I often get asked this question, especially from the parents of students about to go to Cuba and in my opinion it is the safest country I have ever visited.
Before going to Cuba I had this vision that crime was ubiquitous in Cuba, I’m not sure where I got this idea from, but I have noticed that many people, before knowing Cuba, think the same.
Upon arriving into Cuba for the first time, I felt nervous, but I soon realised that I didn’t need to be. Walking the streets of Cuba, you obviously feel disorientated, but as soon as you get used to your surroundings, you couldn’t feel safer. All you have to do is sit down on a park bench, people watch and you will discover how fascinating it is. If you’re lucky someone will join you on the park bench and before long you are comparing stories and putting the world to rights.
Cubans are not very aggressive; they are generally a happy go lucky bunch, you don’t find gangs of youths with a menacing presence, instead they are listening to music, laughing and joking or paying a compliment (piropo) to whomever walks by. It’s not a violent country; no-one has access to guns or other lethal weapons.
Saying that, as with any place in the world, you should always be street wise and be aware of your surroundings. I’m not a woman with many material possessions, but what little I do have, I don’t like to flaunt it. I often go to Cuba with as little as possible so I can at least try and blend in with the crowd.
I have heard of other people losing belongings, for example, I met a Dutch girl who lost her mobile phone on the overnight Viazul bus from Santiago de Cuba to Trinidad. We were all sleeping, it was very dark, but I remember this girl leaving her bag wide open on the floor in the gangway, obviously not a wise thing to do in any country.
Another guy I met, told me that he was out late at night in Havana, completely pissed, on his own, walking the streets, when he got mugged by a group of youngsters. For some reason he had all his worldly possessions on him; his mobile phone, his passport, all his travellers’ cheques, cash, credit cards, camera etc. They weren’t violent but they took advantage of his drunkenness and helped themselves. He was so pissed he was unable to stop them.
There is no need to go out at night with all your worldly possessions, leave it in your hotel or casa particular, it is far safer there. All you need is some cash for the evening and a copy of your passport, why do you need to be bogged down with anything else for a night out on the town!