Is Cuba Safe For American Tourists?

policia Nacional Veradero

policia Nacional Veradero

As one peruses the large number of travel sites focused on People-to-People Cuba tours, he or she will doubtless be captivated by the historical appeal, white beaches, geographical disposition and culture of this fascinating country. Cuba and its intriguing people are magical. But, many tourists and especially American tourists, are uneasy putting their fate in the hands of Cuban authorities and their safety in the hands of Cuba’s enormous police and military presence.

If we listen to Trip Adviser, we should understand that the greatest risk for tourists in Cuba comes in the form of pickpockets and an abundant supply of prostitutes who frequent hotel lobbies and meeting paces. Government is cracking down on prostitution and tourists, American or otherwise, and Cubans do not want to be on the wrong side of the law in Cuba.

 

coast guard

coast guard

Trip Adviser is quick to point out that Cuba has a strong and highly visible police and military presence. In metropolitan areas, it is common to see  police stationed on every corner. However, by all counts the police remain aloof and disengaged, especially to the woes of tourists. If you have security concerns, you should approach the police and not wait for them to intercede.

These are other suggestions that have been posted by frequent travelers to Cuba:

·       Wear costume jewelry only.

·       Wear inexpensive watches only.

·       Try not to advertise that you are a tourist (Not sure how one does that other than dress for walking in the sun).

·       If a thief confronts you, do not resist.

·       If your passport is stolen, notify police immediately.

·       Your passport is only required in a few situations and most tourists leave their hard copy in a safe place and only carry a duplicate.

·       Only carry small amounts of cash.

·       As with other Caribbean islands, do not walk the streets or beaches alone at night.

Remember that it is still against the law to take photos of military, police, airport or other transportation facilities. It is safer  to avoid urges to capture images at these venues.

Cuban Soldiers

Despite these sincere warnings, Cuba is one of the safest destinations for tourists. The country has little tolerance for drug trade and most of the population cannot afford indulgences much less addiction. In many ways, Cuba has an enviable reputation for their lack of violent crime, but this is still a foreign country and American tourists are always perceived to be wealthy targets.

A common description of the typical Cuban’s view of tourists is that they are like “Teflon,” functional but easily ignored. The good news is that Cuban police are encouraged to arrest Cubans who appear to be hassling tourists and Cubans receive stiff penalties for jail terms.

Havana Police

Havana Police

These are uneasy times in Cuba. Change is coming and not everyone likes the past, present or future course government has set. Poverty runs rampant. Supply shortages are commonplace. Political unrest is high but generally contained. It is prudent to avoid political discussions with the population and police.

There are certainly more political demonstrations than in previous years. Tourists should avoid protest demonstrations by Cubans. This is Cuban business and many of these gatherings get out of hand quickly. This is not unique to travelers in Cuba.

Interestingly, if traveling in Havana, be aware that the police are not from the city. Havana police are brought in from other areas of the country to enforce laws and ensure safety of Cubans and their guests. The import scheme is designed to keep the integrity of the force and ensure that police are not compromised.

More Cuban travel tips:

·       Be aware of who is licensed to receive tourism money.

·       Be aware of who is not licensed to receive tourism money.

·       Avoid public political or policy discussions.

·       Be careful of fraternizing with suspicious characters.

·       Dress comfortably and travel light.

·       If you have questions, ask your tour guide what to bring to events.

·       Backpacks are common but be sure to secure them.

Doubtless you have read about various security incidents in Cuba. As a rule, the people are accustomed to tourists and cause no difficulties. Exceptions are rare. However, times are tough and desperate people are on the lookout for careless conduct by tourists. Create no opportunities and you will enjoy your stay. If you are an experienced traveler, you should have no difficulties. If you are inexperienced, travel with someone who is.

Policeman at work in Trindad

Policeman at work in Trindad

Cuba is exciting. The culture can be riveting. The vast majority of Cubans are energetic and willing to interact enthusiastically. Be aware of the opportunities and you will greatly enjoy your stay  re-visiting life in what can appear a time warp.