Overpriced drinks and food scam

There are two versions of this scam in Cuba, one of which is very similar to the bar scams that you find in other tourist destinations like Budapest, Jamaica and Bangkok, except that 1) the prices, though exorbitant for local standards, are not bankbustingly extreme and 2) there’s no need to use physical threats to extort the tourist to pay up, because the victim may only feel played instead of completely ripped off.

Havana-Cuba-bar-scam-tourist-ripoffsThe scam goes as follows: the tourist, either alone or as a couple, gets approached by a friendly local, who offers to show them around Havana as a guide, and then when they “accidentally” walk past a local cafe, invites his guests for a traditional Cuban Mojito cocktail. What the tourists don’t know, is that the prices in that establishment are artificially increased and from that surcharge the “guide” is paid a commission. Unlike some of the similar scams in other destinations, the prices are not insane for our Western standards (we’ve heard about 5 CUC for a cocktail, which is also 5 US Dollars. This includes 2 CUC commission for the guide), but still almost a weekly salary in Cuba. Because of this, most tourists might not even notice that they’ve been played, until they order cocktails at a place where they are not accompanied by a guide and find out the regular price level in Cuba. So it’s a pretty harmless scam, but nonetheless one to keep in mind when walking the streets of Havana with friendly locals offering their “free” services. Of course, they’ll still also ask you for a tip at the end…

An alternative story can be a local who tells the tourists passing him or her on the streets that there’s a salsa dance or a famous local band playing in a cafe nearby, so maybe they want to see it. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes they just make up excuses (“They won’t start until another hour, but please have a Mojito with me”).

Different menus in a restaurant

Havana-Cuba-bar-restaurant-scam-tourist-ripoffsThe second version of this scam involves restaurants, but they begin similarly to the “Mojito” scam. A friendly local offers to show you the way to “the best restaurant in Havana” or similar phrases to get you to follow him. These restaurants usually have two different menus (sometimes even three), and the only difference between the versions is the price level. So when a couple of tourists arrive by themselves, they’ll be handed menu #1, but when they arrive accompanied by a guide (who won’t join them for dinner, just shows them in), they’ll be given menu #2, which has jacked up prices (for example: main course 15 CUC instead of 10 CUC). A possible third menu could be for regular guests.

Usually these restaurants won’t pay a commission in cash to the guide, but instead give him a basic meal for that night, which is just another testament to how hard life can be for the local Cubans if it weren’t for the welcome cash from the tourists.



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