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Travel prepared with this comprehensive Cuba packing list. 

When it comes to packing, I’m usually firmly in the “pack only what you need” camp. But packing for Cuba is a little bit different. 

It’s not that you need to pack a whole lot of things for your trip to Cuba. But, you do need to be aware of the fact that you might not be able to buy anything you need when you arrive. 

Essentials aren’t always easily available in Cuba – something to keep in mind when choosing what to pack for Cuba. Therefore, getting your Cuba packing right is more important than it would be for other Caribbean islands.

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things to pack for Cuba

 

 

Packing for Cuba: The Basics

Before you can even start working through your Cuba packing list, you’ll need something to pack it all in.

It doesn’t really matter whether you take a suitcase or a backpack to Cuba. The best option is whatever you feel comfortable with.

I use and recommend taking a four-wheeled hard-shelled suitcase. I find it easier to lug around, easier to pack and unpack when moving between towns, and better for general organisation.

After far too many luggage disasters, I swear by Samsonite cases. This is the newer version of the one I use (and love!).

I recommend taking your day bag as your hand luggage. If you’re planning to do lots of outdoor activities, a small, waterproof backpack like this one is ideal. 

Otherwise, I recommend a secure, anti-theft backpack like this one from PacSafe.



What to wear in Cuba 

There’s a lot of mixed information online about what you should wear for Cuba. If anything, though, this is the easiest part!

The one thing that shouldn’t be hard to find in Cuba is somewhere to do laundry. That means clothing is the one area where you can pack less than you think you need.

Cuba can get pretty hot in the day. While there are no real clothing restrictions outside of churches, Cuba is still a fairly conservative country. While you’ll see plenty of locals wearing tight, skimpy clothing, I would recommend to sticking to long, loose pieces where you can.

 

 

 

Not only will help draw less attention to you – attention which, as a tourist, you’re sure to get anyway – but it will also help you keep cool.

You’ll also want a lightweight layer to throw on in the evening because it can get pretty chilly in Cuba once the sun goes down. 

For footwear, a pair of running shoes and a pair of sandals should suffice. Plus, if you want to bring a nice pair of shoes for the evening, they probably won’t go unworn. Cuba is one place wear you can definitely dress up a little!

All in all, you can wear pretty much whatever you like in Cuba. If you would like a more in-depth breakdown of what I recommend for different scenarios, check out my post on what to wear in Cuba.


Packing guide for Cuba

Colour and prints are always welcome in Cuba!


Choosing what to pack for Cuba

When it comes to everything else, choosing what to pack for Cuba can be a little trickier. 

Even though some toiletries and day to day products may be available, it’s best to assume otherwise. If you choose to leave something behind, assume you won’t be able to get it when you arrive.

That said, you only want to pack things you’re actually going to use. And you may be surprised by how few things you need for a trip to Cuba!

I’ve laid out everything I would consider an essential for a trip to Cuba below. If there’s anything you can’t go without for the duration of your trip (e.g. contact lenses), you’ll want to make sure you have these too. 

 

 

Planning your Cuba packing list

10 Cuba travel essentials

There are lots of things you can live without in Cuba. These are the things you’ll definitely want to pack.

Reading material

With little distraction in the way of WiFi, Cuba is the perfect place to catch up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read.

Whether you switch off fully with hard copies or download them all on a Kindle, you won’t regret packing.


RELATED READ: The travel essentials of a full time traveller.


Cash 

Cuba is a cash society – it’s pretty much impossible to pay with card. 

It’s also hard to withdraw cash in Cuba (and often impossible if you’re using an American card) so it’s best to bring all the cash you will need.

Cuba uses two different currencies: the standard Cuban Peso (CUP) and Cuba Convertible Pesos (CUC). The latter is essentially a tourist currency, and it’s what you’ll need for your trip to Cuba. 

You can easily change up money once you arrive in Cuba, but you’ll want to think twice about bringing American Dollars. The exchange rate is so bad that it’s better to convert your USD to Canadian Dollars or Euros first.

If you can, come prepared with enough Euros to cover your entire trip.

 

 

 

Travel insurance 

Travel insurance is an essential no matter where you’re going. Trust me – I learned that lesson for good in Peru.

If you’re travelling long-term or planning to do any adventurous activities – such as water spots – then you’ll want to make sure your policy provides adequate coverage. Many insurance providers simply don’t. 

To make sure you have the best protection available, I use and recommend World Nomads. They cover all sorts of activities and are easy to claim with. 

You can find out more about World Nomads in this post that I wrote or click here to get a free, 30-second quote. 

Medication

Medication can be hard to come by in Cuba. Therefore, it’s a good idea to pack a basic first aid kit along with your regular prescriptions.

At the very least, pack plasters, painkillers, motion sickness pills and Imodium for any stomach trouble.


View of Old Havana in Cuba


Sunscreen 

Cuba is sunny and hot most of the time. That’s great news if you’re heading there in search of the sun, but it also means you’ll need enough sunscreen to see you through. 

You’ll go through a lot of sunscreen in Cuba and you might not be able to buy more if you run out. Avoid any ration-versus-risk dilemmas by packing enough for your trip.

While Cuba may not be a great destination for ecotourism, it does have some great snorkelling and diving spots. If you plan on enjoy Cuba’s incredible seas, make sure you choose a sunscreen that won’t harm the natural environment.

This reef friendly sunscreen is also vegan, so you can use it with a totally clear conscience. 

Toiletries and cosmetics 

I usually recommend picking up toiletries when you arrive, but Cuba is an easy exception. There’s a good chance you simply won’t be able to buy the toiletries you want or need in Cuba, so make sure you pack them with you.

At the very least, you’ll probably want to bring shampoo, soap, deodorant and moisturiser. 

 

 

 

Tissues 

It’s not uncommon to find a toilet lacking in toilet paper in Cuba. Even if you’re visiting a restaurant with napkins on every table, there’s a good chance there will be no toilet paper in the bathroom. 

It’s best to always carry a pack of tissues when travelling in Cuba. They’re come in handy often throughout your trip!

Hand sanitiser 

Hand sanitiser is something I find myself carrying more and more on my travels. 

Since there’s never any guarantee of finding soap in public toilets, it’s a good idea to always have some in your day bag.


READ NEXT: How to spend 48 hours in Havana, Cuba’s colourful capital.


Sunglasses 

Cuba’s sun is bright and harsh during the day. Even with sunglasses on, I sometimes found it hard to see.

Make sure you bring a good quality pair of sunglasses that can handle the bright sunlight and strong UV rays.

Adapter

Cuban houses and hotels usually use a mix of plug types A, B and C. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have adapters that fit both the American-style flat pin sockets and the European-style round pin ones. 

An all-in-one solution like this universal adapter is a great solution that will work everywhere in Cuba.


A Cuban woman sits on the side of the street wearing an orange guayabera dress and holding a fan


Snacks to bring to Cuba

If you’re like me, no trip is complete without a bag of local snacks. I usually head to a grocery store as soon as I land anywhere to stock up on things to munch on.

While that’s not totally impossible in Cuba, it may as well be. 

Due to all of the embargoes and restrictions on Cuban trade, finding snacks is hard in Cuba. If you do find any, you won’t have much choice.

Therefore, Cuba is one country – and possibly the only country – where I’d advise bringing your own snacks.

 

 

Other things to pack for Cuba

Finally, here are some things to consider packing for Cuba. While these things aren’t strictly essential, you’ll be glad you brought them with you. 

Playing cards

Playing cards always remind me of the all-inclusive holidays to Spain that filled my late childhood. No day on those holidays was complete until we’d played at least two or three rounds of the handful of games we knew.

Nowadays, playing cards only really feature in my life when joined by alcohol – and even that has become a rarity. 

Playing cards are a great thing to pack for Cuba, though. Especially if you want to embrace the chance to switch off from the virtual world. Take a pack of waterproof playing cards and challenge your travel buddies to a game in a Havana coffee shop or on the malecon.


RELATED READ: The best gifts for travel lovers and digital nomads.


Costume jewellery 

While I wouldn’t advise taking any expensive jewellery to Cuba, taking none at all would be a mistake. 

Cuba is colourful, and Cubans like to dress up. And jewellery is one of the easiest ways to add a splash of colour to your outfit when travelling. 

Pack bold pieces of costume of jewellery to instantly transform your daytime outfits to evening wear. Just make sure you pack things you wouldn’t be heartbroken to lose.

 

 

 

A camera 

Cuba is one of the most photogenic countries I’ve ever been to. Whether you’re a long-time photographer or picking up for a camera for the first time, photographing Cuba’s colourful streets and people is a lot of fun.

You don’t need loads of camera gear to get great shots, either. A small compact camera like this one will help you stay discreet on the streets. Or, if you fancy trying some underwater photography, it’s hard to beat a GoPro.

Whatever you take, make sure you have adequate gadget insurance for your camera and other valuables.


National Capitol Building and vintage in havana, cuba
Photo opportunities are everywhere in Cuba.

Portable charger 

A portable charger is definitely more “essential” in countries where you can use your phone’s data, but don’t assume you won’t use one in Cuba. 

With limited plug sockets in most buildings, a portable charger can be a saviour when it comes to keeping your camera, Kindle and everything else charged.

 

 

 

Guidebook

I rarely carry guidebooks – and usually read before, rather than during, a trip – but Cuba is one place where it’s handy to have one. 

The lack of internet means it’s better to do things the old school way. When travelling without the reassurance of internet, it’s always nice to know you can find what you need to know at any given time.

The Lonely Planet guidebook is the most comprehensive of all the ones available, and is packed with practical tips.


READ NEXT: Check out all of my Cuba blog posts, full of tips and inspiration.


Other things to take to Cuba

Besides the essentials listed above, there’s nothing else you need to pack for Cuba beyond your passport. 

The one exception is if you plan on doing any specialist activities, such as multi-day hikes or diving. Even then, I’d still recommend packing only the essentials that you can’t get once you arrive.

If you’re travelling elsewhere after Cuba, you’ll also need to consider those when packing for Cuba. I met lots of travellers in Colombia who were coming from – or going to – Cuba.

 

 

 

While it’s not a combination I would have ever thought of myself, it seems to be a popular travel route. If you plan on visiting both, make sure you pack for the cooler parts of Colombia as well as the Caribbean coast.

Travelling to Cuba will transport you to a slower, more relaxed pace of life that’s easy to fall into. Even if you’re usually a high maintenance traveller, I’m sure you’ll appreciate slowing down and unwinding to the non-stop music and laid-back vibe.


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Packing guide for Cuba