Is Cuba safe to travel to? If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, this is probably one of your burning questions, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. This may be especially true if you are visiting Cuba from the US, where there is little to no information about travel safety on the island.
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, COVID-19, mosquito-borne diseases, and terrible road conditions if you are driving.
Is It Safe to Travel to Cuba Right Now?
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. Thus, it is very rare for travelers to experience health and safety issues in Cuba.
However, like many other countries, the island is currently being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Cuba remains at COVID-19 Level 4 according to the CDC, the highest level yet. Therefore, traveling to Cuba now -or to almost any other country for that matter- may present health and safety risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, despite its relative safety, Cuba is a developing country and shares many of the same safety threats for travelers as other developing countries. This includes minor crimes and safety risks associated with the country’s crumbling infrastructure, such as unsafe water and mosquito-borne diseases.
With that in mind, we put together this comprehensive guide for cautious travelers who want to remain safe and healthy during their Cuban adventure.
16 Things You Must Know About Travel Safety in Cuba
1. Get travel insurance
Along with the Cuba Tourist Visa, travel insurance is an entry requirement to Cuba, and it makes sense. Cuba’s healthcare system may be free for its citizens, but not for tourists. Therefore, in case of a serious emergency, you’ll want to have a solid travel insurance plan 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.
2. 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 in Cuba, you will want to know who to call for help. Write down a few important phone numbers in a travel notebook like this and keep it with you at all times.
- Police: 106
- Fire Department: 105
- U.S. Embassy in Cuba: +53 7839-4100
- Canadian Embassy in Cuba: +53 7204-2516
3. Protect against COVID-19
Travel has dramatically changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Traveling to Cuba is no exemption. As a cautious traveler, you don’t want to leave home without these essential items to protect you against getting COVID-19:
4. Pack your medications
Cuba’s healthcare system is known around the world for its high-quality doctors and care. However, the truth is that shortages of over-the-counter medicines exist throughout the island.
In case you get injured, you don’t want to be caught unprepared. Bring all the essentials like bandages, aspirin, and bismuth in an all-purpose first aid medication kit small enough to fit into your backpack.
5. Protect your luggage
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.
This is especially true in hotels and major Cuban airports. 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.
6. Avoid currency scams
Is Cuba safe from 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 had a dual currency system: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP), but since January 2021 the CUP remains as the only official currency on the island.
Because the US dollars has become increasingly attractive to Cuban residents (it’s a long story, check our Cuban currency article), you can get more money for your US dollars if you exchange them for CUPs with street vendors instead of buying the CUPs at CADECA, the official exchange office.
Although not everyone who approaches you has bad intentions, please, be aware that he or she might be a scammer.
7. Don’t carry too much cash 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. 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.
Fortunately, you have a lot of control when it comes to protecting yourself from pickpocketing. So, don’t carry all of your cash with you at once, and don’t put your wallet in a back pocket. Keep your wallet and valuables in a zippered inner pocket and carry the bag in front of you at all times.
8. Don’t drink water from the tap
Additionally, Cuba, like every other country, 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!
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 in Cuba.
That’s why you should bring your own reusable water bottle, 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.
9. 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.
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!
10. 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.
You may want to carry a travel whistle like the NOOPEL Emergency Whistle or a keychain that doubles as a personal safety alarm. In case you run into any trouble, make a lot of noise and the police will come running!
11. Steer clear 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!
12. Be aware 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.
Tipping is encouraged in Cuba, but begging can become problematic. However, a polite but firm “no” should be enough to de-escalate any uncomfortable situation.
13. Blackouts 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.
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.
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. You won’t 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, especially those going to Cuba from the US.
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.
16. Use your common sense
Because Cuba is generally a safe destination, you have a lot of control when it comes to protecting yourself from common crimes against tourists on the island. Use your common sense and follow a few helpful ground rules:
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
Don’t invite strangers into your room
Despite Cubans’ reputation for being extremely friendly, we don’t recommend you invite people you just met into your room. If you do, inform your host beforehand or ask visitors to your room to be registered. Generally, hotels and casas particulares (private rooms) allow you to receive guests.
You can further protect your room with a temporary, portable lock like the Addalock.
Buddy up with fellow travelers
There’s safety in numbers, and that’s especially true when traveling to a new and unfamiliar place. However, 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. 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.
You Will Be Fine
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.
So, do you think it is safe to travel to Cuba in 2021? Let us know in the comments!