Basically there are 2 types of accommodation in Cuba: Hotels and Casas Particular.
Hotels are state owned (at least 51% but let’s not get technical) and don’t live up to the international classification. Deduct at least one star for the real comfort level. So if you are looking for a terrible price/quality ratio go for a Hotel.
‘Hostal’ is a classification invented by the Cubans. It’s just a different name for a Casa Particular with more than 1 room. Cubans think it has a classy ring to it!
Some innovative Cubans came up with the idea to rent out beds in dormitories per bed and not per room on a Casa Particular permit. Hence the hostel was created. They are perfect for the solo budget traveller. So a hostel is simply a Casa Particular that rents beds in shared rooms.
Casas typically charge 25 CUC and up per room (in Havana). Hostels for backpackers start at 6 CUC per bed. So if you are travelling alone it is a lot cheaper and much more fun because you will make new like-minded friends from all over the world, that are also travelling on a similar budget.
There are many different ways to travel from A to B in Cuba.
Here is a list of the different forms of transport from the most expensive and comfortable to the cheapest.
It’s hard to rent a car. There are just not enough cars available as Cubans rent many of the cars that are mend for tourists, either to drive taxi with them or just as a personal carefree car. See this post for how to rent a car and what the pitfalls are. Rental cars are extremely expensive and hard to find. Read the rental car post plz.
What? Taxi is less expensive than the bus? (See bus below). Yes it is.
A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars to drive them as a taxi. They have a long-term rental contract, which brings down the absurd rental price a bit. Renting it with two drivers and driving it 24/7 and buying illegal fuel makes it possible to take a taxi for less than the bus.
Taxi’s pick you up at your place and deliver you to the doorstep of your destination. Taxis are shared with other people (Collective) or you can rent the whole car.
You can book a taxi in different ways. Ask your landlord (who will add about 20 to 80 to the price as his commission) or the porter of your hotel (who will do the same).
Better to book one before you go. Here ZunZunCar comes into play. A lot of sites offer taxi services and most are bloody expensive. ZunZun is disrupting the Cuban taxi market with good service for reasonable prices.Just go to their site, fill in your needs and pay… The taxi will show up on time on your address! You can do this weeks ahead.
There are two ways to take the bus (for you that is… you are a tourist).
Most tourists that don’t want to rent a car (or are not able to find one) take the bus. Seems a logical reflex all around the world but not in Cuba. You as a foreigner are only allowed to take the Viazul or Gaviota. It’s service is rather trustworthy, the Viazul is rather comfortable (take a sweater, the air-conditioning is ON FULL) and they seem cheap.
Comfort ****, speed ****, Practical *** price **
1 Package tour/excursion.
Just walk into any hotel and find the tourist desk. Book an excursion, and show up in the lobby at the given time. Get on the bus and do take a sweater.
This is the tourist bus (but often also taken by Cubans that can afford it) that connects most towns and tourist hotspots.
But to take a Viazul you have to go to the Viazul station to buy a ticket the day before. Forget about booking online but their site has a time table.
Most travel guides will tell you that the Viazul station is on the corner of 26 and Avenida Zoologico. That used to be the case but they moved it to the central bus station on the corner of Boyeros and 19 de Mayo as of April 2019.
Here’s some good information about taking de Viazul and how to book it.
Taxi versus Bus
Now let me show you why a taxi is way cheaper than the Bus. For this article I take the example of two people traveling from Havana to Viñales.
You can pay with your credit card for a colectivo with ZunZun for 27 USD between Havana and Viñales. The car will pick you up from your casa and deliver you to the next.
Or you can go to Viazul station the day before (10 CUC taxi), spend a few hours there, buy the ticket for 12 CUC pp and then go back home (10 CUC taxi) and then go back there the next day to take the bus (10 CUC taxi). When you get to your destination you have to take some form of transport to your Casa Particular, which adds another 5 CUC.
If you are a couple travelling taking the Viazul to Viñales will cost you 59 CUC and a lot of time. I don’t know about you but time is value to me.
If you take ZunZuncar it will cost you 5 less and you will save about half a day. For me that’s a no brainer and I have not taken any busses for the last 10 years.
But hey… there are other ways to get around.
Where the Taxi’s fetch you at your casa and deliver you to the next one’s doorstep the Cuban Collectivos drive from Piquera to Piquera. The cheapes way to get to Viñales is to go to a piquera, get a Truck there for 5 CUC pp to Pinar del Rio and in Pinar you take another collective for 2 to Viñales. Cost of the whole operation: 10 to get to the Piquera (in this case opposite the central bus station) 10 to get to Pinar for the two of you and 4 to get to Viñales. 24 CUC. If you travel light and take a bus to the central bus station, costs will go down to 14 CUC! That’s 7 pp.
To find the Piquera to your next destination, just ask around. ‘Donde es la Piquera por… (fill in destination)’. Everybody knows!
The downside of this system is the speed. You have to wait until the truck has enough passengers; the truck is rather slow (about 3 hours to Pinar de Rio). Then you have to wait for a collective to find enough passengers to Viñales. It will take you a whole day but if you are on a budget this is the way to go and not the bus!
My advice to first timers would be to pre-book a taxi for at least the first trip you are making. Once you get better at the game of CubaConga start negotiating with the taxi drivers. I would book my first transfer (probably Havana-Viñales) ahead with ZunZun, because getting out of Havana is not easy, and take it from there to the game in the streets which is cheaper and more fun.
Comfort ***, speed ***, Practical *** Price ***
The Cuban Cuban way at a Cuban price
If you want to go to Vinales on a Cuban budget you go to the intersection of Boyeros and Premiero Anillo. You wait next to the freeway on a Cuban Truck. Whilst the trucks at the Piqueras have seats in them, these have wooden benches. Which sounds like fun but your buttocks will start complaining within 10 minutes and the trip to Pinar del Rio will take about 4 hours. Lousy suspension add to the experience!
But if you want to travel on a budget… 20 Pesos MN (which is about 80 CUC cents). In Pinar you take the collectivo to Vinales for 50 Pesos or another truck for 10. Total cost = 30 or 70 pesos. Total time 8 hours and resulting in a blue but.
Comfort *, speed *, Practical **** Price *****
I added this just to be complete. I vowed never to take a wooden bench truck again for obvious reasons.
The Cuban buses (called Youtong or Astro) that travel between cities are not for you. You just can not take them as a tourist. However if you want to travel de countryside you can take a Cuban bus. Let’s say you want to go from Holguin to Mayari. (Don’t know why you would want that but let’s assume you do.) You find out where the trucks leave for Mayari (which is on the road to Moa). In this case that is Las Baleares. A truck will take you to Mayari for 20 pesos on a wooden bench. The Cuban bus will take you for 5 MN but getting on one is a bit of a hassle…
You arrive at Baleares and find the waiting room for Moa. You will see piles of people there. They are waiting for different busses so should out ‘Ultimo por Moa’. Somebody sticks up his hand and you are in line after him. Just keep an eye on him because the speaker announcing the busses is unclear. When he gets up to get a ticket, join him. You get a piece of paper with a number (this is called your ‘turno’.) When the bus arrives you use this number to pay at the desk that will hand you your reservation and you can get on the bus… My advice… Don’t!!!!
Speed *, Practical *, Comfort *, Price *****, Waiting time Minus *****
The second best way to explore Cuba is to rent a Car.
If you want to rent a car, do so before you go. But you might want to read this post to the end (and our book) before you do so! Once in Cuba the agencies never have the car you want (or any car for that matter).
Let me explain in this post why you should not rent a car and then if you still want to rent one how to do it. Read on for a better solution than renting a car yourself.
Rent a car on the Internet.
Although they have three different brand badges in Cuba: REX, Havanauto’s and Cuba Car (Al websites might be offline or not… It’s Cuba). All car rental companies belong to the state. So there is no competition. Monopolies make for bad service, high prices, bad websites and very limited options. A first glance at their websites will convince you that this is going to be hard. Just try to find the car you would like on one of the sites above and you will see.
No other operators are available on the market. Forget about AVIS or Budget or any other favourite agency.
How to rent one?
If you want to rent a car directly from the state-run companies there are a few things you should know. The websites are not very user-friendly.
Step 1: Fill in your requirements and you will probably get the answer ‘no car available that fits your requirements’. Play around with ‘Pick-up’ location, Pick-up time and Pick-up date and type of car, until you get a car proposal. This can be time-consuming.
Step 2: Fill in the required application.
Step 3: Get a bill from a vague office in Paris or Hamburg (depending on your location). This strange payment request is the ‘Embargo effect’. You can not pay Cuba directly due to the US embargo so the Cuban rental car companies have set up front companies abroad to be able to receive money.
You can pay that bill, works 99% of the time! You might or might not get a voucher, but your car will (probably) be waiting for you.
Shopping around for a better price is useless… It’s a state monopoly. All cars are the same price everywhere. (Unless they are a lot cheaper but that is too good to be true and usually will cost you less money for no car. This site, and others like it, are notorious for renting NO cars for a very good price. Then, a few days before you leave they tell you that you have to upgrade (extra money) because your car is not available. Whether you pay or not, does not matter. No car upon arrival. New ones are popping up regularly. Use your common sense! Too good to be true is just not true.
But read on…
Arguments against renting a car
Cars are way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. It’s just costly.
There are very few cars available for rent. Very few. Even if you rent a car via the internet, you might not get one. (And you might not get refunded either)
At the moment a lot of Cubans rent the tourists cars and drive them as a taxi. They rent long term and pay a little bribe under the table. So there are just not enough cars for regular tourist available…
I’ve set up my office at a hotel that has a rental car agency and pity the guys hanging around for hours waiting for their vehicle. And sometimes, after waiting 5 hours, they get send-off because there is just no car available.
Supplemental costs of car rental
In addition to the rather high prices per day, you will have to pay 10-20 CUC per day in insurance, a deposit (depending on the company but you can do this with your credit card) and the full tank of gasoline (which is not full). And of course the gasoline you will consume during your trip.
When returning your car, you will have to pay a 100 CUC fine if you didn’t read our book. (Not that they ask if you know it, but because of a trick they pull with the contract. The cost of not reading CubaConga can be rather high).
If you decide to rent a car, we explain not only how to avoid the 100 fine but also what to do in case of a flat tire (probability you will get one about 80%).
How to rent a car
Renting a car can be a frustrating process. All state run companies (remember, monopoly so not very customer oriented) have websites to rent cars. You fill in your requirements and they tell you: ‘no car available matching your requirements’. And that is because the specific car you want to rent at that specific agency is not available at the time you want it. As you can see there are 3 variables in this search: specific car, agency and time. If you want to pick up a car outside opening hours the result is ‘no car available matching your requirements.’ The same goes for the other variables
Playing around with cars, dates and times will get frustrating.
Cuba Travel Network
The solution is a renowned Dutch company that reversed the search system. You fill in your requirements and they tell you which cars are available that match your requirements. If you want to rent a car with no hassle and hidden costs (their prices include the insurance fee) just fill out THIS FORM.
The better solution:
Rent a car with a driver for less
You could decide to rent a car with a driver. A lot of Cubans rent tourist cars for a lot less than you can. They fill them up with black market gasoline and drive taxi all day.
4 ways to find a (shared) taxi (from most expensive to cheapest)
1 The below mentioned ‘Yotellevo’ Crazy expensive!
2 Ask your landlord or the porter of your hotel. This will ad 20 to 80 to the price depending how gullible you look.
3ZunZunCardrove a hard bargain with the drivers and they offer good prices. Just book you trips online and they will get you at your house and deliver you right on the doorstep of you next lodging. They also offer Car+Driver options.
4 Drive the hard bargain yourself and go to the Viazul station. Lots of taxi’s there that want to take you anywhere. Get there before the bus for your destination leaves. Once it is gone prices go up (DUH).
This is a quote I received from yotellevocuba for Havana-Camaguey (560 km):
Hola Sr. (a):
Ante todo un saludo y gracias por su comunicación con nosotros. Sobre su solicitud el precio de ese recorrido sería de 390.00 CUC ida, e ida y vuelta de 430.00 CUC.
That is an outrageous price since I’m able to make this trip for 100 (renting a whole car! (And you should be able to do it for about 120.)
Having a clue, in this case, would bring the price you pay down to less than 25%! That’s why we wrote our book… Please read it and get yourself a clue!
Advantages of using taxi’s:
You use the car when you need it. If you want to spend a few days in a place, you don’t pay.
It’s a lot cheaper in gasoline. You would have to fill up your tank in an official gas station at 1.20 CUC/litre. Your driver buys it on the black market for half that price.
You do not have to spend 4 to 5 hours at the renting agency, waiting for your car. (Customer service and State Monopolies don’t go well together.)
He knows his way around and can act as a guide. You will have lunch and dinner in cheap places that offer excellent service and good food.
You won’t get any fines.
If your driver becomes your friend, you will have an ally during your adventures.
It’s very relaxed to let someone else do the driving. He knows local conditions and understands Cuban traffic better than you do.
You will not get a flat tire.
If you still want to rent a car Cuba Travel Network is your best option. If you find one, pull the trigger! Shopping around for a better price is useless and the car might not be available anymore next day.
We explain in our book how to get and negotiate such a deal.
You should know
That the probability of getting into an accident is quite low and the chance people get hurt even lower. But not 0! If you get into an accident with injuries, you might not be allowed to leave the island until the investigation is finished. That might take a month or more… Every year a few tourists get stranded on the Island.
Renting a car in Cuba is different. Almost everything is different in Cuba, so please prepare your trip! Read our book for much more advice on how to best cope with Cuba.
You might realise by now that we have a different view on Cuba than the mean stream Travel guides and websites. That’s because we are residents and spend a lot more time on the Island than the average writer. Here’s for instance how you should handle the street hustlers.
Until recently, renting a bike was impossible in Cuba because Cubans were not allowed to rent their bikes. (Something with dirty profit and thus capitalism.) So now, with some pride and we like the guy so to promote him, we announce:
Rent a Bike in Havana
Ovidio (an old-timer of 73) has found a way around this problem. He took out a license of ‘operador de equipo recreativo’ and on that license, he is allowed to rent bikes to foreigners.
He flew in about 20 bikes from Panama and is renting them out for 14 CUC’s per day.
That means 7*14=98 per week and 30 or 31*14=420 a month…
The per year price: Special offer! 365*14=5110 CUC. No, there is no advantage in renting long-term… it’s 14 per day! That’s Cuban buisiness for you.
The company is financed by a nice Italian (never thought I would say this, I don’t care much for the Italians that frequent Cuba). The two of them are chatting on the curb all day. Their bikes are terrible, so their place is worth a visit but don’t rent a bike if you want to live.
And zen came the Germans.
Olvidio’s bikes are made in China, bought in Panama and not very good to say it friendly. But until February 2017 they were the only bikes for rent in Havana.
Profile (a German travel agency) changed that. They designed bikes, especially for the Cuban roads and climate. Made in Germany. These bikes are just perfect to make a tour, even for the whole of Cuba if you want! They deliver the bikes at your doorstep and pick them up again. It’s German organisation: quality, and efficiency.
Or you can pick them up at their central location in Vedado… You should book beforehand though… Parque Mariana de las Grajales, Calle D and 23, in front of restaurant Irani Topoli, VEDADO. Save 10 per bike!
Profile also has bikes for rent in Holguin and Santiago.
Do rent a bike
Enjoy your bike ride in Havana! Go out to Miramar and take the ferry across the bay to Casa Blanca. If you want, this guy can give you some bike itineraries via TripUnique.
Biking is the perfect way to discover the non-touristy parts of Havana. If you spent more that three days in Havana (and I would recommend that) rent a bike!
The US, officially, still have an embargo on Cuba. And most of the time they apply pressure to other countries to avoid dealing with Cuba. No people, capital or goods are allowed to move between the two countries. Of course, this is the official U.S. policy, and the real world is different. Half of the chickens eaten in Cuba come from the states and a lot of rice is imported from the same country. Very different indeed.
Still, the blockade frustrates Cuba. It is illegal according to the U.N., immoral from a humanitarian point of view and a big scapegoat for the Cuban regime.
Update April 2016 (a month after Obama went to Cuba): I have to rethink the paragraph above. Somebody ordered my book and mentioned ‘Cuba’ in the comments… Two days later my PayPal account got restricted, and I received the following message from PayPal:
In the banking world ‘Cuba’ raises a lot of red flags. Obama is sweet talking but the fines handed out for doing business with Cuba never were higher!
Update October 2016: The embargo is still in full swing. A lot of people ask me if things have changed in Cuba since the embargo was lifted… It’s not lifted at all.
Update July 2017.
Since the embargo was not lifted under Obama, Trump’s decision to reinforce it again does not change much. Obama made is easier for tourists to roam the streets of Havana individually (which too manny Americans did too loudly.) Trump is returning to the old policy. This will cause less individual tourists but apart from that, does not change much.
Update August 2019
I was wrong about Trump and not changing much two years ago. Trump is putting more and more pressure on US and international companies. The activation of the Hellm’s Burton act is aggressively hurting the Cuban people Trump claim’s to help. It’s bullying at international level. This inhumane treatment of a neighbour country should be stopped.
To make things even more complicated: The European commission issued a guideline that forbids European companies to abide to the US embargo…
Thus banks that are unwilling to break US regulations but can’t do so without breaking European guidelines… ‘That is technically impossible” say some… “Of course, we can” say others… Or ‘if you send 100 Euro, the recipient will receive minus 5 CUC on his or her account.’
The blockade as a scapegoat
‘El Boqueo’ is the Spanish word for this embargo, and everything that goes wrong in Cuba is its due to the blockade. The economy would be a lot better without it. Cubans would live the good life without it. Without ‘El Bloqueo’ words like ‘no Hay’, ‘S’Acabo’ and ‘Se Rompio’ would not be in the Cuban dictionary. (for detailed analysis of the real meaning of these words we refer to CubaConga.) Without the blockade, every Cuban would be on time, water from the tap would taste fine, trains would run on time, roads would be perfect, and every Cuban would have a shiny new Mercedes or BMW. (Funny, these are German cars… Germany does not impose the blockade).
In Africa, if something is screwed up, they throw their arms in the air and say with a big smile ‘This is Africa man!”. In Cuba, they do not have to blame themselves… They throw their arms in the air and blame it on ‘El Bloqueo’. It’s never Cuba’s fault!
The Cuba blockade is imposed by the US conservatives, and with this blockade, they effectively conserve the situation in Cuba. We don’t do politics nor do we understand them but this is one of those policies that accomplish exactly the opposite of their official goal. I always wonder what the real goal is when policies systematically put a blockade on the results they are after, but leave you to ponder that thought.
The Cuba embargo… It’s not what it seems. Like Cuba is not what it seems…
Everything you think about Cuba is dead wrong (OK, it is an Island). If you want to see the real Cuba, please read more on this site and download our book. No good, money back (and we’re not Cubans, we stick to what we say…)
On the ‘order now’ page we have a tip for you that will save you a few hours in Cuba.
“Always Coca Cola”, “Mc Donald’s, I’m loving it!” We have our kind of propaganda in our capitalist society. Our propaganda aims to make us consume particular products and services. If you are aware of this or not, it works…
Ministry of Propaganda
I do not want to get into the fake news discussion. There is a lot of fake news about Cuba and even the US government is in on that. Cuba has a ministry of propaganda and they at least call it that way. We have add agencies that violate the truth much more!
Cuba has Propaganda too, but different
Cuba has a different kind of propaganda because there is no commercial competition. They do not have to distinguish between almost similar products because everything is state produced, state distributed and state owned. So Cuban propaganda is aimed at politics and ideology. Coke and McDo are replaced by socialism and communism, and those ideologies are “sold” to the people by hollow slogans as “Father land or death” or “Nature and revolution”. There is a whole ministry dedicated to producing those empty slogans, just like we have an industry, producing the same empty slogans (add agencies), with the difference that in Cuba they sell an ideology and in the west they sell stuff.
Truth is in the eye of the beholder
In Cuba, propaganda goes deeper. It is part of the school system too. Look around; you don’t see children cry in Cuba! (Some might argue that consumerism is part of our education system too…)
An example of school propaganda: We picked up two students that were hitchhiking, and they just had a class in philosophy. So I asked which philosophers they talked about. “Marx and Lenin” was their answer. Slightly amused I asked what kind of philosopher Lenin was, and their answer was that Lenin was a “Very Practical Philosopher”.
If you don’t see the joke in that answer, you might not want to read our book…
Because of ‘our’ propaganda ‘our’ perception of Cuba is wrong just as the Cuban’s perception of the capitalist world is wrong.
‘We’re always wrong in Cuba. Let us help you out with an entirely different perspective…
CubaConga is an alternative travel guide to Cuba, that skips the propaganda and shows you life like it is, the pitfalls you should avoid and will not only save you about 200$ per week, it will greatly enhance your fun and insight, as well as reduce your budget.
If it does not… we will refund you. No questions asked.
You probably understand that this is propaganda for our book :-). Get it here and up your game. It goes deeper than this blog. At the ‘Order, the book now please‘ page we’ll give you a bonus tip that will save you at least 2 hours in Cuba. Just to refund the time you’ve spent on our blog…
Until recently people that wanted to rent a motorcycle could only rent 50cc scooters that were not fit to discover the whole island. And those are no real bikes at all.
Something in between the scooter and a real bike is the Piaggio
It’s not a real motor cycle but not a shitty scooter either. It’s something in between. Ecoturs rent them and you pick them up at hotel Bello Caribe in Marianao. They are hard to find online! But there is a trick for that :-). Use this form and fill in Havana (not one of the areas, just the whole of Havana, Bello Caribe is far from the centre and not in one of the main tourist areas. Btw you definitely not want to sleep there!
Scroll around the offer until you find the Piaggio and book it 🙂
But there is a better way to rent a motor cycle:
Cuba is relaxing its laws slowly, and now you can rent a motorcycle! With some restrictions that is… It’s still Cuba!
You cannot just rent one (or two) hop on and discover the island. (Well, there is a way: find a foreigner that has temporary residency and a motor and is willing to rent it to you… I’ve done that a few times, and it is great although the motorcycle had some problems.) In practice this is just not possible as a tourist. Forget about it.
Brand new BMWs
To avoid those problems you can now rent a brand new BMW Enduro. That’s the perfect bike for the Cuban road conditions.
Profile organises motor tours all over Cuba with those BMW F700 GS.
The advantage is that you and your group (individual subscriptions are welcome) always will have a guide and troubleshooter with you. Cuba is bound to give you some trouble at some time. The guide speaks English and is a motor fanatic, so you are in good company.
9-day motor tours
They organise three different tours, all nine days. See their website for details. They take care of everything (lodging, food and motorcycle) so you can concentrate on cruising. (Prices are sleeping and eating included and about 60% of the competition’s.)
Now for most bike enthousiasts, an organized tour with people you don’t know, is not the perfect trip. Legally there is no other way however. Except if you are The Conga (thats me). I’ve found a (legal) way around this but only for more than 2 people… (Which I can’t publish on the web). Renting a bike on your own to roam free is just not possible. Forget it until they change the law.
Sent me a mail with your wishes [email protected] and I’ll see what I can do (no guarantees and you will still travel with a Cuban guide).
Back to the Germans
I did a tour with them; it was a great adventure! Great company too. All bike enthusiasts like me. We had a ball, and the bikes were perfect. (One broke down and got replaced within 4 hours!) That’s a miracle in Cuba!
This blog is about finding a fixer in Cuba. Sometimes a fixer is worth his weight in gold; others just cost their weight in gold. You have to make the difference.
Offers of fixers:
Cuban streets are full of people more than willing to help you out. In the tourist areas, they are all (yes, all) just after one thing: Becoming your fixer for an hour, day or week and getting as much money out of your pocket as possible. So streets are off limits if you want to find a fixer in Cuba.
How fixers work
Fixers have all kind of ways to earn money. The most used method is the commission system. A fixer will get commission where ever he takes you (and that commission is added to your bill). The more money you spent, the better for him… Guess what his primary objective will be? The Cuban commission system is everywhere and all Cubans respect it. You will not notice a thing but the fixer will collect 10 to 20% of your payments and that will be added to your bill.
You don’t need a fixer
But why would you need a fixer? You can fix everything yourself. Read our book to get up to speed on how to handle Cuba, and you will probably be a better fixer than anybody you will meet on the street!
Enjoy Cuba and fix it yourself!!! With our help it’s easy! Let us be your fixer from a distance! Fixing stuff in Cuba is a piece of cake. Order our book HERE, and we’ll give you a tip that will save about two hours one in Cuba… We fixed a waiting line problem.
Because Cuba is very safe, you can fix your own stay. Only if you really want a fixer and want to pay top dollars you can send us a mail at [email protected] We will fix it. Orthis guy can be your fixer app on your phone, in Havana.
Or you could read our book. It’s faster, cheaper and has more clues than the average fixer. 🙂
Cuba is very, very safe. Incredible safety! We can be very short about that. If you don’t do idiotic things, you will be safe.
In Cuba, the police are very respected and not always visible (a lot of undercover agents keeping you safe.) Nobody will attack you, stick a knife up your tummy or wield a gun (there are no guns on the island other than police and army. That’s one of the advantages of a police state) Cars are too slow for drive-by shootings anyway.
Harassing or robbing a tourist is considered a significant crime and very severely punished. The Cuban police have a reputation of always getting her man and cameras are everywhere and are believed to see everything. Don’t worry… Cuba is very very safe!
Real dangers in Cuba.
The only real danger is being scammed for a few bucks. It dents your ego and if you don’t learn fast it might even be dangerous for your wallet in the long run. But these are soft scams compared to the rest of the world. And they are more intelligent because in Cuba the social elite like a surgeon or a college professor scam tourists too… That makes the dangers in Cuba actually funny!
In the last ten years, only one (ONE!) tourist got killed by violence, and this Mexican was involved in a drug deal… Steer away from drugs, and you will be safe.
A few safety tips for the really stupid
Don’t walk at 3 o’clock in the morning alone in a bad neighbourhood with a 3000$ camera, bulging wallet and gold chains on your neck. Leave your Rolex at home (time is of no importance in Cuba). Don’t carry weapons and don’t do drugs.
Don’t kill anybody (Cuban or tourist) or get into physical fights.
Don’t get (too) drunk.
Don’t do anything sexual with underaged (18) boys or girls… Cuba takes her youth seriously and is fierce in protecting it. I agree with that policy.
That’s all there is to keep yourself safe in Cuba!
The biggest danger for normal people are the holes in the pavement! No really… watch out where you put your feet! I see a lot of tourists that have done an unexpected excursion to the hospital because they broke a wrist or twisted an ankle… Watch your step. Don’t step in the holes or the dog shit… Dogs roam free in Cuba.
Of the things you don’t see, half might be there but out of sight.
A friend of mine told me that you should never believe what you hear in Cuba and only believe half of what you see.
Walking through town, you will see a lot of kids. They don’t whine! Yes, sometimes they cry if they fall hard or are in pain, but they don’t whine. And if you see a whining kid, it is probably at least half ‘owned’ by a Yuma (foreigner). Somehow the way Cubans treat their children makes them responsible, small adults.
Boats on the sea
From the Malecon in Havana, but everywhere else too, you will see the only Caribbean sea without any ships. Once a week a cruise ship will sail into the Havana harbour and sometimes a freighter, but there just aren’t any other ships or boats to be seen.
It is awe-inspiring at night; you are staring into a black void! Enjoy
Nips and tucks
There is no plastic enhancement in Cuba. Everything you will see is real! (Some Italians smuggled implants for their girlfriends, and they paid top CUCs to get them implanted (illegally), but you will not see them, they live in expensive discotheques).
Snow and advertising
Neither Snow nor advertising is legal in tropical socialism. No billboards exist except the ones shouting out political statements. Snow is such a nightmare for Cubans that although it has not snowed since Columbus, Cuba bought four snow shovels a few years ago. Better safe than sorry!
Gum on the streets
If a Cuban buys gum (or gets it some other way) he will chew it all day, put it on his nightstand and chew on the next day. The average gum lasts for a week or so.
This does not mean you don’t have to watch your step. There is dog shit everywhere. Dogs roam free and have no masters running after them with a plastic poop bag.
Supermarkets that cater to all of your needs
The concept of a supermarket is almost non-existent in Cuba. Almost because there is one supermarket that caters to foreigners and rich Cubans: Palco in Miramar, a rich suburb in Havana. Nor wil you find outlet stores, shopping malls or fastfood chains.
In Cuba you either buy the deodorant or not. There are only two brands: available or not available. So if you need a deodorant I would recommend the first brand.
The almendrons run on water! You will never see them fill up their tank in a gass station… The truth is that all the old cars that serve as a fixed route taxi have a modern diesel engine. They buy their diesel on the black market and not a gass station. See Taxi wars in Havana