Travel bans, social stigmas, and decades of frigid political relations may have convinced you that Cuba is where danger lurks around every corner. In fact, the opposite couldn’t be truer. According to recent studies, Cuba is one of the safest countries in not only the Caribbean but in the entire Western Hemisphere. The people are famously warm and welcoming, and the attitude towards foreigners is more curious than dubious. These days, asking “is Cuba safe?” is a bit like asking “is the world safe?”. There are pockets of good, pockets of bad, and if you put yourself in perilous situations, people will take advantage of you. Below is a concise rundown of the potential dangers you may face when visiting the island nation. In Cuba especially, the conversation surrounding safety goes beyond crime to include water quality, natural disasters, and sneaky exchange rates. Keep reading for your back-pocket safety guide on the pearl of the Caribbean.
Crime and Petty Theft
According to an international census bureau, violent crime is extremely rare in Cuba. With a homicide per capita rate lower than the United States, you’re at higher risk walking the streets of Detroit and St. Louis than you are in Havana. Muggings are few and far between, and those that end badly usually do because the victim resists demands. As a simple rule of thumb, always obey requests, and avoid the temptation to be a hero. And, in order to limit your losses, consider diversifying where you keep your belongings. Store some things in a wallet, some in a money belt, some tucked into a sock — you can get creative. In general, crime in Cuba usually comes in the form of opportunistic theft, so you’ll only run into trouble if you’re not paying attention.
The most common scam in Cuba has to do with its dual currency system. In 1994, Cuba decided to introduce the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC), which was pegged to the US dollar, as a way to bolster a weakening economy in the sectors of luxury goods and tourism. The original Cuban Peso (CUP) is still in rotation, and the disparity between the two currencies has created some significant socio-economic divisions in Cuban society. All this means for you is you need to be cognizant of which you’re holding. In some cases, travelers have paid in CUC and got their change back in CUP, which ends up costing them significantly more than the item is actually worth.
Healthcare and Insurance
The Cuban government operates a national healthcare system, and the care provided is frequently lauded as some of the best in the developed and developing world. As of 2010, the Cuban government declared that all tourists entering Cuba must have health insurance. You can either purchase travelers’ insurance beforehand through a third party like World Nomads, or you can opt for a plan upon arrival at the airport. The cost is roughly $4 per day and covers medical treatments for accidents and sudden illnesses. You’re not likely to find the common over-the-counter drugs that are widely available in other countries, so be sure to bring all your medication for pre-existing conditions.
Food and Water
During your stay in Cuba, it’s best to steer clear of tap water. That includes drinking it straight up, drinking your mojitos with ice cubes, and consuming vegetables that have been washed. Even locals boil their water before use, so be in the habit of buying bottled water or grabbing a portable filtration system like the Water to Go bottle, iodine tablets, a UV device, or a backpacking pump.
As far as food goes, in a Caribbean island climate with temperatures bobbing around the 90’s, food is likely to attract a gamut of pathogens by way of viruses, bacterias, molds, and insects. In order to avoid a bout of diarrhea, use the same judgment calls you would in any other country: make sure the ingredients are hot, the place is clean, and local customers are eating there.
As was made painfully clear in 2017 with Hurricane Irma, Cuba is often at the mercy of powerful storms that sweep through the Caribbean. The country’s infrastructure is fairly old, so the dangers of visiting during hurricane season between July and November are genuinely worth considering. If a threat emerges, follow the instructions of local authorities to avoid the dangers associated with heavy rains, flash floods, landslides, and power outages. If you can, try to not plan your trip during the months of August and September. Cuba is also located in an active earthquake zone, something to be cautious of when visiting.
Mysterious ‘Sonic Weapon’ Attacks
Earlier in 2018, the US State Department warned that diplomats and government officials at the US Embassy in Havana faced eerie symptoms such as hearing loss, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. While officials say these were the effects of targeted sonic attacks, many sources say this was fake news disseminated by the Trump administration to help diminish relations with the Cuban government. With no follow-up and no travelers actually experiencing any symptoms, planning a trip to Cuba is still a safe bet, but keep your eyes peeled for any news on the matter leading up to your trip.