Ultimate Cuba Packing List: What to Bring to Cuba?

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Despite a recent tourism boom Cuba is still a challenging destination and might not be a perfect place for first-time travelers unless you stay in a resort in Varadero. But if you pack for Cuba accordingly you’ll be more than fine. Here are my tips on the ultimate Cuba packing list.Cuba Packing List


Ultimate Cuba Packing List

However, if you want to travel around Cuba you need to pack accordingly as they’re certain things you can’t easily purchase in Cuba. But special preparations required for a Cuban trip shouldn’t put you off – nearly half of last year’s tourists were returning visitors, so people seemed to be very satisfied with Cuba. So was I.

One would think that while the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba has nearly doubled this year, traveling around the county and purchasing western supplies got slightly easier. Surprisingly, it turned out that Cuba wasn’t fully prepared for the sudden tourism boom as the country was reported to be running out of beer. Anyways, you probably won’t be bringing your own beer to Cuba but you might have to bring other things with you…

First things first though. If you’re coming to Cuba from the US don’t forget to pack some US dollars in cash as you won’t be able to withdraw any money from your US bank account. You’ll get CUC in exchange to use in Cuba as the country has two currencies – one for tourists and one for locals.Cuban shop


What to pack for Cuba?

I’m not going to tell you to bring an X number of t-shirts and X pairs of underwear you might need because it’s totally up to you. Staying in casas particulares we’ve never experienced an issue with the laundry. I’m going to give you a list of essential things to pack for Cuba and some gadgets that are gonna make your life easier.

But one thing you should invest in regardless of your destination are packing cubes. While I used a simple and cheap version of them from eBags, my friend Bethany wrote a complete guide to them. They’ll make your life easier when it comes to separation of clean and dirty clothes, or simply saving space.

A lot of people asked me whether they should take just a carry-on or a checked luggage. As I usually pack light I brought my small suitcase with me, but my boyfriend had to check a bag as we brought a bunch of camera equipment with us. Neither of us had any issues.suitcase


What to wear in Cuba?

Before heading to Cuba we read that men shouldn’t wear shorts in Cuba, but upon arrival, we realized that this statement was far from reality.

Everyone in Havana dresses very casually and simple, so you can wear anything starting from baggy pants and finishing on nice dresses. Nobody really cared. Bikinis, shorts, sandals, sleeveless cotton dresses and shirts are the order of the day. It gets a little chilly in the evenings, so sweater should be brought as well.

Bring one fancy outfit if you’re planning on going for the Tropicana Show (and you should!) as people tend to dress for the show like they’d be going at least for an afternoon tea with Queen Elizabeth. You could feel out of place in a simple outfit.

IMPORTANT: You might want to bring a few extra t-shirts or other clothes that you don’t mind leaving behind, as many Cubans will ask you to leave them some clothes. It will most likely make their day, if not week, so keep this in mind when you’re packing for Cuba. If you have some spare toys at home try to bring them too to make the kids happy.


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What to pack for a trip to Cuba? Here’s what you should put in your suitcase:

You need to be careful when packing for Cuba as you won’t be able to re-buy a lot of things. But first things first: bring cash. American cards obviously won’t work in Cuba and while my European card worked just fine, ATMs aren’t located at every street corner and almost no one will accept a payment by card.

Cosmetics
Bring everything you need for your entire stay. While you get get a basic shampoo and lotion in a Cuban store, you can’t really find a hair conditioner, mascaras and other ‘luxurious’ stuff.
If you don’t want to carry liquids around try the dry shampoo. No more exploded shampoo after a long flight, no more hauling heavy liquids, no more plastic bottles I can’t find a place to recycle. I love it.

my new favorite cosmetic organizer

My favorite organizer: Origami Unicorn

Medicines
A fully stocked medical kit should be packed as part of your travel luggage.

Contact Lenses
You need to remember to bring a full set of contact lenses and solution for this trip as I’ve never seen any possibility of re-buying them in Cuba.

Insect Repellent
It’s an absolute must. Mosquitos almost ate me alive. Don’t bother with a natural one, just go ahead and get the deet or the eucalyptus one. You’ll thank me later.

Sunscreen
It goes without saying. Cuba is in the Caribbean after all.

Flip-flops & Sneakers
Especially if you are visiting Havana, be sure to bring with you close shoes. The city is dusty and dirty in a certain area and will be safer for you.

Wetsuit & Snorkel Gear
Diving and snorkeling in Cuba are great and extremely cheap. Bring your own equipment if you have a set.

P.S. A lot of people told us to bring our own soap and toilet paper, so we did. I’ve never experience a lack of any of the above, not even in a small village, so I wouldn’t bother.DSC05928


Useful travel gadgets for traveling to Cuba:

Lifestraw Water Bottle
I heard other tourists complaining that it’s hard to find water. While I’ve never experienced any issues you can bring a Lifestraw water filter, so you don’t need to worry about buying drinks anymore. You might as well drink straight from a puddle.

Torch
Light might occasionally go out in Cuba, so bring a torch to be safe.

Microfiber Towel
Whether you’re going backpacking or glamping at a luxury hotel you should probably pack a microfiber towel. It won’t take any space, but you might find it useful when you’re going to the beach and don’t want to carry a big hotel towel around.

Baby Powder
Baby powder can be used in more ways than just cleaning babies. Greasy hair? Baby powder. No moisturizer? Baby powder. Smelly clothes? Baby Powder. Oil stains on your clothes? Baby powder. The list goes on.File_000 (1)

Some other gadgets from a photo above:
Tripod – perfect to take photos of yourself when you travel solo
– MiniTripod
Sony a5000 Mirrorless Camera – pocket-size affordable camera
GoPro Hero 4 with GoPole Waterproof Selfie Stick
Hand Strap for GoPro
– Extended Phone Battery


Suggested books for Cuba:

The Rough Guide to Cuba
Real Havana: Explore Like a Local


Don’t forget to arrange a health insure before heading to Cuba. Visitors are often stopped at the border and checked if they have a valid insurance. In case you don’t have one, you might be forced to buy a Cuban one. But not all insurances cover Cuba. World Nomads Travel Insurance covers Cuba since a few months ago, so you might want to get their insurance, as it’s the best out there.

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32 Comments

  1. Jul 3, 2016 / 4:31 pm

    Just stumbled across your post, as I am considering planning a trip to Cuba for next year. Great advice – definitely helped me with my plans.

  2. Jul 5, 2016 / 4:52 pm

    I am hoping to make it to Cuba in the near future, thanks for sharing! I love that you suggested bringing some old or extra clothes to leave behind. I did this when I went to South Africa and at the end of the trip left some clothes with families in a township. Their gratitude and excitement made my day, couldn’t have felt better about doing that and think it’s important to support locals and help in any way we can.

    • Jul 5, 2016 / 4:58 pm

      Exactly! And Cubans are so nice 🙂

  3. Jul 5, 2016 / 5:22 pm

    It was a long and tough day for me today, but you made me laugh: running our of beer on a country level quite a unique problem to have ;).

    • Jul 5, 2016 / 5:26 pm

      Haha! Cuba never fails to suprise 😀

  4. Jul 6, 2016 / 4:03 am

    I have never been to Cuba, but I know for a fact that knowing what to carry beforehand is the biggest help ever. I love the tips about the dry shampoo and the mosquito repellent. Brining cash is a basic must we should know before going to a new place – as we faced a similar fix in Puerto Rico when our cards didn’t work in most places. I wish they fix the beer problem though! 😉

    • Jul 6, 2016 / 4:12 am

      They probably will fix the beer issue soon hehe 😀 I’m still a rum drinker 😉

  5. Jul 6, 2016 / 3:29 pm

    Most of this is in my standard packing list. I love having some baby powder. It has a lot of uses that most people don’t realize.

    • Jul 8, 2016 / 1:57 am

      Yes, baby powder is amazing!

  6. Ana
    Jul 19, 2016 / 7:13 pm

    I have never been to Cuba. But I hope soon.

    • Jul 20, 2016 / 3:04 pm

      You shouild definitely go! 🙂

  7. Jul 21, 2016 / 8:36 pm

    Hey Anna,

    What a great post. I love to see when real advice is dispensed and dispels myths about travelling. The tip about toilet paper and soap is great to know. You tend to hear so many horror stories that if it all were true, travellers would need to bring their entire life, just to travel.

    I do something similar to the clothing suggestion that has worked out great in past travels. I almost always bring something from home as ‘gifts’ to locals. Something iconic, like a NY Yankees T-shirt or even just LED torches (flashlights here in the US). I have found tips do not always have to be money based.

    Thanks again, great article
    Bo Kim
    Cofounder, Hotelr App

    • Jul 22, 2016 / 10:20 pm

      Definitely! I’m glad you found the article useful 🙂

  8. Candace
    Aug 24, 2016 / 9:11 am

    Hello going to Cuba next week. 2 questions. Have you ever seen anyone denied entrance into Cuba and do you only need insurance if you really staying for a certain number of days? And does it have to be a certain type of insurance? Thanks for the great info in the article.

    • Aug 24, 2016 / 10:37 am

      Hi Candace! I’ve never heard of anyone being denied – Cuban immigration was actually one of the nicest I’ve encountered on my travels. You technically always need insurance, but as I said – they don’t always check. But better be safe than sorry 😉

  9. israel marcella
    Oct 31, 2016 / 10:24 pm

    I cant wait to see this place myself

  10. Kesh
    Jan 15, 2017 / 3:34 pm

    Great article. Question please what is the name of your luggage are you showing in your post?

    • Jan 15, 2017 / 11:52 pm

      Of course. It’s Puccini.

  11. Carolyn
    Jan 15, 2017 / 9:54 pm

    What time of year were you in Cuba? I am going next week and see the temp may be lower than usual. I am cold natured so I’m thinking jackets and pants.??

    • Jan 15, 2017 / 11:46 pm

      I was there in April. It wasn’t that cold, but you could definitely bring a sweater.

  12. Lisa
    Feb 18, 2017 / 2:56 pm

    What about power cords for phones? Do you need to pack international converters?

    • Feb 20, 2017 / 6:02 am

      It depends where are you coming from. Plugs are American style.

      • Candace
        Mar 13, 2017 / 11:24 pm

        Absolutely! Make sure to bring a international converter. You will find a mix of electrical currents and plug types used in Cuba.

  13. Tam
    Mar 8, 2017 / 11:00 am

    We are traveling to Cuba tomorrow – can’t wait! Love your article! And travel is my passion with or without kids 🙂
    Viva La Cuba

    • Mar 8, 2017 / 2:45 pm

      Enjoy! It’s an amazing place!

  14. Pat from Minnesota
    Mar 27, 2017 / 5:52 am

    Planning on going this fall thru Road Scholar program. This was so helpful. Never thought to check insurance. Or leaving clothing etc behind. My mind is racing…..

  15. catherine trippel
    May 25, 2017 / 2:53 pm

    Coukd you tell me the name and model of the tripod pictured above? Thanks!!

    • Jun 4, 2017 / 6:11 pm

      The big one? It’s Gitzo.

  16. Kate
    Jun 1, 2017 / 5:33 am

    We went to Cuba this May and toilet paper was a must! We had packed 10 rolls luckily and used all but 1 on a 2 week trip. No public places had TP and our casas warned us in advance that there was a TP shortage on the island. We traveled the entire island (Havana, Varadero, Vinales, Holguin, Moa, Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, etc). I’d highly recommend!

  17. Joe Garcia
    Jun 20, 2017 / 12:24 am

    Great post, we leave Thursday and I have a few questions hopefully you can add some insight on.

    1st what’s the deal with the CUC vs CUP, I get that one is for locals and the other for tourist…but if someone gives us the tourist currency should we reject and ask for the local? Does it even make that much of a difference?

    I don’t mind haggling, but sometimes I don’t want to be bothered, but everything I’ve read said to haggle haggle haggle… Thoughts?

    As for the extra clothes/toys to give, should I just give it to a random person on the street? Is that not rude/too assumptive? Should I just work with our AirBnB host?

    • Jun 20, 2017 / 5:09 am

      You’ll only be able to exchange money into the tourist currency. And that’s the one you’ll be using 99% of the time. If you go to a local place, they’ll give you change in the local currency which you can use.
      In a regular shop, you obviously won’t haggle. I actually didn’t have to haggle much anywhere.
      I’d give extra things to people from your casas particulares yeah. Some kids asked me for stuff on the street, and if that happens you can give them whatever you have.

      • Joe Garcia
        Jun 20, 2017 / 12:43 pm

        Thanks, this is great appreciated!

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