The short answer? In my opinion, yes! According to the UK Government’s foreign travel advice, crime levels in Cuba are low and it’s mostly in the form of opportunistic theft. This fits with my own experiences in Havana, as I didn’t at any point feel threatened, but there are definitely things to be aware of to ensure you have a safe trip.
The biggest risk in Havana is getting scammed. Scammers in Havana are in it for the long game and at first, it can be difficult to tell if someone is being friendly and helpful or just building up to a scam. This was my least favourite thing about Havana, there are just SO many scams. I kept my guard up during the whole trip once I realised how prevalent and determined scammers are. I’d recommend doing a bit of research before your trip – it can save you a lot of grief when you get there.
Our local tour guide advised us that technology is particularly attractive to thieves in Havana and they try to steal smartphones, cameras and go pros, as these items are difficult to buy in Cuba. So as I would advise when travelling anywhere, at home or abroad, don’t flaunt your valuables. Make sure they’re in a zipped bag when you aren’t using them, not in a shallow pocket or sitting on the table in a bar or restaurant. Obviously a determined thief could still find a way, but at least you aren’t making yourself an easy target.
I didn’t feel like my physical safety was at risk at any point during my stay in Havana.
There was a strong police presence on the streets and taking standard precautions such as staying alert and aware of my surroundings, keeping valuables close to me and out of sight and sticking to busy, well-lit areas when walking around in the evening was enough to make me feel safe. Reputable taxis are widely available, so I would definitely recommend using them to get around Havana safely at night. Another thing to be aware of is take extra care when crossing the road. The roads were very busy with traffic coming from many different directions and I found it much more difficult to cross safely that it is in the UK, so be careful.
The Malecón (officially called the Avenida de Maceo), which is an esplanade, roadway and seawall is popular with tourists, hence it’s also a popular spot for people trying to get money from them. I noticed a pattern when people approached us looking for money. Someone would say hello and ask where you were from and if you answered, they’d start to talk to you about Havana and suggest nice places to go in the city and explain how to get there. They’d then start to talk about the history of Cuba, moving on to how it’s difficult to earn enough money and then ask you for money. If you said no, some would continue to ask and mention their family and children to try to change your mind. After this, they would then give up and move on to the next tourist.
In spite of this, I never actually felt unsafe or threatened in this area. I’ve felt much more intimidated in other big cities when people who were obviously drunk or on drugs have blocked my path to ask for money and sworn at me when I said no. The people I encountered in Havana didn’t approach me in an aggressive way and generally took ‘no’ for an answer. I found the best way to deal with this issue was just to smile and keep walking. Don’t engage further.
I chose not to give money to people begging on the streets or approaching me, as there’s no way of telling if they would try to steal from you if you got your wallet out. Obviously it’s horrible to see people struggling and you do want to help, so before your trip, learn about things you can do to support the local economy and people during your trip.
So what’s the verdict?
Based on my own experiences, I would say Havana is safe for tourists. I definitely didn’t feel the need to be hypervigilant as I have in other places (such as travelling through Naples). Use your common sense, follow the standard advice for staying safe when travelling and educate yourself about common scams and this should enable you to stay safe when exploring Havana. It’s an incredible place, unlike anywhere else I’ve visited, and I really hope you’ll add it to your travel list!
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