Tourist scams

Tourists being coaxed out of money or cheated by different schemes is quite common in most countries. Cuba is not an exception to this.

Because of today’s complicated economic and social situation in Cuba, some Cubans have come up with smart ways how to earn money. Unfortunately, a majority of these schemes attempt to cheat tourists. These people, commonly known as “jineteros” (“jockeys” in English), are normally quite decent and friendly people, and they speak English at some level. This creates more trust between them and the tourists who do not speak Spanish. They offer cheaper services to travelers such as accommodations, restaurants, excursions, cigars and taxis, but then start to take advantage of the situation.

Complicating the situation even further, these jineteros often aren’t transparent about their business and disguise their motives. Instead, they show interest in becoming your friend. As a “friend” they can make money from you by finding you accommodations or restaurants and then secretly take commission.

Luckily, majorities of Cubans aren’t looking for a way to take advantage of somebody in a hidden way and they feel embarrassed about their compatriots. Same as people everywhere, they would feel uncomfortable asking for money from somebody they have just met. Most Cubans are very honest and generous people who are delighted to meet a foreigner with no interest in their money at all. Unfortunately, when you travel on your own, you are less likely to meet this type of Cubans. They are not the ones that come and introduce themselves to you on the street. The biggest chance to meet honest and pleasant Cubans is when you are staying overnight in private houses (casa particular).

I have come across a number of people in Cuba who have tried to reach their hands to my wallet by using different schemes.

Some of these common schemes include the following:

  • Mainly a woman contacts me on the street and takes an interest in where I’m coming from. After she has heard that I’m from Estonia, she praises Estonia to the heaven. However, most likely she doesn’t know anything about Estonia. Recently, I have started saying that I’m from Legoland. I hear the same praise about Legoland, which she has learned by heart. When she has finished her small talk, she asks to buy milk for her child and confirms a couple of times that she doesn’t need money, only milk. I have said no to all the requests as most likely this milk will be sold a little bit cheaper to somebody else. Even if she has a child, that child would never see that milk.
  • Once a man approached me on the street and after some small talk, he informed me that it is the last day of a salsa festivaland if I want to experience real Cuba then I definitely have to go over there. This story seemed weird for me at first sight. When I asked where the festival takes place, he explained that it is very hard to give directions to this place. Therefore, he offered to walk me to the festival. We walked for approximately 10 minutes and during the journey, I sensed the gaze of the other Cubans. They were looking at me as if I was about to be his next victim. When we arrived, it wasn’t a festival, just a regular bar. I tried to get some clarification why there was no festival as he had promised. He explained that we arrived too early and we have to wait a little bit. He sat down at a table and a moment later, a waiter arrived with two beers. We hadn’t ordered anything at that moment. It was the last signal for me that they wanted to cheat me. I informed them that I’m not interested in beer and I will leave the bar right away. After, the man complained that he was so thirsty due to the long walk because of me. He would like that I buy at least one beer for him. I didn’t listen to him and I left the bar. The man remained in the bar to grieve with sad eyes.
  • One of the most common schemes is to plead for money or alcohol with an excuse that he/she has a birthday today. One guy asked money for his birthday on two different days. When I asked him to specify his birthday, he got confused and claimed that it doesn’t matter what date it is as he knows his birthday is today.


If somebody approaches you on the street to offer services or things which you are not interested in, it would be useful to learn one expression in Spanish „No quiero nada, por favor“ (Thank you, but I don’t want anything). Usually, it works and they leave you alone.

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