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 visit 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?
- 16 Things You Must Know About Travel Safety in Cuba
- 1. Get travel health insurance
- 2. Write down the emergency numbers
- 3. Protect against COVID-19
- 4. Pack your medications
- 5. Protect your luggage
- 6. Avoid currency scams
- 7. Don’t carry too much cash on you
- 8. Don’t drink water from the tap
- 9. Bring mosquito repellent
- 10. Avoid slums
- 11. Steer clear of fake “local guides”
- 12. Be aware of beggars
- 13. Blackouts happen
- 14. Drive carefully (road conditions are bad)
- 15. You won’t be hit by sonic attacks
- 16. Use your common sense
Is It Safe to Travel to Cuba Right Now?
According to the latest report from the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Cuba is generally a safe country to travel to, including its top destinations, Havana and Varadero. It is rare for travelers to experience safety issues in Cuba, although minor crimes like pickpockets and currency scams are not uncommon.
However, despite its relative safety, Cuba shares many of the same safety threats for travelers as other developing countries. This includes safety risks associated with the country’s crumbling infrastructure, such as unsafe water and mosquito-borne diseases.
Like many other countries, the island was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having more than 90% of the population vaccinated, the island still poses a high risk of infection according to the CDC.
If traveling to Cuba during the pandemic, follow the current Cuba travel restrictions.
With that in mind, follow our tips below for cautious travelers who want to stay safe and healthy during their Cuban adventure.
16 Things You Must Know About Travel Safety in Cuba
1. Get travel health insurance
Along with the Cuba Tourist Visa, travel medical 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 a solid travel health insurance plan with a travel-geared provider like Insubuy.
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 in Cuba, you will want to know who to call for help. Write down important phone numbers in a travel notebook like this and always keep it with you.
- Police: 106
- Fire Department: 105
- U.S. Embassy in Cuba: +53 7839-4100
- For Canadians traveling to Cuba, 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 worldwide for its high-quality doctors. However, shortages of over-the-counter medicines and medical facilities in poor conditions are the common denominator throughout the island.
If 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 you’ll sometimes have to leave your luggage behind when traveling. Even in a safe country like Cuba, 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 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). However, since January 2021, the CUP has been the only official currency on the island. In the past, you could buy both CUC and CUP from the exchange offices called CADECA.
CADECA remains the official currency exchange office in Cuba. Still, you can get more money for your home currency if you exchange it for CUPs with street vendors instead of buying directly from CADECA. The currency scam can go one of two ways: 1) you receive forged currency in exchange for your money; or 2) you get change in CUC instead of CUP.
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 cover most of your trip to Cuba costs, you’ll have to use cash CUPs. Don’t expect many stores or restaurants to have the infrastructure to accept credit or debit cards, and don’t plan to find any ATMs while you’re there.
When carrying cash, be smart and use common sense, especially if you are backpacking in Cuba. Pickpocketing is problematic in Cuba, especially in large cities like Havana or popular tourist destinations where thieves hope to encounter wealthy, distracted travelers.
Fortunately, you have a lot of control regarding protecting yourself from pickpocketing. So, don’t carry all your cash with you at once, and don’t put your wallet in your back pocket. Keep your wallet and valuables in a zippered inner pocket, and carry the bag in front of you.
8. Don’t drink water from the tap
Like every other country, Cuba is home to its 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 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 contracting the Zika or Dengue virus.
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 protect you during 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 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. It would help if you only went 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. If you run into trouble, make a lot of noise, and the police will come running!
11. Steer clear of fake “local guides”
Nowadays, you can find many 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. While most Cubans find legitimate ways to profit from 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 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.
- 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 semi-regularly.
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 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.”
Lack of regular maintenance, potholes, and inadequate street lighting contribute to hazardous road conditions. If you are driving a rented car in Cuba, be careful, especially at night or during inclement weather when visibility is low.
For short rides, it’s better to hire one of those colorful classic American cars in Cuba.
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 and marked cultural and sightseeing locations. Internet and cell phone coverage are sporadic, so it’s best to have a paper map on hand.
15. You won’t be hit by sonic attacks
Is Cuba safe to travel to after all these sonic attacks happening over there? Recent news stories about sonic attacks had many 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.
Although unknown in origin, the attacks appear to have targeted only members of the U.S. government, like diplomats and CIA agents. They also took place in a few particular locations where these diplomats were staying.
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 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 any other important document if 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 most 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. Therefore, 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 before you. Likewise, don’t finish a drink left on the table unattended while you leave 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 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, especially 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 ZOLEO connect your phone and let you communicate GPS and SMS messages with your travel buddy’s ZOLEO device without wifi or cell service.
You Will Be Fine
You can have an awesome time in Cuba by following these basic safety tips. 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 2023? Let us know in the comments!