I’m going to split this article on what to bring to Cuba into two sections. The first is the Cuba Packing list that you’ll need for your own use. And then I’ll cover what to bring to Cuba for the locals. I’m assuming, also that as you’re reading Cuba’s Best, you’re interested in visiting Cuba somewhat independently, so you’ll be traveling around the country a little. If you’re planning on a resort holiday and not moving far from a sunbed, then I’ll point you to the sunscreen section. Otherwise, keep reading.
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Packing lists for Cuba are very different from what you’ll take to other countries. Because while you can likely find what you need *somewhere*, it will be on the black market, you probably won’t find it quickly and it will cost you. Best to be prepared.
Let’s also consider the current world situation when you’re packing as well. Depending on when you are traveling to Cuba you may experience power outages – planned blackouts are occurring as I’m writing this in August 2022. So plan around that. Think power blocks for your phone or camera, think snacks if you’re going to want to eat between meals. Think of a flashlight or head torch for walking home at night.
Additionally, depending on how you normally travel you might be used to getting free toiletries in your hotel. I’d plan on taking everything you need. If you take too much you can always leave it behind, it will be well received.
So here we go. Here’s a personal packing list for Cuba
Personal Packing List for Cuba
I’ve split these items that you should take to Cuba into logical sections. If you’d like these as a downloadable checklist then click here and I’ll email it to you.
Think I’ve missed something? Drop me an email or mention it in the comments.
Essentials you will need to enter Cuba
These are the items that you’ll need to either get on the plane to Cuba or through immigration to Cuba.
- Passport with the appropriate number of months left (check our Cuba checklist here)
- Medical insurance – it’s a mandatory Cuban government requirement
- A Cuban Tourist Card – buy one here, or read more here
- A completed health declaration form – – complete it with the D’Viajeros form online here
Basics to Take to Cuba
Here are a few items to bring to Cuba that I’d count as essentials, and I’ve explained why
- A face mask (make sure you’re prepared for any local changes to COVID rules)
- Hand sanitizer (not all bathrooms have soap, and most public toilets don’t have paper) – this is a scarce commodity in Cuba > get travel sized sanitizer here
- Toilet Paper / Packets of Kleenez (most public toilets and toilets in restaurants don’t have paper)
- Mosquito Repellent (whether or not there’s a dengue outbreak bites are irritating, and you’ve best off just not getting them)
- A filter water bottle – escape the bottled water trap – buy a filter water bottle and save the planet. (read our guide to drinking water in Cuba here). An alternative to a filter water bottle is a Steripen, which uses UV light to fix the problems in bad water – but doesn’t remove the chlorine taste.
- A VPN – if you plan on using the internet in Cuba, then use a VPN to protect your digital presence. Get ExpressVPN here – or read more in our VPNs for Cuba guide here.
- A flashlight, torch or headlamp/
- Cash – Cash is king in Cuba. Read our guide to Cuban Currency here. You can bring in the equivalent of US$5,000.
- ATM Card
- A Cuban Spanish Phrasebook
Luggage to Take to Cuba
If you’re traveling around Cuba you’ll want something lightweight and easy to move around. Packing is also so much easier with packing cubes, and these have revolutionized my packing over the years. As well as hand luggage that you can keep your valuables in and with you at all times. If you’re planning on leaving valuables anywhere – like a hotel room, or in a casa particular, we’d also recommend using a portable safe. Here are our recommended bags, packs, and safes.
- Easy lightweight case for Cuba
- Packing cubes
- Easy lightweight backpack for Cuba
- Portable travel safe for valuables for Cuba – there’s more on why we travel with a portable travel safe here.
Clothes to take To Cuba
It’s going to be hot. And sweaty. If you’re staying in Casa Particulars they will offer a laundry service, but you’ll need to factor in if you have rain it might take a while to dry. You won’t find laundromat type facilities here, but if you plan on washing things out in the sink overnight, then you’ll need to bring your own laundry soap. There’s very little need to dress up in Cuba, and take comfortable clothes – if you’re heading to somewhere special, then smart casual is the way to go. And comfortable shoes for walking around too. I’ll leave you to add in what clothes you want to take, but consider these items are necessary
- Comfortable shoes for Walking / Walking Sandals
- Flip flops (although I detest flip flips, and love these crocs sandals instead)
- A quick drying towel – great for the beach
- An umbrella – I learned this from extensive travel in Asia – brollies are amazing for rain, they’re even better as really strong sun protection!
If you plan on snorkeling, then bring your own snorkeling gear – and if you prefer to use a shortie wetsuit then you should bring that with you too. You may be able to rent snorkeling gear, but it may not be in the greatest condition.
Toiletries to take to Cuba
While you will be able to buy some basics like soap and shampoo while you’re in Cuba, items like menstrual products are hard to come by, so if you need them, bring them with you. Equally, if you normally travel with condoms, then bring them too, as they’re in short supply in Cuba.
- Soap/shower gel
- Shampoo & Conditioner
- Toothpaste / Toothbrush / Floss
- Nail clippers/Tweezers
- Face cream/moisturizer
- Tampons/Pads/Menstrual Cups (< the best invention ever!)
Medication to Take to Cuba
You won’t be able to buy much over the counter medication in Cuba, so it’s wise to take a stash with you. You can buy some international medication here, but it’s more expensive. And you’re unlikely to find any US brands, so you’ll find a brand made in other countries. So if you prefer Tylenol to paracetamol or Ibuprofen, then take it with you.
If you need prescription drugs, then bring them all with you and bring the prescription too, in case you have any issues.
Here are suggestions for a basic medication kit to take with you
- Tylenol / Ibuprofen / Paracetomol
- Sea sickness pills if you plan to take any catamaran rides
- Electrolytes/rehydration salts – go easy on the super strong mojitos or you’ll need a lot of these!
- Band-Aids / Plasters
- Antibiotic Cream
- Antihistamine Cream (for when the mozzies get through the Deet!)
Electronics to take to Cuba
- A power converter – so you can charge all your electronics – our guide to the best power converters for Cuba is here. While Cuba is mostly 110 volts (the same as the USA and Canada), the word you need to look at there is “mostly”, especially if you’re staying in casa particulars, then be prepared for different sockets and different voltages.
- Phone (you can get a local SIM put in it – read our guide here)
- Portable charger / battery
- Memory Card for Camera – PLUS A SPARE
- A hard drive to back up photos to
- Kindle or EReader (download all your books before you go)
If you normally upload your photos to the cloud, then plan on doing that when you get home and bring either spare memory cards or a hard drive to back up your photos. Read our guide to the internet in Cuba here, but plan on not using it for this purpose.
What to Bring to Cuba for the Locals
Let me start by saying that you don’t need to bring things for the locals if you don’t want to. You might encounter the odd person in the street asking for handouts, but they are few and far between, and I most definitely don’t support begging. And you shouldn’t go around giving out candy or dollars to kids, but if you do want to bring things to Cuba to help those in need, then consider this.
- If you know people, then ask them what they want.
- If you leave things for your maids in a hotel, then they’ll likely sell them, which is fair enough, but they’re also probably better off than a lot of people in the country.
- Consider bringing items that Cubans can’t get and that are of immediate use.
Generally useful items for Cubans include
- Clothes for children – you can drop them off at a church or orphanage
- Over the counter medication (in its boxes)
- Hygiene products (esp female hygiene products)
- Pens/Paper etc – school supplies
If you want to help the Cuban people, then I’d recommend considering asking a couple of organizations in Cuba that items would be useful.
The folks at Cuba Solidarity regularly publish items that would be of us, and these include specialist medical equipment – like sterile gloves, or disposable syringes. You can check other items that they recommend taking here.
Cuba Libro in Havana is an English language bookshop and coffee house in Havana – it’s a good idea to contact them and ask what’s needed specifically and then drop it off when you arrive in Cuba. There are contact details here.
Saint Elvira’s Church in Varadero can distribute clothing, medication and other items.
Let me know – either by emailing me or by commenting below – of any other organizations that you recommend for distributing assistance.
What NOT to bring to Cuba
Now that we’ve covered what you should bring to Cuba, and what would be a good idea to take to Cuba, let’s take a look at what not to take to Cuba because there are some banned items that shouldn’t be anywhere near your luggage.
You can bring up to the equivalent of US$50 worth of gifts into Cuba before they’re taxable. Of course that relies on someone finding them in your luggage.
Cuba bans the following items
- Drugs – Cuba is a zero-tolerance society
- Satellite phones
- Anti-Cuba literature
- GPS Units – although phones with GPS are ok
- Walkie Talkies
- Agricultural products and plants
- Fresh meat
Final Words on our Cuba Packing List
A packing list for Cuba is somewhat different from planning a trip anywhere else, and bringing the right things with you will definitely help you have a better holiday. But some of the things that you can bring to Cuba will also help make someone else’s life better too.
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