Crime In Cuba – What You Have To Watch For To Not Get Yourself Into Trouble

The trip to Cuba is a dream for many of us: fly to this paradisical island, get out of the plane and then simply enjoy the sun, warmth and a good mood, drive vintage cars and dance the night away.

Graffiti in Vedado, Havana

But after the first idea for such a trip, many people have doubts: if I really go to Cuba, will my dream still come true? And I can assure you, it really is what you dreamed of – or at least something like that: sunny, tropical warmth, all the vintage cars, happy people, at least mostly! And the Cubans can really dance the way you imagine!

Of course, we can also see the poverty, the unequal distribution between our central European /Canadian/US American prosperity and the Cuban level of earnings. On average we earn 100 times as much as the average Cuban. Therefore, I feel, it is necessary to write an article on security: what do you have to consider and what you shouldn’t do? And to take away some of your fear: Cuba is much safer than you might think! It ranks 91st on the Global Peace Index, more or less in the middle, roughly at the level of Bosnia-Herzigovina (81th) and far above the level of the USA (128th place)!

On the Travel Risk Map, Cuba, like Germany, the USA or Costa Rica, is rated as low risk, in contrast to other countries in the region.

Theft and property offences

Well, of course there are robberies in Cuba, like in any other country. And if you leave things unattended, they’re quickly gone. But my experience is that those who are robbed are a little bit on the naive side – or at a certain rum level. Anyone who puts his backpack somewhere at the Malecón and then has fun elsewhere, will experience what you have also in other countries: that opportunity creates thieves.

Poster in the University of Havana

It is also a thing that you shouldn’t go everywhere with your super big, shiny camera, e.g. not in every dancehall. We met a couple once and the woman had their giant camera ripped off (literally) in the Casa de la Musica in Havana, resulting in a nasty cut by the camera belt, right next to the carotid artery. She was quite lucky not do bleed to death, actually!

Or if you walk through Centro Habana at night at 2, you should rather hide your mobile phone and the wedding ring. And also, erase your own sex pictures from the smartphone – happened to a friend of a friend, mobile phone with pictures stolen :0

Also on local buses: even Cubans have their smartphones stolen in them, so avoid full buses.

But it’s just these situations: I wouldn’t walk with a fancy camera at 2 o’clock in the night over the infamous RAW area in Berlin or through certain streets of Berlin-Neukölln. Cuba is simply not more insecure than Berlin, that’s what I mean.

And then there is the contrast to the neighbouring countries: in Cuba you can usually take to the streets at night, in almost all areas and without certain precautions that are often recommended for Latin America: Cheap phone, invalid credit card, extra wallet with a small cash balance. Not necessary for Cuba, but I wouldn’t be walking around with 500 CUC in my pocket, also. If someone sees you at the ATM getting that amount of money, then you can calculate for yourself: that corresponds to about 50,000 euros in Germany. And with that amount of money, I wouldn’t be sure that I’d make it through the night in one piece in Germany…

Burglary & Break-Ins

There have also been break-ins in Cuba, but I – and all the hundreds of students with whom I have travelled to Cuba – have not yet experienced them. All Casas Particulares are barred, there is sometimes even a safe for the money – you only need a certain amount of cash anyway, if you brought 2 credit cards (what you should have, one in your wallet, the other in the hotel). Also the Casa landlords and the neighbours usually pay close attention to what happens in the house. Nevertheless, you should lock the door – it’s not Canada, but Cuba. Ok, in the Cuban villages, I’m sure, you don’t even have to lock the door.

The Police

The police are numerous in Cuba. Whether this is politically positive or negative doesn’t matter for the article, it’s about our security. And your security naturally increases with the high police density. If anything happens, the police are not far away, a reassuring thought. The fact that the policemen in Havana speak quite a strong accent – Cuban policemen are always deployed far from home – (and mostly no English) is of course a challenge for our rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, but I’nm shure you can communicate when it matters.

Graffiti in Vedado, Havana

So my experiences with Cuban policemen are quite positive. As a group of perhaps 100 students, we are often together at the Malecón, and that naturally attracts even the most shady elements. Normally, a policeman who is coincidentially in the area comes by and stands within reach, so shady elements quickly take a quick exit.

Ok, if you run around with a Cuban woman or man in your arms, it can lead to a control because of prostitution. But this actually serves to prevent exploitation. Even if it is not pleasant for you at this moment, it is justified from the state’s point of view – one just has to see what is going on on the neighbouring islands, see Oxfam and Haiti.

Deception and Ripp Off

Well, that’s the real crux in Cuba: there’s people cheating on you everywhere. Therefore a basic rule: dig out your calculation skills, add up everything you have bought or eaten and count your money. What can happen, is typically one of three things:

  • The change is wrong, you get too little money back
  • Additional products or cocktails appear on the invoice
  • Not all products (e.g. cigars) you bought are also in the bag.
Bild: Havanna im Sommer: Gefällt mir!

Havana
Biennial

In Cuba normally all things in the shop have to be priced out openly, so look at the price tags. If the price tag is missing – typical for the water bottle – then you know: you will be ripped off. But ok, I sometimes pay 2 CUC for a water – more than triple the price – so that I don’t have to walk 3 more blocks in the heat of the night, it’s a trade off. So when it comes to cheating, it helps to see life in a more Cuban way: simply relax, especially when it comes to 20 cents, don’t make a fuss for everything, but think: it’s just like tipping.

That’s it for now with security in Cuba! Is there anything else I forgot? Comment, if you think something is missing!

Knockout drops

My relatives reported that there were also attacks with knockout drops in Cuba – that means for us: just like here we should not leave our glass standing in unknown surroundings, but always supervise it. However, K.O.-drops are by no means normal in Cuba, but you know: better save than sorry 😉

Other dangers: the hurricane season

Cuba is in the hurricane zone, as I am sure you know. Hurricanes typically occur during the hurricane season from June to November. The highest hurricane risk in Cuba are the months of September and October, about two-thirds of the hurricanes and severe storms hit Cuba during these two months.

Also important: Here you find the Cuban emergency numbers!

Now I wish you a pleasant Cuba vacation, enjoy the time there, it is simply unforgettable!

Saludos from Berlin,
Dietmar

PS: Did you know we are on Instagram with lots of our unique Cuba photos? You can follow us there!

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