In August 2016, Cuba became an accessible vacation destination for Americans when the first direct, commercial routes were opened between the two countries since the early 1960s.
Many Americans are thrilled by the opportunity to finally visit Cuba and meet the people who call it home. From mountains and beaches to the vibrant cities and towns in between, there are countless places to visit in Cuba that will light up your senses with their colors, culture and vibrant spirit.
But it’s important to remember that Cuba has been under an embargo for over 50 years. That means the goods they have available are very limited. Despite its improved relations with the US, you will not find wide availability of foreign products in Cuba.
So if you’re excitedly preparing to vacation through this previously closed door, it’s important to know what to bring with you. Here is our ultimate guide on what to pack for Cuba, with everything you need for an enjoyable vacation in the country.
Toiletries and Sanitary Products
You can’t drop into a grocery store or pharmacy for toiletries and sanitary items in Cuba, as you can in many other countries.
The toiletries you do find might be unfamiliar or confusing to identify. So it makes sense to pack your own instead. Bring several bottles of travel-sized options if you’re trying to avoid a checked bag.
Sanitary products are also important for women to bring along. You won’t find Tampax or other familiar feminine products in Cuba.
You should always pack any particular medications you might need when you travel, especially prescription medicines. But when you travel to Cuba, it’s important to come prepared to treat unexpected ailments as well.
The water is not safe to drink in Cuba. Should you accidentally drink it, or eat something that’s been rinsed or not cooked enough, you’ll likely need something for your stomach. New, unfamiliar foods also have the potential to make us feel crummy — even if they’re prepared properly. You should pack Immodium or something similar that contains Loperamide.
Ibuprofen, aspirin, diarrhea solutions, and throat lozenges can all be difficult to find in Cuba. Bring these along, just in case.
Sarong (or Towel)
It’s common for Cuba visitors to stay in a “casa particular,” which is like a bed & breakfast or private homestay. Casa particulares don’t always offer all the amenities of a hotel, like bath and beach towels.
Towels are bulky, and you probably don’t want to sacrifice valuable luggage space by packing them. Since you’ll likely need one for both the bath and the beach, it makes sense to bring a sarong or a quick-dry travel towel instead.
Sarongs are incredibly versatile and handy. They can act as a cover-up, a towel, a blanket on cold flights, or even a bag to wrap things up in. Their thin material allows them to dry quickly, even in the high humidity of Cuba.
A compact travel towel is another option. But you’ll want a quick-dry material so you can use it throughout the day.
Euros or British Pounds
ATM machines are few and far between in Cuba, so you’ll want to have sufficient cash on hand when you arrive.
You cannot get Cuban currency in the U.S. before you leave. So you’ll need to switch your money over to CUC’s (the currency used by tourists in Cuba) when you arrive in Havana.
Euros and British Pounds have a much better exchange rate in Cuba than the American dollar, so you might want to exchange money before arriving in Cuba. Be prepared to wait in a long line for the currency exchange upon arrival.
The average daily temperature in Cuba in the summertime is 88º Fahrenheit (or 31º Celsius). In the winter, it only gets down to about 77º Fahrenheit (or 25º Celsius). That’s hot! The subtropic climate is undeniably intense, but Cuba also has a nice cool breeze, thanks to the surrounding ocean.
You’ll need to prepare for heat and a strong sun no matter what time of year you visit Cuba. A hat, sunscreen, umbrella, and light-colored, quick-dry clothing will all help protect you from the elements.
Should you fall victim to the sun’s harsh rays, you’ll also be grateful to have packed aloe vera or other after-sun lotion. A hand-held fan can also provide necessary relief on especially hot days.
You don’t want these pesky (and potentially dangerous) bugs cramping your style in Cuba.
The Zika virus is currently present in Cuba, so make sure to take extra precaution.
Bring 100% Deet mosquito spray to keep the bugs at away.
The streets of Cuba’s bustling cities are often crowded and packed with activity, even in the early morning hours.
While we highly recommend getting out and about to experience the rush of everyone starting their day, you may also want to enjoy some peace and quiet.
If you’re sensitive to sound or don’t wish to be woken up early, ear plugs are very helpful.
Having a strong lock on your luggage is important especially if you’re staying in a casa particular as opposed to a hotel, because many do not offer lock boxes.
Most accommodations in Cuba should be safe and secure. But it will give you peace of mind and an added level of security to lock up your luggage, even when it’s in your room.
Hand Sanitizer & Antibacterial Soap
We never know what kind of germs we’ll be encountering on the road.
Keep these convenient products in a ziplock bag that you can easily transfer from your luggage to your day bag.
That way if you run into any less-than-sanitary conditions in Cuba, you’ll be prepared.
A Soft Bag for Souvenirs
It’s inevitable that you’ll leave Cuba with more than you brought.
Americans are no longer limited in the amount of cigars or rum they can purchase. Coffee and sugar are other popular products to bring home. Educational and cultural materials also make for great souvenirs. Consider buying some books or music to bring back and share with loved ones.
You won’t want to overstuff your suitcase when hauling these goods home. So bring a bag that folds down small for the trip there, and can then expand to carry your Cuban souvenirs back home.
Cuba is ann undeniably beautiful country, with so much to explore.
Your memories will ultimately be formed by what you take back with you– perhaps a newfound love for salsa music, or the knowledge of how to craft a perfect mojito.
But knowing what to pack for Cuba will help get you off to a good start on your long-awaited dream vacation to this Caribbean cultural paradise. –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, Green Global Travel, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.