Brace yourself, every 5 minutes in Cuba somebody will try to sell you something or scam you out of some money. It’s not very different from other underdeveloped countries and their tricks are pretty old for a seasoned traveler, but you should still use caution and common sense at all times.
In Cuba, these scammers are called Jineteros or Jineteras (the female version). They can be hard to shake off but are never physically or verbally abusive. People will try anything to approach you and start a conversation. To avoid this, the best thing is to pretend you don’t speak English or Spanish and when they insist just pretend their invisible. My friend suggested walking around with headphones on so they’ll think you’re listening to music and so they won’t bother you. We didn’t try it but it seems like it would work.
Most people that will approach you will try to offer some genuine service, like a Taxi, or try to get you to eat in their family restaurant. It’s ok when it’s their business. However there are the ones called chicos – boys that are intermediaries and will get commissions out of your pocket for referring you to other’s business.
- Where are you from?
- It’s a special day for Cuba. There a festival / salsa party / whatever…
- Is that English that you’re speaking? (even if it’s not)
Everybody knows somebody that has a restaurant, sells cigars or can get you some chicas – girls. One day a policeman in uniform asked us if we want a Taxi. Also, nobody in Cuba ever has a light, some are genuine, other just want to strike up a conversation. Some, if they see you’re scared or mistrusting of them will say: “Mi amigo, there’s no violence in Cuba” which is true, but you wouldn’t want to be the first one that brakes the rule and end up a statistic.
This, unfortunately, can cast a bad light on Cuban people in general because, at times, it’s hard to distinguish between honest people, the scammers and the ones that are only after your commission money.
Also, never ever accept drugs or try to buy or sell them, under no circumstances! Cuba had the death penalty for drug related crimes. Be aware, some people that try to sell you drugs are actually undercover police. You’ve been warned.
One thing that is not a scam is people trying to change some foreign currency coins for CUC. Let me explain. In some places tourists leave tips in the form of dollar or euro coins. Cubans can not change this money in Cuba as no exchange office will accept them. So if you’re from a country where you can use them, you might do them a solid and give them some CUC for it as you’ll be able to use the coins back home.