On average Cubans make around $20 a month and don’t even come close to making ends meet. Many of them see tourists as an opportunity to them help them survive. This does not go for all Cuban people, once you get outside of Havana the attitude and motives starts to change. However, here are 4 scams that I have personally fallen victim to in Havana. Hopefully this will help you avoid them before visiting Cuba!
1). If you are approached by a Cuban in the street who wants to take you to a restaurant or bar politely say, no. They may be very persistent but just be firm and say, no gracias. They are working with the restaurant and will make a profit off you going there. The restaurant will generally greatly increase their prices for tourists and if they’re having to recruit people off the street the food probably isn’t very good. My advice is to stick to restaurants with customers already inside – whether it be tourists or locals depending on what type experience you’re looking for.
My personal favorite place to get good cheap food in Havana is El Levant. It’s located in Chinatown on the Northeast corner of Parque El Curita. The prices on the menu are in CUP, it’s about $24 CUP to $1CUC. You can get a huge plate of food with leftovers for around $3 CUC.
2). If anyone tells you it’s some sort of national music holiday or day of Buena Vista Social Club do not believe them. This is a classic scam in Havana. As the scam goes they will try to lead you to a club saying all the music venues are free today. You will then get charged an insane amount for drinks and usually end up having to pay for drinks for your new Cuban friends. Drinks should cost around $3 CUC to $5 CUC, be weary of anything over that.
3). The powered milk scam is one in which a woman will ask you to help her buy milk for her child. There will be a man sitting on the street with packets of powdered milk “for sale”. He will then say they cost some insane amount of $20 to $40 CUC. They are working together on this. Powdered milk in the store is around $1 CUC and Cubans also get food rations. You can always politely tell the woman you’d be happy to purchase milk for her at the store.
4). Cuban men…there’s only one word to describe them “sabroso”. They are the best looking, most romantic and most charismatic men you’ll ever meet. This doesn’t go for all of them but generally they see tourists as their ticket out of there. If one approaches you on the street or one catcalls you they are usually working an angle. It’s fun to have a Cuban boyfriend while you’re in Cuba, they can show you a side of their county you wouldn’t see following your guidebook. However, my advice to you is once you leave the country leave the relationship behind – no matter how much they beg you to come back. This goes for the Cuban women too!