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38 Most Common Tourist Scams in Cuba

Safety at Havana, Baracoa, Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, Santigao de Cuba, Trinidad, Vinales
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.

 

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba.

 

Cuba was under an embargo from the United States for years which meant that many tourists stayed away.

Now that the country is open for business once again, the tourism industry has been going from strength to strength.

Here you can see sights such as the iconic Revolution Square, spend days walking on the cobbled streets of Havana and relax in the myriad cafes and eateries.

If you head out, you can also enjoy some of the prettiest beaches known for their azure waters and white sands.

However, as tourism picks up, the number of scams and crime has risen and you need to remain vigilant when visiting.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club. Source: latinbayarea.com

 

How it works:

The Buena Vista Social Club (BVSC) was a group of old Cuban musicians playing old fashioned music of pre-revolutionary Cuba, which became a hit in the 1990s.

Today however, most members of the BVSC have passed on and so the club has not performed for many years.

In Central Havana however, scammers will come up to you inviting you watch a performance by the BVSC.

However, as there is still some time before the show starts, they will suggest having a drink first at a nearby bar.

Should you agree, you will be made to buy drinks at inflated prices and the scammer will disappear into thin air.

 

What to do:

If someone mentions BVSC, that is a scam. Decline and ignore.

Should you want to partake in or watch a cultural show, engage a licensed, reputable tours and activities operator which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • GetYourGuide: one of the best day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

2. Cigar festival scam

Cuban cigars

Cuban cigars. Source: dinanbmw13/ Flickr

 

How it works:

Cuba is famous for its cigars and many tourists choose to buy some as souvenirs.

Many of those sold by street touts are fake however and contain banana leaves or tobacco waste.

You should be particularly wary if the price of the cigars is very cheap as they are usually a high-cost item in Cuba.

 

What to do:

If the price is too good to be true then it probably is. However, some may be real, but simply stolen to be sold on the streets.

However, if you have no idea how to determine if a cigar is authentic, then the best place to buy is at state hotels, official cigar factories, or some licensed state shops.

Also look for cigars that come with an official certificate and that are packed in a box with a holographic seal.

 

3. Salsa festival scam

Salsa festival

Salsa festival. Source: lujocuba.com

 

How it works:

In Cuba, you may be approached by someone on the streets telling you how lucky you are to be here today, as the the annual salsa festival is taking place today!

But what makes it even luckier for you, is that they are more than happy to bring you there! J

The truth is that no such festival takes place.

You are most likely going to end up at some dancing venue or salsa school and they will either ask for a direct payment or commission for taking you there.

 

What to do:

Decline and ignore.

If you do want to learn salsa dancing, then engage a licensed, reputable operator which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • GetYourGuide: one of the best day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

4. National day scam

National day

National day. Source: radiotaino.cu

 

How it works:

A common trick in Cuba is a friendly local asking you when you arrived.

When you answer they will tell you that this is an auspicious day in Cuba as it is the national day of either a venue they own or a product they want you to buy, such as it is the Cigar day today.

They will then engage you in conversation and pressure you to buy something, telling you that they are selling their services or goods at a discounted price as it is national day.

This is a scam however and they will be selling you something at an inflated price.

 

What to do:                          

Politely refuse and walk away.

 

5. Discounted tickets

Old Havana

Old Havana. Source: Darrell Paul/ Flickr

 

How it works:

One of the most prevalent scams in Cuba is the discounted ticket scam for well-known tourist attractions.

This scam often occurs in places such as Old Havana and starts when a tout comes up to you and asks you if you want to buy a ticket to an attraction at a discount.

After you have paid for the ticket and try to use it to enter the attraction you will find out that it is fake.

 

What to do:

Do not buy from streets touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (one of the best globally).

 

6. The Santeria divination scam

Santeria

Santeria. Source: steemit.com

 

How it works:

If you are interested in local culture, Santeria, also known as worship of saints, is an Afro-American religion that spread to Cuba via West African descendants when Cuba was still under Spanish rule.

As a tourist however, you may the religion spread to you by scammers posing as Olorichas (fully initiated priests / priestesses of Santería) or Babalawos (priests of Orula).

After these scammers claim to have performed a ritual or a divination for you, they will try to sell you tonics at inflated price tags.

 

What to do:

If approached on the streets, ignore, as real priests do their thing in secrecy and do not work as street touts.

 

7. The artisans’ cooperative shop

Shop in Cuba

Shop in Cuba. Source: Pennyperkins / Flickr

 

How it works:

It starts with a local initiating a friendly discussion about what you have seen or places you have visited so far in Cuba.

Then, you will be asked what kind of souvenirs you are bringing home. During the chat, the scammer will recommend a great shop run by some welfare or cooperative that helps the poor or needy.

However, as the shop is about to close soon, he recommends that you move fast to nab the great bargains.

However, once you are there, you get sold stuff of lousy quality at outrageous prices.

 

What to do:

If you wish to buy any souvenir, avoid listening to street touts. Instead, only visit licensed and reputable shops.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.

If you find this too time-consuming, other options available include:

  • Using local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Multiday tour through TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • Shopping tour through GetYourGuide: one of the best day tour platforms globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.

 

8. Coffee scam

Café Cubano

Café Cubano. Source: raredelights.com

 

How it works:

A very common scam in Cuba is the coffee scam. This involves coffee being sold on the street for a very inflated price.

If you wish to buy coffee however a friendly local will approach you and offer to buy it for you at the ‘local’ price so that you don’t get scammed.

This is still a scam however and you will still be paying far more than the local price and the scammer will split the profits with the owner of the business.

Sometimes, burnt and old coffee beans may be mixed together in the coffee package that they sell to you at coffee plantations in Vinales.

 

What to do:

To find out what is a fair price to pay, you can do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff.

If you do not wish to bargain, alternative options are to:

  • Use local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Fixed price shops: slightly higher prices than average, but you won’t be ripped off.
  • Multiday tour through TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • Shopping tour through GetYourGuide: one of the best day tour platforms globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.

 

9. Rum scam

Cuba rum

Cuba rum. Source: ChrisBieOne / Flickr

 

How it works:

There are a few ways you can get cheated here.

First, a rum bottle of an older vintage (e.g 7 years) can have its seal broken and diluted with rum of a cheaper new vintage (e.g. 1 year).

Second, there is the typical product swap (e.g. also happens in Hong Kong, Egypt) trick.

This is where they display real rum in the shop, but after you make payment, they hand over a cheaper rum bottle that is wrapped up.

Third, the rum that you buy may not even be real.

 

What to do:

Check the seal for any signs of tampering, and check the item even after paying.

 

10. Unsolicited tour guides

Cuba street

Cuba street. Source: thewandertheory.com

 

How it works:

Another scam in Havana is for a friendly local to suddenly appear and offer to show you around. You may encounter this at Callejón de Hamel.

They may take you to a number of tourist attractions or suggest that you visit a range of businesses to buy some souvenirs.

You may think they are just being friendly but at the end of the tour they will ask you for a fee for their time.

If you buy products in any of the shops that they suggested then they will also probably get a cut from the business owner.

Generally, these will be low quality products sold at inflated prices.

 

What to do:

Decline such advances, as the tour is usually more of a “shopping” tour for the scammer to earn a commission rather than a good quality tour of the place.

If you want a guide, engage a licensed, reputable tours and activities operator instead which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • GetYourGuide: one of the best day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

11. Closed attraction / restaurant / hotel

 

How it works:

The closed attractions scam is common all over the world (e.g. China, Morocco) and it also happens in Cuba.

As part of this scam a friendly local will approach you as you get close to an attraction and engage you in conversation.

Once they find out where you want to go they will tell you that the attraction is closed because of a public holiday or similar excuse.

They will then offer to take you to another famous attraction or a bar or restaurant close by. This is a scam and they will receive commission from the venue they take you to.

Besides attractions and restaurants, they can tell you that a hotel is closed, and offer to bring you to a Casa Particular instead.

Casa Particular is like a local B&B, where locals rent out their homes or part of their homes.

 

What to do:

The only way to know if an attraction is really closed is to go there in person.

Also, do your research on the opening hours of any place you want to go.

 

12. Drinks invitation

Cuba Nightlife

Cuba Nightlife. Source: Laura Weidman Powers

 

How it works:

This scam is also particularly common in Eastern Europe (e.g. Turkey, Greece)

You will find host / hostess bars around at Old Havana, El Centro, Vedado, and the Malecon, and also at beach areas such as Playa del Este, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba.

As part of this scam you may be approached on the street and encouraged to drink in a local bar or nightclub.

Once you are there a host or hostess will dance with you and order drinks.

At the end of the night you will be presented with a large bill for the drinks and for the ‘services’ of the host or hostess.

This scam often targets man in many countries but it is also common to find male ‘hosts’ who charge women patrons for dancing with them in nightclubs in Cuba.

 

What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.
  • Leave your valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured further with hotel safety tools.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.

 

13. Restaurant scams

Cuban cuisine

Cuban cuisine. Source: elmesondepepe.com

 

How it works:

Many travelers have fell for the scams of restaurants in Caleton (Bay of Pigs area).

These restaurants will employ street touts to entice you in by promising you a cheap set lunch (i.e. an oferta deal) or a huge menu selection and a variety of drinks.

Once you get inside however they will tell you that most dishes are unavailable and will only offer simple meals like fish and rice which are usually of low quality.

Other tricks include:

  • Charging for items which you did not order; not serving items which you ordered.
  • Different prices reflected on the bill as compared to on the menu.
  • Not providing a menu and then charging whatever they want.
  • A set lunch is ordered but you are charged at a la carte prices for each dish.
  • Adding commission for the street tout who brought you here to your bill.
  • Told that there is no more local Hatuey beer (though you see others drinking it) and bringing you a more expensive Heineken instead.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts – do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

If you try to order and are told that many of the items are unavailable, ask for the manager or simply leave.

Also, always check the menu carefully (prices, fine print), do not eat what was not ordered, and check your bill carefully.

If researching is too much of a hassle, you can also consider joining a fun local food tour!

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • GetYourGuide: one of the best day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

14. Bus timetable scam

 

How it works:

This scam usually happens in cheap hotels, hostels, or guesthouses (known as casas particulares).

When you check out of your accommodation and ask the owner / staff of the hostel when the next bus is leaving to your destination, they tell you that the last bus has already left.

This is to either scam you into staying an extra night at the place, or to book a more expensive transport option through them from which they can get a cut.

 

What to do:

Check bus timetables in advance so that you are not reliant on a local who may or may not give you the right information.

Many bus timetables for Cuba are available online and it is a good idea to print these out and carry with you in case you can’t access the internet.

 

15. Pickpocketing

Santiago, Cuba

Santiago, Cuba. Source: holidayplace.co.uk

 

How it works:

Pickpocketing is a rising issue in Cuba in places such as Old Havana, El Centro, Vedado and the Malecon, Playa del Este, Santiago de Cuba, and Varadero.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

Do watch out for child pickpockets as well.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target.            

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

16. The CD scam

 

How it works:

Like along the Times Square in the US, you may encounter street performers and “musicians” hawking CDs of their music.

Try playing it however, and you may think that your CD player is spoilt, as either nothing is played, or some noisy, unrelated beats are played.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Bici taxi

Bicitaxi

Bicitaxi. Source: elnuevoherald.com

 

How it works:

 Also known as bicycle taxis, they are 3 wheeled pedal powered taxis, and offer a cheap form of transportation to get around places where car traffic is limited.

This could be at the suburbs or in Central Havana and Old Havana.

Unfortunately, just like their tuk-tuk / cyclo counterparts in Vietnam and Thailand, there is a good chance of getting scammed if you were to take one.

Situation 1 – overcharging

It costs around 1 CUC to travel a km, but drivers will not take you anywhere for less than 2 CUC.

That is not the scam however, the real scam is when:

  • The driver overcharges you for the distance travelled.
  • Or when at the end of a trip, claim that the initially agreed upon fare is for each person in the group, and not for everyone.

Unfortunately, you might not get much help from the police.

Situation 2 – misrepresentation

You may come across a great bargain, where a driver offers to bring you on a 1-hour tour covering almost all tourist attractions for just 5-8 CUC.

Wonderful you think, but once on the tour, you realize it’s impossible to cover all these sites in an hour.

You will end up spending 2-3 hours or more and will be forced to pay for the additional time.

 

What to do:

If do take one, make sure to agree clearly on the price (amount, for everyone and not per pax, currency).

 

2. Checked baggage theft

Inside Jose Marti International Airport

Inside Jose Marti International Airport. Source: trover.com

 

 

How it works:

Luggage theft is a big problem and can happen to checked luggage when you flying into or out of airports in Cuba.

Once your baggage is passed to baggage handlers some may go through the contents and remove any valuable items.

Unfortunately you will not realize until you open your suitcase at your final destination.

 

What to do:

With your check-in luggage, there are four key steps to protecting your property:

 

3. Overweight baggage charges

 

How it works:

You may not encounter this at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, but may experience it at the smaller regional airports.

What happens is that the airline check in staff will claim that your baggage is overweight.

A trick they use is to tape weights onto the sides of the weighing machine sides. It was common in the past but not so nowadays.

 

What to do:

Still, there is no harm checking the scales to make sure it is not rigged.

An alternative solution you want to consider is using a portable weighing scale so you know for sure whether your luggage is overweight.

 

4. Black market taxis

Outside Jose Marti International Airport

Outside Jose Marti International Airport. Source: panoramio.com

 

How it works:

Black market taxis and tour operators are a big problem in and around the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.

When you come out of the airport scammers posing as taxi drivers or tour operators will offer you a very low fare to take you to your hotel.

They have a range of scams however, such as:

  • Driving you to a secluded place and then robbing you.
  • Pretend that the taxi has broken down and look for tools in the trunk of the vehicle where you also stowed your suitcase. Whist they pretend to look for tools they will also go through your bags and steal valuable items.

 

What to do:

Do not take an unofficial taxi.

If you do take one, take a photo of the car plate and the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

Else, consider these other options:

  • Get a cab from the official counters.
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (one of the largest globally).
  • Book a rental car.

 

5. Overcharging taxis

Cuba taxi

Cuba taxi. Source: steemit.com

 

How it works:

There are several ways a taxi can overcharge, such as:

  • Charging an inflated flat fare as most taxis are non-metered here
  • Taking the scenic route to extend your trip fare
  • Driving into traffic jams to extend your trip fare
  • Confusing your destination on purpose to drive a longer distance
  • Adding a bag fee when there is none
  • Claiming the fare should be denominated in a more expensive currency
  • Or claiming the fare should be per pax, not for the whole group of passengers

 

What to do:

Always negotiate the fare (currency, price for everyone, not per pax) before getting into a taxi.

You can estimate the fair price of any route by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.

 

6. The bus is full

Cuba bus

Cuba bus. Source: fivepointfive.org

 

How it works:

Tourists walking towards bus stations in Cuba will be accosted by many taxi drivers offering their services.

These “kind hearted souls” will tell you that whatever bus you are taking or that even all the buses at the station are not operating today! Or that there are no more seats left.

They will then offer to take you to where you are going at exorbitant rates.

 

What to do:

The best thing to do is to keep walking and head for the station where you can confirm for yourself.

If no bus is available, use the bus fare rate to bargain with the taxi driver for a better bargain.

 

7. Baggage handling fee

 

How it works:

When travelling with state run coach services such as Cubacan or Viazul, your ticket also covers your luggage.

However, you may encounter opportunistic fellas who will try to get a tip out of you by:

  • Unsolicited snatching your luggage and helping you carry to the bus.
  • Holding your luggage tag ransom claiming you need to pay a bag fee to carry onto the bus.

 

What to do:

Do not let anyone snatch your luggage.

 

8. Bogus hitchhikers

Road in Cuba

Road in Cuba

 

How it works:

There is a rising problem with bogus hitchhikers in Cuba, particularly in rural areas.

Two situations that may occur:

  • They will take the opportunity to rob you.
  • Or he encourages you to take a stop to rest at a café. While you are inside, he slashes your tire and brings you to a garage which will charge an inflated fee.

 

What to do:

Do not stop especially if you are driving in an isolated area at night and are alone.

Also, it is a good idea to use a cheap spare wallet with some cash inside to give up when threatened, while hiding other valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch.

 

9. Flat tire scam

Traffic in Cuba

Traffic in Cuba

 

How it works:

This scam deliberately targets visitors in hire cars, and you might find yourself caught in this scam. There are two possible two scenarios.

First scenario: in remote areas

  • Someone may puncture the tires of your parked car and when you realize the problem they will offer to help you change the tire.
  • While you are distracted one of their accomplices will take the opportunity to steal valuables from your car.

Second scenario: at gas stations

  • There have been reports of this at gas stations such as the service station at Calle 37 (Paseo el Prado) and Avenue 37 in Cienfuegos.
  • Staff there plant a screw / nail near the pumps to puncture your tire.
  • They then note it out to you, and recommend repairing the tire at a small repair shop behind the gas station which they are in cahoots with.

 

What to do:

First, do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

If you notice that your tires have been deliberately slashed then this is almost certainly a sign that you are the victim of a scam.

As such be extremely cautious if someone approaches you and offers to help change the tire.

Do contact your rental car provider and go through your car insurance, as such cases are generally covered and your provider will send someone down to repair it.

 

10. Rental car insurance scam

 

How it works:

In Cuba, there is one type of insurance that covers all (except radio and tires). This cost will vary for different car types.

However, what some scammers at these rental car agencies to do is to pretend that there are different tiers of policy for each car type.

They will encourage you to purchase the “most expensive” tier, then claim that you can only pay part of the cost with credit and remainder with cash.

This part of the cost happens to be the same price as the “lowest” tier, which is the real insurance policy!

They will keep the cash for themselves, and not reflect the cash payment in your receipt or contract.

 

What to do:

First, only book through reputable operators, and next, watch out for this trick.

 

11. Online car rental scam

 

How it works:

Like online apartment booking scams, there are online car booking scams as well.

Tourists have reported booking rental cars online only to find no cars on arrival.

 

What to do:

Book directly with established brands like Avis, Hertz, CubaCar, etc.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch theft

Street in Cuba

Street in Cuba. Source: Victoria Burnett

 

How it works:

Snatch theft is a rising problem particularly in Old Havana, El Centro, Vedado and Malecon.

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beachwhere tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

At crowded places, even seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Do not carry valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off.

Other protection measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Collectible coin scam

Coin in Cuba

Coin in Cuba. Source: ma-shops.com

 

How it works:

On the streets, you may be approached by people trying to sell you bills and coins bearing Che Guevara’s image.

You might even be told that such coins are only in limited amounts being anniversary editions.

The truth is that these are common Cuban currency still in legal circulation and are not genuine collectibles.

 

What to do:

Decline and ignore.

 

3. Fake bottled water

 

How it works:

Sometimes the bottled water being sold in places frequented by tourists is actually tap water, only resealed.

If you observe, you will notice the bottle tampering and it’s likely to taste different from genuine bottled water.

Bottled water and canned soft drinks typically cost the same (0.45 CUC or 10 CUP) and are a luxury item for most locals.

If you find the water being sold too cheaply, then it’s likely to be fake bottled water

 

What to do:

Check the seal / cap before buying. After buying, take a sip first to see if the water tastes weird.

 

4. Currency confusion

Cuban currency

Cuban currency. Source: money.cnn.com

How it works:

If do not know how the Cuban currency system works, you can end up paying many times over the actual prices.

Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Cuban Convertible (CUC). The CUC is equivalent to USD, and one CUC goes for 24 CUP.

Some outlets will only accept one form of currency although most generally accept both – with suitable conversions.

Scammers who deal in CUP may try and take advantage of you by charging 5 CUC for something that costs only 5 CUP. That would be like being paying $5 US for an item worth $0.20.

 

What to do:

Be clear about the differences in the two currencies.

 

5. Credit card scam

 

How it works:

Credit card scams are common here, and there are crooked merchants who have reportedly gone to a bank outlet just beside to make a cash advance using your card.

 

What to do:

As credit card facilities are limited around here, it may be more practical to carry cash around to pay.

Should you use one, never let it out of your sight.

Also, scrutinize your receipts. If you notice “Venta” on the receipt, a CUC or dollar amount or anything strange, decline to sign as it could be a cash advance taken out by the scammer.

 

6. Familiar face scam

Malecón

Malecón

 

How it works:

This is a scam that is popular in other countries as well such as in Tunisia and Sri Lanka. It occurs in stages.

First, you may be approached by some girls who will ask you where you come from, where you are staying, etc.

A little while later, someone else approaches you claiming to know you as he / she works at your hotel – obviously information which you have divulged earlier.

Should you bite the hook, he / she will invite you for drinks at a bar.

When the bill comes, you will be in for a shock as the astronomical sums involved.

 

What to do:

If someone claims to work at your hotel, that is an obvious scam.

Also, do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.
  • Leave your valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured further with hotel safety tools.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.

 

7. Sob story scam

Street in Cuba

Street in Cuba. Source: newamerica.org

 

How it works:

You may be approached by a friendly looking local couple with the man carrying a baby.

He will hand the baby over to his wife as he comes over, asks where you are from before claiming to be just taking a beach walk before losing their wallet.

So, if you will be so kind to give them some money to take a taxi or bus home, it will be much appreciated.

This may sound genuine enough until you see them pulling the same stunt on other tourists!

 

What to do:

Decline and ignore.

 

8. Baby milk scams

 

How it works:

Baby milk scams are prevalent in Cuba.

A local will approach you and will tell you that they have a young child and don’t have enough money to buy them milk.

They will then ask you to buy the milk for them directly rather than giving them money to gain your trust.

When you go to the shop, the milk will be pre-packaged and waiting to be picked up. It will also probably cost a lot more money than you were expecting.

Once you pay for the milk the scammer will return it to the shop and split the profits with the shop owner.

 

What to do:

Decline. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.

 

9. No change

Shopping complex in Cuba

Shopping complex in Cuba. Source: Elliotsphotos / Flickr

 

How it works:

Many local business owners will tell you that they don’t have any change when you want to buy something.

This is then either used as an excuse to sell you more goods or as a way of getting you to tell them to keep the change.

A twist on this scam is to short change patrons and hand them incorrect notes or coins when you make a purchase.

 

What to do:

Explain that if the business owner doesn’t have change then you will purchase items elsewhere.

Also make sure to count your change carefully.

 

10. Money changer scam

 

How it works:

Like in Czech Republic and in Costa Rica, money changers who operate on the streets in Cuba generally have a bad reputation as scam artists.

People often fall for this scam as the money changer will offer them a fantastic rate of exchange.

Unfortunately they will give you either counterfeit money or will give you a currency that is no longer in use in Cuba.

 

What to do:

Do not change money on the streets in Cuba even if the money changer offers you a very good rate of exchange.

As a general rule it is best to only change money at state-run exchange bureaus (cadecas), banks or large hotels.

 

11. It is my birthday today

El Capitolio

El Capitolio

 

How it works:

Scammers in Cuba like to claim a lot of things, and one is that as today is their birthday, they hope that you can give them some money or alcohol! :’-)

 

What to do:

Ignore.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Cuba

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Cuba. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: both violent and petty crime have been increasing as tourism picks up pace. Watch out when at.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: please see below.
  • Terrorism: no recent terrorism, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations are infrequent but can be violent.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Places to be careful at:

  • Crime: Habana Vieja, Playas del Este, Old Havana, tourist locations, El Centro, Vedado, Malecon, beaches of Playa del Este, Varadero, Santiago de Cuba
  • Carjacking: Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Central Havana at night

 

2. Medical care

Hospital

Hospital. Source: Sam Laird/ Mashable

 

How it works:

Medical care is basic in Havana, and limited elsewhere due to the lack of critical medications and supplies.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, dengue, chikungunya.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies, leptospirosis
  • Human borne disease: HIV, meningitis, conjunctivitis.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, rabies.

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:                                          

A brief summary:

  • Hurricanes: June to November. Usually comes together with heavy rains.
  • Rainy season: April to October, can cause floods and landslides.
  • Earthquakes: in an active earthquake zone, and earthquakes can trigger tsunamis. However, most seismic activities pass unnoticed.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture; expect aftershocks.
  • Tsunamis: signs include abnormal ocean activity and load roars. Protect yourself from an earthquake first if there is one. Else, get to a high ground as far inland as possible.
  • Hurricanes: stay indoors away from windows, do not use electrical appliances / equipment, do not head out and touch debris (more injuries / deaths happen after hurricanes).

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Drive with care, especially if not along the major streets which are generally well maintained.

Some factors to watch out for:

  • Unlit roads and vehicles not signalling
  • Insufficient or confusing road signs
  • Many and old and poorly maintained vehicles on the road
  • Roaming livestock on roads in rural areas.
  • Secondary roads are poorly maintained and with potholes.
  • Beware of cyclists

As for public transportation:

  • Official taxis are reliable, but unlicensed taxis can be dangerous.
  • Co-Co taxis or motorcycle taxis are unsafe.
  • Guaguas are generally crowded and unreliable.

 

What to do:

Make sure your travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) covers travel accidents.

Check latest media reports, weather forecast, stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in Cuba

Police in Cuba. Source: Dickelbers

 

  • Police emergency hotline: 106
  • Ambulance service: 104
  • Fire brigade: 105

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