Ultimate Cuba Packing List: What to Bring to Cuba?

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.

Packing List for Cuba
Cuba Packing List

Ultimate Cuba Packing List (updated for 2019)

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 is 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 suitcase. As I usually pack light I brought my small suitcase with me, but my husband had to check a bag as we brought a bunch of camera equipment with us. Neither of us had any issues.What to Pack for Cuba

READ MORE: Things to Know Before Traveling to Cuba

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 the 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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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 payment by card.


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


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.


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 experienced a lack of any of the above, not even in a small village, so I wouldn’t bother.DSC05928

READ MORE: Carry-on Packing Guide

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.

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.Traveling to Cuba

READ MORE: Best Carry-On Luggage

Suggested books for Cuba:

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

Don’t forget to arrange health insurance before heading to Cuba. Visitors are often stopped at the border and checked if they have 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.

67 thoughts on “Ultimate Cuba Packing List: What to Bring to Cuba?”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 ;).

  3. 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! 😉

  4. 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

  5. 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.

    • 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 😉

  6. 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.??

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

  8. 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…..

  9. 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!

  10. 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?

    • 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.

      • I always get a supply of cup. If you buy small items in local stores, street food, bathrooms, pizza in the beach etc. It’s best to have cup. Most street food or tiny local places won’t have change for cuc.
        Also… the toilet paper thing is most definitely not a myth. Out in the country, hiking, bars, many local clubs will not have toilet paper. And wipes are not a bad idea. A lot of places don’t have running water in bathrooms. And… tampons and baby diapers are very hard to come by. Expensive, and poor quality. And do some chica a favor and leave extra tampons with your casa owner or a friend you meet. I bring a few bottles of cheap ibuprofen and hand it off before I go. It can be hard to come by sometimes. I bring a travel size bar of soap. Some casas have it, some don’t. I leave some of my clothes so I have room to bring home a little rum.
        When I leave donations, I say…i don’t have room in my bag for these items, do you mind if I leave them here? It’s a good way to keep it from feeling awkward. I always go thru my jewelry and bring pieces i don’t use. Cuban women are always happy to have a piece of jewelry. Cubans are very grateful to have a nice item you don’t need, just word it so everyone feels comfortable.

          • Dear Ken-
            I’d suggest you consider not traveling to Cuba or, perhaps, read a good history of Cuba which might change your mind.

  11. Hi Anna,
    I came across your post doing some research, I’m glad I did! You give some great advice.
    I was born in Cuba and I visit my family quiet often. I can corroborate your suggestions. Cuba is always a surprise. In the high tourism season, you can expect beer to be completely sold out. I also want to point out that I’ve also seen toilet paper disappear from the stores for months, especially outside of Havana, and conditioner is practically always missing. I always try my best to bring toys and school supplies to give away to the kids, they’re always ecstatic.
    Cuba is different in many ways from other countries I’ve visited. One thing that I suggest is to keep in mind that the island is ruled by a communist regime. The people of Cuba are like prisoners, they are given crumbs to live off. Most people want out. With that being said, there are some bad people out there. Everyone needs to beware that there are people who over-charge tourists for food, there are groups that set you up to steal expensive technologies, there are taxis that over-charge, there are all kinds of scams. It’s very important to at least understand a little bit of Spanish and Cuban slang.
    I know that there are hassles to travel to any country. I realize that there are threats everywhere, but trust me, Cuba is not the place where you want to have any kind of conflict.
    On another note, a vegan diet is very hard to follow through. Many, many people use lard in substitute of oil! Bring your nuts and snacks, and leave your drones in the US.

    Safe travels everyone!

  12. Hi !
    We have to visit Havana & Varadero in next November , 4 boys alone.

    Have you any place/street/neighborhood that you will advice us to dont go or to avoid for our safety ?

    And any place that you recommend us to go?

    Thank you

    • Not at all. Cuba is a very safe place. The only unsafe place is the beach after dark, but you’ll see a ton of police guarding the place.

  13. I found your comments appropriate but after having lived 6 months in Cuba, volunteered there and vacationed about 16 times I would recommend visitors should take toilet paper, face cloths, sanitary pads or tampons, ketchup if you use it. A good idea is to take Canadian currency so you will not be charged as much at the cadeca. Cubans generally do not haggle like in Mexico prices are fixed on most items but offers are possible on the streets. You did not mention immodium, pepto bismol and neo citran as essential back up medications. Many children in Cuba appreciate cough syrups since colds are actually common with kids, as unusual it sounds. Tylenol (ibuprofen) is also a good standby and gift to leave. CUC are not close to moneda National pesos. One CUC =24 CUP usually.

  14. Hi Anna,

    I took your suggestion and brought the Lifestraw water filter to Cuba. I got so sick from using it with the water there that I wound up in the hospital. Thanks a lot!

    • I’m sorry you got sick, but you clearly didn’t get sick because of the Lifestraw, but something else. You got food poisoning so you have to blame it on someone and this time it’s me and the safe product I recommended. I get it. This bottle has been safe for years and used by hundreds of thousands of people who are all fine.

      • You should take the vacine Dukoral two weeks before you go. Also take Imodium for sure with you. My pharmacist suggested I take pepto bismal at breakfast and supper. If you leave your resort for excursions or on your own, you definately need tissues or toilet paper. Close to one million Canadians a year visit Cuba and we love it. The beaches and the beautiful people make it all worthwhile.

        • Why would anyone do pepto bismal? Food in Cuba really isn’t as bad as people portray it 😉 I’ve never stayed at any resort in Cuba, just local houses so can’t speak for the food there, but all the food I ate was fresh and clean.

      • Thanks for the information on your site! A useful reminder about Lifestraw is that it is a filtration system…..meaning that it is ineffective against viruses. So wherever you travel, you should do some research to find out what the risks of the drinking water are…..protozoa, bacteria, virus risks? Lifestraw is a very useful tool but not 100% effective.

  15. You missed out the most important item, an umbrella, very hard to find them in Cuba though many locals have them.

  16. Great post and comments – thank you all 🙂
    We’re off to Cuba touring tomorrow and whilst we have a lot of the items you suggest we shall be adding a few more!
    Thank you. Happy traveling 🙂

  17. Thanks for all the I leave for Cuba next week.

    Just a question about giving stuff to children. I plan to take some books/pens/school supplies. Do you just give it any children you see on the streets or is there an official way to donate?

  18. Thank you so much for all your ideas and suggestions. There was a lot on here that we were not planning to take – so we really appreciate all your great ideas. We leave for Cuba in nine days! Can’t wait!

  19. Take your “gifts: to the closest church – and not to the person hanging around the door – but to the administration office or priest. They will take the items outside the tourist areas and give to the people that need it the most
    Tip the hotel staff with MONEY – they can then buy what the need or want.

  20. I wish there were more up to date info. I’m going to Cuba in December 2019. I appreciate the info on gifts. Im an avid traveler and I buy inexpensive clothes to travel in then leave them. Hotel staff may have access to soap etc, but they work hard for little money and can always use nice US clothes. How’s the TP situation 2019? Thanks for all the info. I’ll be checking back before i leave.

  21. Thanks for your blog and advice Anna, we too are off to Cuba in Dec on a private tour around the island. Looking forward to it.

  22. I heard so many things about Cuba and they may not all be true. I heard you have to enter as a group with the new law after June 2019. I heard about the cruise that was turned back. Then I heard that is not true. Then some people said not to bring gifts, and bring toilet paper! I am going this week with a group of teachers. I guess I will find out on my own. Thanks for the packing list.

  23. HI: We been to Cuba many times .when you book you will get a wonderful list in what to bring to your resort .I like to bring pringles (chips) in the tube can-trail mix-licorice-I always bring gum to chew on the plane before take off and wear ear plugs..always bring 3-4 rolls of toilet paper – Kleenex-baby wipes are good-hand sanitizer-gifts for maids-such as band-aids-personal items-I bring Tylenol -rolaids-immodium and pepto-it is good to take one in the morning and at suppertime..with changing your food being in a different country it ensures that you will not get diarrhea-you can bring your own ketchup if you want but theirs is good just sometimes not always readily available.-or simply enjoy what they offer-the food is great!I take bug spray -lip balm to the beach-to ensure possibly the sand fleas stay out of my way.I take eye drops-polysporin as well in my suitcase-first aid small kit-face cloths they do not provide-I take many more things but most all are listed on the travel list the agent provides-enjoy your vacation!!!


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