.
Packing Checklist: To keep your documents safe and secure, consider using a Hidden USB and keeping it on you at all times. Since it’s designed to look like a plain dog tag, no one but you will know how valuable it truly is!
#4. You have to use cash, but don’t carry too much on you
To make purchases in Cuba, you’ll have to use cash.
Don’t expect many stores or restaurants to have the infrastructure to accept credit cards or debit cards, and don’t plan on finding any ATMs while you’re there either.
When carrying cash, be smart and use common sense. It’s true that crime in Cuba is low, but the country’s most common crimes are pickpocketing and petty theft.
Fortunately, you have a lot of control when it comes to protecting yourself from pickpocketing.
Here are a few helpful ground rules:
- Don’t carry all of your cash with you at once. Instead, keep some stored in a safe place like a locked suitcase.
- Don’t put your wallet in a back pocket. It’s extremely easy for a thief to sneak it out without you even noticing.
- If you’re using a purse or a backpack, keep your wallet and valuables in a zippered inner pocket and carry the bag in front of you at all times.
Packing Checklist: To best protect your cash while traveling in Cuba, we highly recommend using a travel money belt like this one from Peak Gear. The belt is lightweight and subtle enough not to draw the same amount of attention as a backpack or purse. Plus, you can wear it under your shirt or jacket, making it nearly impossible for a thief to reach into it without your notice.
#5. Keep your luggage locked
It’s no secret that when traveling, you’ll sometimes have to leave your luggage behind.
Even in a safe country like Cuba, unfortunately, personal belongings can be taken from bags left unattended in hotels, cars, or even major airports like Havana Airport.
Packing Checklist: Since most theft in Cuba is done as an easy crime of opportunity, putting a TSA lock on your bag is a great way to deter any would-be thieves.
If you doing a backpacking trip to Cuba and you are concerned about safety, budget, and itineraries, check out our ultimate guide to backpacking Cuba!
2. Dealing with The Cuban People
#6. Not everyone is your friend
Cubans have a reputation for being warm, friendly, and chatty with tourists. You’re sure to make some great new friends during your visit.
However, crime can happen anywhere, even in the safest countries on earth. Please, don’t fall victim to crime or other dangers by trusting in unscrupulous people.
#7. Avoid slums
Is Cuba safe enough to visit non-cliche places? Like in any country, some areas of Cuba are more dangerous than others. Some places are even outside the law, where a tourist may be easy prey for muggers and robbers.
Be cautious if you visit the capital city! Havana is more dangerous than other cities. Your safety might be threatened if you visit some neighborhoods in Centro Habana, Marianao, and Guanabacoa. You should only go there with a trusted local friend.
#8. Beware of Beggars
Tourism is a big industry in Cuba, and while most Cubans find legitimate ways to profit off of tourism, others resort to less savory tactics like begging, hustling, or panhandling. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t accept anything that someone attempts to push into your hands (unless you want to pay for it).
- If someone offers to sketch you, sing for you, or take a picture with you, they’ll expect payment for it.
- If a “helpful local” approaches you and offers (often unsolicited) tips, advice, or directions, they’ll expect payment for it.
While begging can be problematic, it’s usually not dangerous, and a polite but firm “no” should be enough to deter them.
#9. Get a Spanish-English phrasebook
While many Cubans speak English, they appreciate you trying to strike up a conversation in the native tongue.
Packing Checklist: We strongly advise you to pick up an English-Spanish phrasebook to engage in basic exchanges with the locals.
3. Common Scams in Cuba
#10. Avoid pickpockets
Pickpocketing is problematic in Cuba, especially in large cities like Havana or at popular tourist destinations where thieves are hoping to encounter wealthy, distracted travelers.
Be vigilant of your surroundings and the people around you. Pickpocketing is not the kind of crime that happens in a dark alleyway at 2 am. It’s most likely to happen in a crowded place during broad daylight.
Packing Checklist: Pickpockets choose easy targets. Keep your money and personal belongings close, preferably in an anti-theft bag.
#11. Avoid currency scams
Is Cuba safe of currency scams? Quite the contrary. The currency scam is one of the most common scams in Cuba, and it specifically targets tourists.
To understand how the scam works, you first need to know the basics of the Cuban currency system. Cuba has a dual currency system: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP) both circulate officially on the island.
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the currency most frequently used by tourists and is the more valuable of the two. At CADECA, the official exchange office, for 1 U.S. dollar you will receive 0.87 CUC, while some “street vendors” will offer you some cents more.
Although not everyone who approaches you has bad intentions, please, be aware that he or she might be a scammer.
#12. Beware of fake “local guides”
Nowadays, you can find a lot of people who claim to be tour guides in Cuba.
Unfortunately, most of them are not reliable guides prepared to show you the authentic Cuba.
You may reach out to a professional guide listed on our marketplace. Choosing the wrong tour guide can cost you more money and even put your safety at risk. Respectable guides will know which areas to avoid!
4. The Crumbling Infrastructure
#13. Don’t drink water from the tap
Drinking the tap water in Cuba is not recommended.
Cuba, like every other region on earth, is home to its own unique, waterborne bacteria. While consuming this bacteria isn’t necessarily harmful, your body is not used to it and could react negatively.
This could result in nausea, upset stomach, and other unpleasant gastrointestinal issues you would rather not deal with while you’re trying to have fun and explore a new country!
Additionally, the problem of accessibility to potable water in Cuba is widely known.
To avoid any water-related problems, many travelers recommend drinking only bottled water. While that’s helpful, bottled water may not be available everywhere you go.
Packing Checklist: To avoid going thirsty, bring your own reusable water bottle with a built-in filter straw like this one from LifeStraw. Pour tap water into the bottle and the 2-stage activated carbon filter will purify 99% of waterborne bacteria and parasites so you don’t have to worry about getting sick.
#14. Drive carefully (road conditions are bad)
Cuba’s roads have a reputation for being rough. According to the U.S. Department of State, “accidents involving motor vehicles are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Cuba.”
The lack of regular maintenance, potholes, and inadequate street lighting all contribute to hazardous road conditions. Be careful, especially at night or during inclement weather when visibility is low.
Packing Checklist: For your safety and ease of travel by motor vehicle, it’s highly suggested to bring a road map like this StreetSmart Map of Cuba.
This map is designed especially for tourists. It is easy to use and contains an expertly drawn map of Cuba’s roads in addition to clearly marked cultural and sightseeing locations. Internet and cell phone coverage is sporadic, so it’s best to have a paper map on hand at all times.
#15. Bring a light in case of random blackouts (yes, they do happen)
Due to Cuba’s infrastructure, power outages and blackouts occur on a semi-regular basis.
While many tourist resorts are equipped with backup generators, that isn’t always the case, so you want to be prepared or risk getting caught in the dark.
A flashlight or a small travel lantern will come in handy during a blackout. They’re small and easy to pack in your suitcase or slip into your backpack. Plus, some are solar-powered so you don’t even have to worry about batteries.
Packing Checklist: The Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern by MPOWERD is a great example of a small, lightweight, collapsible lamp to get you through unplanned power outages.
5. Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Cuba
#16. Bring mosquito repellent
Anywhere you encounter mosquitoes, you also risk coming into contact with the Zika or Dengue virus.
Cuba is no exception. With its tropical climate, mosquito activity is intense. Since Cuba is warm all year, mosquitoes are active regardless of the season you’re traveling during and in both urban and rural areas.
Packing Checklist: To protect yourself from mosquito-borne diseases (in addition to lots of itchy bites), pack a powerful mosquito repellent with you like this OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent. The aerosol spray provides maximum surface coverage and the value pack will keep you protected for the full duration of your visit.
It’s an easy way to ensure you stay happy and healthy!
6. Will You Be Hit by Sonic Attacks?
Is Cuba safe to travel after all these sonic attacks happening over there? Recent news stories about sonic attacks had a lot of people asking.
News of the attacks spread quickly because of their brazenness and a sense of intrigue that seemed right out of a spy movie. While reports of these attacks are real, you don’t have much to worry about as a traveler.
The attacks, although unknown in origin, appear to have targeted only members of the U.S. government like diplomats and CIA agents. They also took place in a few very specific locations where these diplomats were staying at the time.
As of the writing of this article, there have been no reported attacks against tourists.
7. Emergency Numbers
#17. Write down the emergency numbers
When preparing for an exciting journey, we often don’t think about or plan for the bad things that could happen.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation, you will want to know who to call for help.
Packing Checklist: Write down a few important phone numbers in a travel notebook like this and keep it with you at all times.
Fire Department: 105
U.S. Embassy in Cuba: +53 7839-4100
Canadian Embassy in Cuba: +53 7204-2516
8. Use Your Common Sense
#18. Don’t walk alone at night
Is Cuba safe to walk around alone at night? Only at your own risk!
Being alone after dark makes you an easy target for muggers. Exercise the same level of caution you would while walking around a big city in your home country after nightfall.
If you do find yourself out after dark, be sure to bring a flashlight. Cuba’s streets are not well lit, so you’ll have to supply your own light to travel by.
Packing Checklist: A flashlight like this Portable Ultra Bright Handheld LED Flashlight by Outlite is small enough to fit into your pocket.
If you’re traveling solo, try to do all your sightseeing during the daylight and be safely back in your hotel by dusk. If you’re with a group of travelers, you should be fine regardless of the time of day. Opportunistic thieves will rarely approach a group of people.
#19. Don’t get drunk alone
While in Cuba, at some point you’ll want to cut loose with some of Cuba’s legendary rum or a refreshing Cuba Libre.
While there are no laws or restrictions against drinking alcohol in Cuba, safety can be an issue. For that reason, it’s best not to get drunk unless you’re traveling with a group of companions you know and trust.
Even if you’re not drinking to the point of drunkenness, be sure to exercise other common sense rules too. If you go to a nightclub, never take a drink from a stranger unless it was prepared in front of you. Likewise, don’t finish a drink you left on the table unattended while you left to use the restroom.
#20. Keep personal effects close
Whether you’re visiting a cafe, bar, or the beach, don’t leave your personal belongings out of sight. Unattended belongings are an easy target for thieves looking to take something from an unsuspecting tourist.
The most common place for this to happen is the beach since people will often leave their wallets, phones, and other valuables in the sand while they swim.
Always keep your belongings in a safe place.
Packing Checklist: If the worst happens and your things go missing, you can use a Bluetooth tracker like Tile Pro to alert you when your things are nearby, even if they’re out of sight.
#21. Don’t invite strangers into your room
Cubans have a reputation for being extremely friendly, so you won’t be wanting for company during your visit.
Usually, hotels and casas particulares (private rooms) allow you to receive guests, provided that the owner or manager is informed beforehand. Any visitors to your room will need to be registered.
Or, you could avoid the issue entirely by skipping the invitation to your room and hanging out with your new friends in a public place like a cafe or cantina.
Packing Checklist: You can add an extra layer of security with a temporary, portable lock like the Addalock.
#22. Buddy up with fellow travelers
There’s safety in numbers, and that’s especially true when traveling to a new and unfamiliar place.
That being said, there may be times when you and your companions want to go your separate ways for a while.
Staying in long-distance contact with people can be challenging in Cuba where cellphone service and wi-fi access are dodgy.
Luckily, there are off-grid communication devices designed especially for travelers in these situations.
Packing Checklist: Devices like GoTenna connect your phone and let you communicate GPS and SMS messages with your travel buddy’s GoTenna device without wifi or cell service.
#23. Dress modestly
Cuba is not a country where people are used to many luxuries. If you dress in a way that signals your wealth, you may attract the attention of someone who would like to invite themselves to your nice, expensive belongings.
Don’t wear valuable jewelry, carry designer bags, show off your money, or use expensive electronic devices like your phone while in public.
While the majority of Cubans don’t mean you any harm, you have no control over exactly who is taking notice of you and what they might do if they see the right opportunity to strike.
By following these basic safety tips, you’re sure to have an awesome time in Cuba. In no time, you’ll be walking the cobbled streets of Old Havana or skimming your feet along one of Cuba’s pristine beaches with a cold glass of rum in your sun-kissed hand.
And for any tougher situations you may encounter, you have this handy guide to help you ensure your trip is smooth sailing.
So, what do you think after reading this guide? Is Cuba safe? Is it safe to travel to Cuba? Or is Cuba dangerous?
Let us know in the comments!