All cities have to deal with crime, although it’s obviously much worse in some places. The city with the highest crime rate in the world is in fact San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. With no disrespect to Honduras, this city is not the sort of place that a casual tourist can visit safely.
The honor of being the safest city on the planet goes to Tokyo. This is measured by digital safety (as in how likely are you to have your personal data stolen), life expectancy, crime rate, and personal safety. When all these things are factored in, the Japanese capital comes out on top.
So where does Cuba stand? When considering a trip to Cuba or the Cuban capital, you will no doubt be asking yourself, is Havana safe for tourists and visitors? Although we go into more detail below, the short answer to that question is yes, absolutely! Take the usual precautions you’d use at home against petty crime, and your time in the Cuban capital will be a very safe one indeed.
So what are some of the things you need to consider? Read on to discover all you need to know about safety in the Cuban capital.
Street Crime in Havana
Its safe to say that street crime in Havana is not a major concern to tourists, and shouldn’t even reach your radar in actual fact. Like in any large city, bag snatching and pickpocketing do occur, if rarely. There are a lot of police on patrol in Havana, so this acts as an excellent warning to any potential thieves. Sometimes there are just too many police around for them to bother, which is awesome news for travelers. That said, it’s up to you to make it as difficult as possible for these criminals to consider you a potential target. Don’t take anything out with you that you don’t absolutely need. You might want to carry difficult-to-replace valuables such as a credit card and passport in a money belt that is hidden underneath your clothes. You should also never put your wallet (or anything of value) in your back pocket, as a skilled pickpocket can empty this particular pocket without you being in the slightest bit aware. Its also a good idea to keep large value banknotes (and foreign currency) hidden, in a separate section of your wallet or separate wallet entirely, so when you buy something people only see smaller notes
Watches and Jewels
Actual muggings don’t happen all that much, but despite the visibility of the police, you can’t assume that it will never happen to you when thinking ‘is Havana safe for visitors?’ Avoid making yourself a target by not wear flashy watches or jewels. Many people now travel with a dedicated travel watch, which they’ve bought for a few dollars, while an increasing number of regular travellers also have travel versions of jewellery such as wedding rings – leaving the real things safely locked up at home. Realistically, you probably shouldn’t take expensive watches or jewellery (or items that are irreplaceable due to sentimental value) with you when you take a vacation anywhere, since you wouldn’t want to lose these expensive things.
Cubans don’t tend to wear flashy watches or jewels anyway, so you shouldn’t draw attention to your wealth. If you do decide to travel with these items, it can be smart to keep them in your hotel’s safe or safety deposit box, and only take them out when you really need them – just don’t forget to take them with you when you check out!
Dance with Care
When you’re at a club or a bar, you should never leave your personal belongings unattended. If you should get up to test your salsa moves on the dance floor, never leave your bag or camera on the table behind you. The same thought stands for your entire trip in Havana. Don’t be tempted to leave a wallet on a café table because you’ll ‘just be a couple of seconds’ as you take a photo of a scene that has caught your eye! It’s really just common sense, but these “seize the opportunity, seize the goods” crimes are about the most frequent type of crime in Havana, as elsewhere around the world
Charming, Yet Annoying
There is one thing that you will almost certainly be confronted with, but it’s more of an annoyance rather than a crime. Sadly, there are quite a few scam artists at work in Havana. Be cautious about friendly people who randomly approach you on the street and ask you about yourself.
Many of these people are being genuinely friendly in a city that is still getting used to seeing visitors from around the world, but if the person pushes the conversation in the direction of asking you if you want some amazingly cheap cigars, or if you want to meet a beautiful woman (or man), then politely but firmly say you’re not interested and just walk away.
These scam artists are incredibly well practiced and rather charming (which is how they succeed), but it gets a bit much if it happens a few times each day.
You might also be confronted by locals who will provide you with a sad story and then ask for money. These sob stories are all too common, and it’s hard to know if the person is being honest. It’s been noted that a number of women will ask for money which they claim is to buy formula for their baby. Sadly, you have to assume that each of these stories are untrue. The government rations such essential items and they are provided to all mothers. If you want to contribute further in some way, its much better to tip someone for good service, leave behind unwanted clothing, or contact one of the charities that works in the country – they know what is needed where and are best placed to deliver that help.
Is Havana Safe for Female Travelers?
Solo female travellers can worry about the safety of destinations, so its right to ask if Havana is safe for single women. Like all matters of this kind, we can never guarantee the safety of a destination, but for the most part Havana is very safe for solo female travellers, and most female visitors come away from the capital without having faced any worrying situations.
What might you face as a female traveller? Single women might find random men calling out to them, and even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can probably guess what they’re saying, especially when they make kissing sounds. There is this machismo side to many Cuban men, and it can be a little bit annoying or off-putting, but is generally nothing more than this. A firm ‘no’ is the best way to deal with such things, and don’t feel you need to be polite about it either.
Beware of Taking Photos (in Some Cases)
You need to be very careful about taking photographs. Sure, feel free to snap photos of all the beautiful sights that you see, but there are some exceptions. Do not take photographs of any military personnel, military buildings, or even the police (unless they’re taking part in a changing of the guard or similar event). You are unlikely to get into serious trouble, but you might be instructed to delete the photos. The best thing to do if you’re unsure is ask first!
There are some circumstances where you might not be the victim of a crime, but a criminal yourself. Illicit drugs (including marijuana) are illegal, as is prostitution. Having said that, it’s possible that you might be offered one or both of these things. It’s best to say no. This is not making any kind of moral judgement, it’s just that the penalties can be severe. Being a foreigner who says that they didn’t know it wasn’t allowed probably won’t get you out of trouble, and in such instances your national embassy or consulate will not be rushing to your defence. That’s not their job, so be careful!
Is Havana Safe for Tourists: The verdict
Compared to much of the world, Havana is a surprisingly safe city, and becomes even more so for visitors and tourists. Follow our simple guidelines and you’ll more than likely have a safe and worry free time in the Cuban capital!
I am a teacher and because i want to qualify for an educational license, i plan to take school supplies and letters from my students to Cuban school kids. Will this qualify me for an educator license?