Is Cuba Safe? A Complete Guide You Shouldn’t Miss

January 13, 2020

by Ashley Phillips

Photo of colorful Cuban buildings with big archways in front Of them and a bright blue car in front of the pink building and a dark blue car in front of the cream colored building, with the road empty and a clear afternoon sky

Cuba is a beautiful country with breathtaking cities and beaches. Visiting the place feels like a blast to the past with many awe-inspiring structures that are centuries old. However, even with all of Cuba’s beauty and wonder, many people stop to ask, is Cuba safe for travel? That isn’t an unfounded question. After all, Cuba is still a developing country so some risks are attached, especially if you’re a tourist since tourists don’t know much about the place and its cultures. 

 

If you’re wondering “is Cuba safe to travel to in general?” The answer is still yes. Even though it isn’t perfectly safe or as safe as countries such as Japan, it’s still possible to travel around Cuba safely, but there are things you have to look out for. We’ve put together a guide so that you can know what risks and precautions to take when you’re traveling to Cuba.

 

Is Cuba Safe To Travel To From The U.S.?

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Is Cuba safe to travel? Rather, is it even legal? After the latest Cuba travel restrictions the U.S. government made, safety might not be your only concern. Many American citizens wonder the same thing since the restriction took effect on June 5, 2019. The ban forbade travel to Cuba’s airports, except for the one in Havana Cuba and disallowed cruise travels to Cuba. However, travel to Cuba is still possible. There are just some travel categories that are the only ones approved if you want to travel to Cuba

 

The Travel Categories

Certain legal travel categories will allow you to travel to Cuba from the U.S. Regardless of the category you choose, you just have to declare it when you’re booking flights or making living arrangements. While the previously used “People to People” category is no longer allowed, there are 11 other categories you can choose from.

 

Though we won’t cover all 11 here, the most popular category by far would be the “Support for the Cuban People” category. This category has certain requirements you’ve got to fulfill in your itinerary and during your travels. Don’t worry, the requirements aren’t ludicrous or especially difficult to carry out.

 

Support For The Cuban People Category

If you’re choosing this category, you should take note of the requirements you must have during your journey. These include having a full-time schedule of activities that support the people of Cuba.

 

What are these activities? It can include several things. It can mean eating at a privately-owned restaurant. Other examples include visiting local artists or shops at locally-owned shops and businesses. 

 

The list not only includes things you should support but also things you should not. For example, avoid booking your lodging at hotels that are banned by the U.S. State Department. You also shouldn’t shop or stay at military-owned businesses.

 

This category also requires you to keep all your receipts and records for five years. While it may sound a bit tedious, it’s not that difficult a feat. Do proper research on whichever category you choose. “Is Cuba safe to travel?” might be the last of your questions if you accidentally travel there illegally.

 

Tourist Cards / Visas For Cuba

What’s next? Well, it’s now time to purchase a Tourist Card or Visa to enter the country, but it’s got nothing to do with American law this time. The Cuban government requires this tourist card before they can allow entry regardless of where you’re from. If you are an American traveler traveling from within the U.S., your tourist card will be pink. Otherwise, your card will be green.

 

There are multiple ways for you to purchase the card. By far, the easiest is to get it online through websites. You can buy the pink cards from Cuba Visa Servies and the green cards from Easy Tourist Card. If you don’t want to buy it online, however, you can purchase it through your airline. Check with them about where you can buy it and how much it’ll cost. And lastly, you can choose to visit the Cuban Embassy in your country to purchase the card. 

 

Travel From The U.S.

Where is Cuba? Or rather, how do you get there from the U.S.? It’s not like there’s an easy bus ride going from Miami to Cuba. It’s an island near the Bahamas, after all. However, there are easy means of having safe travel USA to Cuba. As previously stated, the flight you’ll book to Cuba will only be allowed to land in Havana. Cruises are also disallowed because of the new ruling, but it still shouldn’t be too difficult to book a flight to Havana Cuba. 

 

Tips For Safe Cuban Travels

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©Photo by Augustin de Montesquiou from Unsplash

 

When visiting Cuba, there are certain things you have to know about the country and its climate to travel safely. While it is quite safe to travel to as a tourist, you should still be prepared and do your research. Here are some tips for what to do in Cuba to travel safely.

 

1.

First Aid

While Cuba does have a good healthcare system, you shouldn’t take the risk of getting sick or getting injured during your stay. That goes especially for visits to the rural areas where clinics are few and far between. Remember to pack all the essentials of your first aid kit like aspirin, bandages, and all other basics you might need. Make sure that there’s enough for first aid and at the same time, it’s small enough a pack to fit in your backpack

 

2.

Health And Insurance

The next thing to be prepared with is making sure you have travel insurance and healthcare. Cuba is a safe place when you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. However, if you just so happen to stumble across a bad situation, it’s best to be prepared. Getting sick, getting into an accident, or losing your luggage should be taken care of by travel insurance and healthcare provisions.

 

3.

Cuban Currency

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The currency and cash in Cuba are not like everywhere else. In Cuba, they have two currencies that are used for different occasions, and it can be confusing for first-time travelers. The two currencies are the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).

 

A lot of your purchases and spending should be covered by CUC. Most hotels, restaurants, resorts, and attractions should accept CUC. However, the CUP is used in a few other situations like when purchasing things from street vendors or food stalls, flea markets, acquiring bus tickets, or small convenience marts. 

 

4.

Currency Exchange

Another thing to note about Cuban currency is you can’t exchange your home currency outside of Cuba itself. That’s a no if you were planning on exchanging currencies ahead of time. That’s because Cuban currency can only be exchanged in Cuban currency exchange offices (CADECA), banks, resorts, or airports. 

 

Also, if you’re an American tourist, keep note that if you exchange dollars into CUC, you’ll have a 3% bank fee and a 10% charge in addition to that. That sounds rough, but don’t worry. Before you travel to Cuba, you should exchange your dollars into British Pound Sterling or Euro because they’re the two most valuable currencies in Cuba. That way, you won’t have to face the many exchange fees when you exchange currency. 

 

5.

Cash

Bring lots of cash with you because very few businesses accept credit or debit cards. Cards issued by U.S. banks won’t be accepted in Cuba. So remember to stock up on cash when you’re in Cuba. Even with the 780 ATMs in the country (mostly in major cities), American cards won’t work. 

 

However, don’t bring all of your money everywhere you go. Keep the majority in a safe place because it may be unsafe for you to bring that much cash everywhere you go. Just bring the amount you need for the day and a few extras in case of an emergency.  That way you’ll keep a lot of your money safe in the event of a theft. Just calculate your budget per day beforehand and do your research, and you should be okay. 

 

If you want to keep your money safe as you go, check out these travel purses you can take with you that have extra safety measures. 

 

6.

Tipping

Tipping is a common culture in Cuba, and it’s highly encouraged. Typically, tipping is done when services are provided. For example, in hotels, guided tours, spas, taxis, restaurants, and resorts. So when someone cleans your room, waits on your table, or drives your taxi, consider giving them a tip, especially when the service is great. Tipping ranges from 1 CUC (for maids, receptionists, taxi drivers, street musicians, and porters) to 3-5 CUC (for local guides). In restaurants, however, tipping is generally 10% of the bill. 

 

7.

Keep Important Documents And Records Safe

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Make sure to have photocopies of important documents like your passport, tourist card, and all other things. Petty theft is still commonplace in Cuba since it’s still a developing country. So, it’s best if you have copies and spare records of all the important documents you’ll need on your travels. Keep the original ones in your hotel or someplace safe out of the reach of thieves. 

 

8.

Packing

Of course, packing all the essentials is crucial to safety, but you also should be wary of banned items. Make sure to review the list of banned things, so you don’t accidentally pack a banned item. Also, make sure to lock your luggage after packing all of your things so nothing gets stolen. 

 

9.

Language

If you’re wondering what language is spoken in Cuba, it’s mostly Spanish. Although a few people do know how to speak in foreign languages like English, most of them speak in Spanish. So if you want to be extra safe and secure in Cuba, it’s best to learn a bit of Spanish before you go there. That’s because learning their native tongue will help you get by a little bit easier and speaking in foreign languages might tip off some of the local thieves and scammers.

 

Although you won’t have to learn the entire language, just make sure to learn a few phrases and keywords. It’s best if you can pack a Spanish-English phrasebook that specializes in Cuban dialect. 

 

10.

Emergency Places

Being sick or injured is an awful thing to happen, especially while you’re traveling. Hopefully, you won’t have to but just in case, you should get a list of hospitals and physicians in the places you’ll visit in Cuba. The U.S. State Department even created a list of hospitals and physicians for all of the major cities of Cuba. Check it out and print the list, so you can use it as a quick reference. And then put in your first aid kit so you’re prepared in the event of a medical emergency. 

 

11.

Emergency Numbers

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Of course, God forbid that you’ll have to use these emergency numbers. However, it’s still good to be prepared just in case something happens. Things can happen regardless of whether you’re traveling to Cuba or to somewhere safer like Singapore or Japan. So it’s always best to know the country’s emergency numbers beforehand. 

 

Police: 106

Fire Department: 105

U.S. Embassy in Cuba: +53 7839 4100

Canadian Embassy in Cuba: +53 7204 2516

 

12.

Internet Connectivity

Speaking of connectivity, don’t expect smooth internet connectivity in Cuba. While the country does have internet, there is limited access and spotty service in some places. Of course, the most reliable places that have internet would be internet cafes in major cities, hotels, and public hotspots in local airports. There’s also limited bandwidth, so don’t expect that you’ll get a super-fast connection. Perhaps the best you might be able to do is search the web or send a couple of emails. However, video and music streaming might not be available. 

 

13.

Internet Access

Of course, I’m pretty sure you’d still want to have the internet during your stay. After all, it’s still safe to have the internet in situations when you don’t know what to do. So if you want to have access, a couple of options would be to buy the NAUTA card, access a desktop computer at your hotel, get international roaming, or get a sim card.

 

NAUTA is available at ETECSA offices with long lines that take up to two hours in Havana. However, some hotels do sell NAUTA cards, so you should check with your accommodation. Also, remember to bring your passport because you will need it to buy a NAUTA card. A 5-hour NAUTA card costs about 5 CUC. The NAUTA card will help you connect to the web in airports, WiFi hotspots in Cuba, hotels, resorts, and desktop computers at ETECSA offices. 

 

If you want to get a sim card with internet access, you can get one at ETECSA offices or rent a card from home rental owners. It might take time to set up a sim, however, and it’ll cost about 40 CUC. Other options include buying the sim card ahead of your trip. Some companies like Cellomobile and OneSimCard do sell or rent out these sim cards. Check them out so you can potentially skip the line at ETECSA offices. 

 

14.

Tours

If you’re asking, “Is Cuba safe in all its tours?”, the answer might not be yes. While legitimate tours are certainly safe, many fake tour guides exist. There are a lot of illegitimate guides in Cuba that you should be wary of street guides. Hire legitimate guides instead of hiring a street tour guide. 

 

15.

Scams And Streets

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Is Cuba safe from scams? No, not really. Many scams exist in Cuba apart from the fake tour guides. First off, never exchange money with street vendors because a lot of people have fallen victim to fake currency exchanges before. Either the money you get will be fake or it’ll be the wrong amount. You should always exchange your money at reputable places like CADECAs in airports, hotels, and banks. 

 

Is Cuba safe all around? The answer is no, again. It’s best if you can avoid slums and unsafe places because a lot of them will have thieves and muggers, especially if you’re in the capital Havana. It might be the capital, but it’s also more dangerous than other Cuban cities. So try to avoid Havana’s slum areas and unfriendly places like Centro Habana, Guanabacoa, and Marianao. 

 

Beggars are also people you should be aware of. While not exactly dangerous, you pay for something you never wanted. Don’t accept things people push into your possession unless you want to purchase the item. Also, if someone offers unsolicited advice, or offers services like singing for you, sketching you, or taking a photo with you, they’ll ask for payment. Just keep that in mind. 

 

Lastly, avoid pickpockets. If you’re asking, “is Cuba safe in the daytime?”, the answer might shock you. Pickpocketers hang out around tourist destinations and it happens in crowded streets even during the daytime. Watch out and be vigilant.

 

16.

Dress

No, there aren’t any dress codes. But if you’re asking, “is Cuba safe?” then sometimes it’ll depend on the clothes you wear. Don’t try to show off your wealth on vacation. Avoid wearing luxury brands and expensive trinkets and accessories or you’ll attract thieves and scammers. So only bring the essentials and the things you’re comfortable with. 

 

Also, dress for the season. May to October is the wet season and November to April will be the dry season. However, it will generally be hot. The wet season only brings rain and humidity so make sure to dress comfortably. 

 

17.

Water

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Is Cuba safe when it comes to drinking water? Actually, tap water isn’t potable in Cuba, so it’s safer not to drink water from the tap. It’s also home to its own ecosystem’s set of bacteria. Even if the bacteria present isn’t harmful, it could upset your stomach or cause nausea because your body isn’t used to it. So just stick to bottled water when you’re there and you’ll be safe. Also, make sure to buy bottled water before you go on other adventures within Cuba since it may not always be available wherever you go. 

 

18.

Food

Is Cuba safe when it comes to food? Yes, of course. However, street food might be a bit iffy, so it’s best to eat at private restaurants. Also, basic hygiene goes a long way like washing hands before meals and avoiding raw or undercooked food. And you should probably steer clear of unpasteurized dairy products just in case. Remember to also wash fruits and vegetables so germs won’t get into your gut.

 

However, don’t let these things scare you from eating Cuban cuisine. They have wonderful delicacies and a unique taste so it’s worth trying. If you wanna know more about Cuban cuisine, check out the Best Places In Cuba For Authentic Cuban Food.

 

19.

Getting Around

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Is Cuba safe when it comes to transport? While transportation is generally safe in Cuba, road conditions might not always be. So if you’re planning on renting a car during your trip, make sure to drive safely. Road accidents relating to motor vehicles are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Cuba. That’s because they have many potholes, unmaintained roads, and inadequate lighting on the streets. So if you’re driving be safe, and don’t drive too quickly. 

 

If you’re not going to drive then taxis, Viazul buses, and flights should be the way to go. Also, try walking around the cities and places you visit. You’ll miss out on the beautiful scenery if you’re always in a motor vehicle. Make sure to bring a map to get around the area. And remember, bring a physical map since internet access might be difficult. 

 

20.

General Safety

Is Cuba safe at night? Yes, but make sure not to walk around alone, and don’t invite strangers back to your place. It’s just common sense. Since politics is a complicated thing in Cuba, refrain from talking about it, too. 

 

Also, if you’re a lady, don’t be surprised by catcalling since it’s commonplace in Cuba. It’s not harmful, however, but just keep that in mind.

 

21.

Disease

Is Cuba safe from disease? No, of course not. There’s always a risk of disease wherever you go. Cuba has only dry and wet climates, which means it’s prone to mosquitoes. They’ll be everywhere regardless of the season you visit, so it’s best to be ready. Make sure to bring mosquito repellent — and lots of it. 

 

Also, bring your own toilet paper. It might sound weird, but there’s not much toilet paper in Cuban bathrooms. It’s always important to keep up good hygiene to ward off any possibility of disease.

 

Safe Places To Go In Cuba

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With all this talk about safety, you might wonder where to go in Cuba to enjoy the country while remaining safe. Honestly, Cuba is a beautiful place so don’t be scared of exploring it. From the Havana Cuba beaches to the bustling beautiful cities, there are so many safe places to visit.

 

In general, you should avoid visiting slums and poorer areas. As long as you follow this rule, generally many places are safe in Cuba. Havana, Vinales, Cayo Jutias, Trinidad, Playa Larga, Santa Clara, Parque Nacional de Turquino, Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, and Sancti Spiritus are all good places. However, be aware that petty thefts occur in Prado, El Centro, Old Town, Verdado, Malecon, and Playa del Este. These places are all in Havana. And the beach in Varadero and Santiago de Cuba are also a bit iffy. So if you’re planning on visiting these areas, be vigilant. 

 

Is Cuba Safe For Travel?

If the question is “is Cuba safe for travel?” then the answer is most definitely yes. While there are obstacles that you might encounter along the way, it’s definitely possible. So long as you know what you’re doing and plan ahead, you’ll be able to have a great time traveling to Cuba. When you’re there, don’t forget to eat delicious Cuban cuisine, too!