Scam no.1 I’m ashamed to say caught me out the first time I visited Havana. It was my first day and I was taking a stroll down the Malecon taking in the sights of the retro cars and colonial architecture. A local approached me asking for the time, before following up with the question “How long have you been in Havana?” This is your first red light, they are asking this to gauge whether someone has approached you with the same scam previously and how well your grasp is on the price of things in Havana…
Upon my replying “this was my first day” their eyes lit up, the next thing they will tell you is that “you’re in luck! As there is a salsa festival on today, would you like to join?” (Red light no.2!) They will then proceed to guide you to a bar where you chat and take pictures with the famous artwork on the walls all the while they reassure you the festival will be passing through this bar next. They persuade you to get a local drink with them as they tell you how they must work several jobs and apply for food vouchers in order to eat, tugging on your heart strings. Your then obliged to get the drink bill which comes to an absurd amount. This is because they are in business with the bar and will get a percentage of the money returned to them…
The final portion of the scam involves them explaining how to get their food vouchers they must get people to purchase items from a cooperative. Basically, a local who sells cigars out of their home, in exchange they are given vouchers in proportion to what is sold, there is no pressure to buy anything but if you would like to have a look then…?
Stupidly I agree to ‘have a look’ at what is on offer, as I am interested in the cigars as a present. Once inside they attempt to sell you the biggest box imaginable, all the while standing slightly in the way of the door, gooey eyed and continuously tugging on your heart strings. The price was ridiculous, and I told them this… so they proceeded to attempt to sell me fewer and fewer cigars until I finally gave in, not knowing the price of a cigar in Cuba due to it being my first day I paid well over the odds.
They then shake your hand and are on the way to find the next unbeknownst tourist, whilst you’re stood their wondering where the heck the Salsa festival was?!
Obviously, this first scam got to me, so I vowed not to let myself be tricked again. Researching Havana and its scams I found many a complaint about the ‘Mystery Salsa festival,’ however there was another scam high on the complaint list. This second scam involves a lady carrying her baby who asks you to purchase some formula milk for her child. A tough one to turn away from, many a tourist has then followed the lady to a nearby shop kiosk. Once inside the only available option is a massive bag of formula milk, exactly what the women is after, the cost? A hefty $20?! A tough one to say no to at this point… Once you have paid the sum and left feeling used, the hustler will then return the formula milk and make off with a pocket of cash!
Now of course there will be many other scams out there, the usual sorry I’ve got no change when your attempting to purchase something is a classic. But the above two are by far, in my personal experience, the most common and able to hit your wallet hard. It was rare for us to go a day without being told about the salsa festival or asked for milk?! However, if you keep these two popular scams in mind and your wits about you then there is no reason your stay in Havana can’t be the trip of a lifetime!
When I came to the decision that I wanted to travel, initially I had no clue what I was doing!? There was no guide and no obvious place to start… After days of searching the internet for everything I might possibly need, I set off on my journey. Only to find that flights several days later had been half the price, I’d massively overpacked and my accommodation although cheap was less than ideal, and so the ‘Simple Travel Steps’ seed was planted. The site is first and…. Read More