Travelling to Cuba this year? Don’t try and save space in your luggage by thinking you’ll get what you need when you arrive. It ain’t gonna happen.
Shops in Cuba are small, hard to find & expensive with very little variety. You’ll waste a ton of time trying to even find a shop in Cuba, they have very poor signage even if you can read Spanish.
They are not grouped together like back home. Lots of walking from one to the other is a given, especially when you can’t find what you need. Not a good idea in the heat.
The only thing you can pretty much guarantee to be on any shop shelf is alcohol and cigarettes. Having said that, we were in a little shop and saw a pallet of local beers stacked high. We thought, “ok lots here” we’ll come back later. We came back about 4 hours later and it was all gone!
There can be a lot of mosquitoes in Cuba, especially if you’re out in the country. Take good quality mossie spray with 100% deet to keep bugs away.
I also really liked this small, non-liquid mosquito repellent stick.
A lots of it plus lip balm with SPF.
Leave in the original bottle or customs won’t know what it is and throw it out. Bring nothing less than 30+ SPF, better if it’s 50+ SPF Sunscreen and waterproof if you’re going swimming. The sun in Cuba will burn you to a crispy in no time if you’re not covered.
Buy travel sized packs of washing powder from your local store or laundrymat. You will most likely need to wash a few bits of your clothes by hand as laundries are rare and hard to find in Cuba. Hotels also charge an absolute fortune for doing your laundry.
If you’re staying in an apartment with a kitchen, a small bottle will be very handy along with Bring a good washcloth too!
Toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, shampoo & deodorant are hard to find and often of poor quality. Condoms choices are also minimal, so bring your favourite brands and treasure them dearly.
Most private casa’s and some hotels won’t supply either soap either, or often when they do it’s of very poor quality or without a face cloth.
Most public toilets and some restaurants don’t have toilet paper. Little packs of Kleenex tissues are perfect, they’re more convenient than trying to carry a roll of toilet paper. Tissues also easily fit into any bag.
If wet wipes are not available. Buy the travel pack size.
Strap on a handy travel size bottle of hand sanitizer to your bag so you always carry it.
Make sure you bring your own supply of tampons, pads and panty liners. Pack enough to keep you fresh in the heat, as you’ll only find shops to carry very poor quality items at expensive prices.
My first aid kit came with the basic’s like band-aids & scissors, but I had to add to it.
This included Polysporin, anti-itch cream, a pain killer such as Tylenol / Advil / Paracetamol. Plus Aspirin and motion sickness medication. A must is Imodium for upset tummies, also Q-Tips and cotton buds are handy.
It’s ok to bring them with you. Make sure you have a doctor’s note and leave medications in their original bottles. Do not mix pills to save space. Customs may want to you to explain what they are on arrival.
Pharmacies in Cuba only sell the most basic items, so if there’s anything you need with regularity, bring it with you.
Power in Cuba is mostly 110v.
If you’re not from the US or another country which normally supports 110v then you’ll need a power converter from 240v, 220 to 110v. Or ensure that any electronic devices you bring are dual voltage. Having said that we’ve stayed in a couple of casa’s that had a 220v socket installed.
Buy a converter that has USB slots for your phone or ipad so you can power up a few devises at once.
Battery Power Pack
We found it essential to have an extra power pack for our mobile phones. Unless you’re in your casa or hotel, it’s very hard to find somewhere to plug in and charge up.
Unless you’re a professional photographer, don’t bother buying a separate camera for your holiday. Do, however bring a high quality smartphone. You’ll get amazing photos from it.
All our photos on this website are shot with either my Samsung S8+ phone or my partners GoPro Hero 4 which takes an excellent wide angle shot plus it’s super small to carry around.
We also had the waterproof housing for the GoPro for fab underwater shots.
Unless your very upmarket hotel has cable TV (rare) then you’ll be without sound. Normal TV in Cuba is pretty terrible and radios don’t really exist. Take your own boom box speaker, especially if you’re going to the beach.
USB Stick with Movies
Don’t expect to find a movie theatre close by, we found one in Vedado but nothing in central Havana or any smaller town. We piled up our 128 GB memory stick with loads of movies, not that we had much time to actually watch them!
if you don’t have a smartphone, add a battery-powered alarm clock so you don’t sleep in for checkout, tours, bus rides or your flight home.
Any type of battery is hard to find and expensive in Cuba. We spent hours one day trying to find normal AAA batteries, with no luck at all.
Battery Charger & Rechargeable Batteries
if you have your own battery charger then bring this along with your rechargeable batteries. Check whether your charger is dual voltage, if not, you may need the Power Converter as mentioned above.
Headlamp / Flashlight / Torch
The power can go off at any time in Cuba, plus it can sometimes get quite dark at night walking the streets. We were in Cuba when Hurricane Irma hit and our headlamp torch came in very handy. Also comes quite handy when wanting to take pictures in caves or low-lighting.
Battery Powered Shaver
These are handy for use anywhere on your holiday, as these types of shavers are small and easy to travel with.
When planning what to pack for Cuba remember that laundromats are hard to find. If you send out your laundry at the hotel it’s very expensive, so pack well.
It’s hot in Cuba most of the year round. Pack tops and pants that can mix and match well. They should be smart enough for evening wear as well. Cuban’s love to get dressed up at night.
Restaurants usually require casual smart wear. Only in your resort or hotel should you walk around in your swimwear, don’t wear it around town.
Loose baggy tops over knee length training pants are perfect clothes for a hot Cuba. It can get sweaty in dresses all the time.
Bring a cardigan / sweater for the cooler nights. Movie theatres (which are freezing) and hotels have aircon which can be cold. Sometimes the buses are cold too.
Clothing and Packing Tips for Women
Don’t worry ladies, we’ve dedicated a long articles especially for you on What to Pack for Cuba
There are no regular supermarkets in Cuba, not as we know them and the Mom & Pop general stores that you will find offer vary little in variety. As long as you leave everything in their original boxes and wrappers, you should experience much trouble at customs when bringing over your staple foods.
No need to bring tinned Tuna though, as you can find this is most stores.
Energy bars, muesli, granola bars are very hard to find, as are including almonds, peanuts, raisens and sunflower seeds.
If you were hoping to find a jar of Skippy to get your through the day, it better already be in your luggage.
Spices and sauces
Again if you’re planning on doing your own cooking then bring enough with you to cover your stay. At resorts in particular, a bottle of Spicy Pepper Medley or some Mrs. Dash will go a long way to make making your meals more enjoyable. When staying at a local casa, what you bring is most likely all you’ll have beyond salt and pepper.
Again, in limited suppy. You won’t find any Tetley or Red Rose at your corner store.
If you love plunger coffee like we do, then bring your own. We packed our double walled stainless steel plunger, it was perfect. There is no need to bring coffee, Cuba has plenty of very good ground and instant coffee. We also brought our own coffee cups, these came in very handy.
- Folding umbrella for rain and sun.
- Ziploc bags to prevent camera & extra batteries from getting wet on outings or when it rains.
- Plastic bags for packing wet bathing suits prior to departure. Plus shampoo & lotions as they may explode/leak during the flight due to compression & decompression.
- Snorkel gear Only bring if youre planning on doing a tour out to an island, don’t bother if youre staying at Varadero or touring around.
- Stainless steel water bottle for carrying cold water.
- Golf Glove, Tees & Balls if you plan on playing a round and renting clubs.
- Cheap Nylon Wallet or cheap purse or handbag. You may not want to bring your leather wallet or good stuff and remove all unnecessary cards/documents from your wallet or handbag.
- Nicorette Gum or those vapor cigarettes or if you still smoke and like your own brand, then best bring them with you too. Although there are plenty of cheap cigarettes in Cuba.
- Insulated mug cups in Cuba are small and your drink gets warm very quickly.
If you want to help the poor in Cuba, make sure your gifts get to the right people. Donating to an appropriate charitable organisation is the way to go. In Cuba, the best option is to give to a church or a local medical clinic, they will give your items or money to those who need it.
Clothes, shoes, school items are all great things to give to charity, just like they would be at home.
Resorts workers, casa owners, tour guides, waiters and waitresses are amongst the best paid workers in Cuba (because of your tips) and are considered rich by Cuban standards. Don’t tip them out of pity, tip them because they gave you a good service, just like you would do anywhere in the world. If you give a gift to these kinds of people they will most likely sell it on.
Things NOT to Pack
You also need to be careful with a few things you shouldn’t bring into Cuba. They are routinely seized on arrival, without compensation. Here is a list of things not to pack:
- USA credit cards which don’t won’t work in Cuba
- More than one computer, smartphone or camera per person
- Walkie-talkies, satellite phones, drones or handheld GPS equipment
- Electric frying pans, toaster, irons or kettles.
- Any other item that draws heavily on electricity
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
Other Permitted Items
- Video cameras, camping tent, fishing gear, bicycle, sports equipment, equipment for recording and reproducing sounds
- Play Stations consoles
- Camouflage material, including rucksacks
You might find incorrect information about camouflage items of clothing or accessories being confiscated at customs. This is not true, there is no problem with wearing camouflage clothing.
Check out the Cuban Customs website for more info as it can change