Travel advice

Since the solidarity camps of the 60’s and 70’s, the grapevine has portrayed Cuba as a low crime country where any breach of the law was discouraged by harsh sentencing


With the collapse of the Soviet Union that tune began to change, and for the last decade the illusion of Shangri La has become an ever fainter echo. Today Cuba’s 11 million citizens are served by over 500 correction facilities including more than 60 Maximum Security Prisons.

Unfortunately for all parties, the Cuban government keeps the country’s crime statistics a secret; so the pieces of that puzzle have to be collected from other sources.

When a crime is committed against a tourist, it’s often reported to the embassy or consulate of the victim, and from there on to the various Foreign Ministries, and if you look to the advice from these Foreign Ministries, the general vibe is that crime is on the rise.

The Foreign Ministries are probably wise to keep it relative - safety issues / risk assessments often are, but in all fairness that still leaves one key-question: On the rise from what?

In my view, Cuba is easily as safe and unsafe as many other countries. It all depends on where you go, what you do and how you act.

On my one month journey, I didn’t experience any criminal activity, but I talked with a handful of tourists who had been subjected to pick pocketing and purse / camera snatching. I only had 2 incidents where I was led further astray than I cared for and 4 incidents where hustlers / beggars grabbed me by the arm.

Here’s some simple advice:

  • Keep your wits about you at all times.
  • Don’t flash expensive jewellery or large bills (50 CUC, 100 CUC etc.)
  • Keep your camera safe. I carried my cameras in a solid leather belt with the shirt covering it. At times I even carried the Canon in reverse order (Belt on the outside). When I took pictures / video on the streets I tried to place myself in close proximity to a police officer.
  • Stay in control. Don’t be lured to places that you’re not comfortable with, and if you’re about to lose control - get out and get out fast.
  • Don’t walk alone at night. Get a Taxi - even for a block or two.
  • Stay well away from official buildings like the Defence Ministry ao.
    (In 1997 a young Dane was killed by soldiers outside that building)

The crimes committed against tourist are only one side of the coin.

The other side is the crimes committed by tourists. Here’s an extract from the advice from the Foreign Ministries:

Car accidents A car accident that results in death or injury is treated as a crime, and the burden is on the driver to prove his innocence.
If convicted of killing someone in a road traffic accident, the standard tariff is at least 2 years in jail.
In a traffic accident where someone is killed or injured, the police investigation may take from 5 months up to a year. During this time the driver will normally not be allowed to leave Cuba.
Drugs Cuban courts are handing out penalties in excess of twenty years for all drugs related offences. Cuban law actually allows for the death penalty.

The age of consent is 16.
There is no allowance for a child who "looks" mature, and prison sentences range from 7 to 25 years.