Health & safety
‘You wanna buy cigar, my fren?’ – this refrain will follow you throughout the country. Welcome to the land of the jintero or tout, a profession raised to an art form by the Cubans, who, in their defense, have very few other ways to make money. Learn quickly to ignore them, don’t make eye-contact, say ‘no thank you’ clearly but firmly, never stop walking, and when you’re asked where you’re from, choose somewhere obscure (this avoids a rehearsed and interminably cutesy patter about your jintero’s sister working as a nurse in Liverpool or studying in Toronto). Harsh? Yes, but jinteroism is any traveler in Cuba’s single biggest annoyance so getting to grips with it will improve your holiday vastly.
Cigar selling is not the only racket the jinteros work. They will also offer to take you to a casa or paladar (they’ll get CUC$5 from the owners usually – which comes from hiked prices for your accommodation or meal), find you a ‘beautiful woman, ’ get you a taxi or take you out dancing. Unless you’re at your wits’ end, never go with them.
Cuba is not a dangerous destination, although Centro Habana is the most likely spot in the country that you’ll get mugged (a rarity, but just be aware at night). Apart from this and other small opportunistic crimes such as pickpocketing, you have almost nothing to be afraid of. Never leave valuables in any room, and use the safe if there’s one provided.
Cubans famously enjoy far better free health care than their far-wealthier US neighbors, and continue to set high standards for developing nations with excellent hospitals and doctors throughout the country. Most medication is available in Cuba, although you should bring anything you know you’ll need. You should also have insurance covering you during your stay. In large cities and places where many tourists visit there are usually clinics designed for foreigners, with English-speaking doctors and better supplies than elsewhere. Charges are made for treatment, but are tiny compared to treatment in Western private hospitals. The free health care in normal Cuban hospitals should only be used when there are no private clinics available.
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