Are you planning a trip to Cuba and wondering what to pack? Packing for a trip to Cuba can be a bit challenging due to its unique political landscape and the limited availability of certain items. But worry not, I’ve got you covered!
In this ultimate Cuba packing guide, I provide you with a comprehensive packing list for your trip to Cuba. Thereby ensuring that you’ll have everything you need to make your journey smooth and enjoyable. So let’s dive in, here’s what you need to take with you to Cuba!
What to pack when visiting Cuba?
Meet the Entry Requirements
Before we get into what to pack, let’s first address the entry requirements for traveling to Cuba. One of the most important things to bring to Cuba is a Cuba Tourist Card or Cuba Visa (Tarjeta Del Turista).
This document is essential for most visitors to Cuba. And it can be obtained either bundled into your flight ticket, sold to you at the airport or at the Cuban Embassy or Consulate in your country.
Make sure to keep a copy of it with you at all times during your stay. I recommend keeping a high quality photo of your Cuban tourist visa and passport on your phone. Lock the original Cuban visa and your passport inside your suitcase and leave it in your accommodation.
Another crucial requirement is travelers medical insurance. Cuban law mandates that all visitors have valid travel insurance that covers Cuba.
This ensures that you are protected in case of any medical emergencies or unforeseen circumstances during your trip. Be sure to arrange a travel insurance policy that covers the entire duration of your stay in Cuba.
I get all my policies for Cuba from www.visitorscoverage.com. Visit Visitors Coverage or use the widget below.
Arrange your airport transfer in Advance!
One thing visitors to Cuba often overlook is airport transfers. The airports in Cuba are located on the outskirts of towns. There is no airport bus, train, subway or tram. And unless you’ve been to Cuba before and already have a working Cuban SIM card and phone number, you won’t be calling a La Nave (Cuba’s version of Uber).
Without a Cuban phone number and given Cuba’s haphazard and barely functional public transport system, you’ll be left with two choices. You can use a pre-booked airport transfer or try to negotiate the fare into town with a taxi driver.
Now, when you try to negotiate a taxi fare from the airport to town, the taxi drivers are all going to know you haven’t got a pre-booked airport transfer. And do you know what happens next? You end up paying more for a ride in a soviet era Lada that may or may not have a functional exhaust and 3 out of 4 wheel nuts.
Your cheapest and best option from the airports in Cuba if you don’t have a functional Cuban phone number is to have a pre-booked airport transfer waiting for you on arrival. I use civitatis in Cuba to skip the headache of dealing with Cuba’s taxi drivers at the airport.
The driver from civitatis will be waiting for you when you land at the time you have set when booking. Your driver will most likely speak English and will load and unload your luggage for you. You will then be chauffeured directly to your accommodation in complete comfort.
Choose the Right Luggage For Cuba
When it comes to choosing the right luggage for your trip to Cuba, I recommend opting for a suitcase and a small carry-on backpack. Having a backpack that can be used as a daypack is convenient for navigating the streets of Cuba or when you’re taking tours.
Having a daypack is almost essential in Cuba. Particularly when you’ll need to carry sunscreen, jacket, water bottle and large wads of local cash with you everywhere you go.
Consider investing in a suitcase that is hard-shelled and lockable when visiting Cuba. This helps prevent theft when moving through Cuban airports. And when in Cuba and you leave your room, you should put everything into your suitcase and lock it.
Note on packing your suitcase: Very Important!
When you’re flying into Cuba, keep all your cash and valuables with you at all times. Don’t put them in your suitcase. All bags are scanned coming into Cuba.
If Cuban Aduana (Cuba’s customs or TSA) officers earning $20-$30 per month see a few thousand dollars in your suitcase while they’re scanning it at the airport, your luggage will ‘disappear’ in transit. You will simply be told that your luggage is ‘lost’. And without clothes or cash, your Cuban holiday is ruined.
Don’t put valuables in your suitcase. Well, that is unless you want to lose your entire suitcase before your holiday even starts.
Essential Clothing and Accessories
Now let’s talk about what clothing and accessories you should pack for your trip to Cuba. The climate in Cuba is generally warm and sunny, but it can get cold. So it’s essential to pack lightweight and breathable clothing that can be layered.
I personally opt for shorts during the day and jeans at night. And I wear tees everywhere but I also carry a couple of lightweight denim shirts that I can layer up with to cover myself from the sun or sea breeze. Here are some key items I recommend you include in your suitcase:
- T-shirts and tank tops
- Lightweight pants and shorts (loose fitting)
- Good pair of jeans (for restaurants and clubs)
- Dresses or skirts (for women)
- Swimwear (board shorts or bikinis)
- Light sweater or jacket for cooler evenings
- Comfortable walking shoes or sneakers
- Sandals or flip-flops
- Hiking boots (if you plan on exploring mountainous areas)
- Sun hat or cap
- Beach towel (if not swimming at resorts)
- Umbrella or raincoat (for the occasional rain showers)
- Insect repellent (if you’re going to explore remote areas)
Remember to pack enough underwear and socks for the duration of your trip. If you’re staying longer in Cuba and you are in a populated area, laundry services are available. Just find yourself a ‘lavadero’ in places like Havana, Varadero or Viñales for cheap laundry services.
Protection from the Sun
As mentioned earlier, the sun in Cuba can be extremely bright, so it’s crucial to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. And items for sun protection can be hard to find in Cuba. Here are some essential items to pack for sun protection:
- Sunscreen: Bring a high SPF sunscreen and apply it generously throughout the day. Opt for a spray-on sunscreen that is lightweight, oil-free and water-resistant for maximum comfort.
- Post Sun Gel: Bring some form of aloe gel or post sun moisturising cream. If you get burnt and don’t have after sun cream, you won’t be able to find it on the island.
- Hat or Cap: A wide-brimmed hat or a baseball cap will provide additional shade and protect your face from the sun.
- Sunglasses: Invest in a good pair of sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes from the intense sunlight.
Stay Hydrated: But Don’t Buy A Filtered Water Bottle!
In Cuba the tap water is not safe to drink straight out of the tap. But bottled water is cheap and readily available. A 1.25 litre (0.33 gallon) bottle of water costs roughly 200 Cuban pesos or $0.93 US cents at the current exchange rate.
A lot of websites will tell you to buy a filtered water bottle or fancy ‘life straws’. You should not carry these items around in touristic areas within Cuba. If you do carry these items you will find that all the street touts, called jineteros, will identify you not only as a foreigner, but also as a sucker.
Any foreigner who has been in Cuba for longer than a day knows where to find cheap bottled water. If you’re carrying a filtered water bottle or ‘life straw’ you will be a much larger target for scams. Because the jineteros will all assume you know nothing about Cuba.
If you just happen to have $20 burning a hole in your pocket, instead of buying a ‘life straw’ or filtered water bottle and looking like a sucker to the scammers, just drop a tip in my tip jar instead.
Essential Travel Documents
To ensure a hassle-free trip to Cuba, don’t forget to pack the following essential travel documents:
- Passport: Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date from Cuba.
- Cuba Tourist Card or Cuba Visa: Keep a photo of this document with you at all times during your stay.
- Travel insurance documents: It is a requirement of entry into Cuba that you have travelers medical insurance specifically covering Cuba. If you don’t have one or can’t produce one when asked, Cuba will make you buy their own expensive (and useless) policy. I get my policies from www.visitorscoverage.com.
Medications and First Aid Kit
If you take any prescription medications, be sure to bring an ample supply for the duration of your trip. I recommend you carry an extra 7 days worth of all necessary medications. As you likely won’t be able to find what you need on the island if you run out.
It’s also a good idea to pack a basic first aid kit with essentials such as band-aids, antiseptic ointment, antibiotics, pain relievers and any other necessary medications or medical supplies you may require.
Cuba has frequent shortages and will almost certainly not have what you require in stores. If you need something and don’t have it, you will need to search the ‘black market’ called Revolico to find what you’re looking for.
In today’s digital age, it’s essential to have your electronic essentials like your mobile phone, laptop and camera with you when traveling. Here are some items you should consider packing:
- Reliable VPN: Most websites and mobile applications cannot be accessed from Cuba without a good VPN. Don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN. NordVPN is what I use. NordVPN is available at www.nordvpn.com or click the banner below.
- Travel adapter: Cuba uses Type A and B electrical outlets, so make sure to bring a travel adapter that is compatible with these plug types.
- Portable charger: Keep your devices powered up on the go with a portable charger.
Cash and Currency
Credit and debit cards aren’t accepted within Cuba. You will need to carry cash in the local currency, Cuban Pesos (CUP).
ATMs are limited and unreliable. And cards issued by banks from most foreign countries will not work anywhere in Cuba. You will need to have enough cash on hand for your daily expenses.
You should bring USD or Euro cash to Cuba. Other currencies are difficult to exchange when in Cuba. And you cannot exchange your currency to CUP before arriving in Cuba. You can only exchange foreign currency for Cuban Pesos (CUP) within Cuba. But do not change money at Cuba’s airports.
Western Union has partially restored operations in Cuba. But without a Cuban bank account you cannot access Western Union services. Western Union does not deal in Cash in Cuba. You can only receive funds in Cuba electronically into a Cuban bank account at the official exchange rate of 24:1.
Note: The CUC ‘convertible peso’ mentioned all over the internet was phased out on 1 January 2021. The CUC currency no longer exists in Cuba. There is only the CUP currency in circulation. CUC notes had famous places printed on them and the CUP banknotes have famous faces.
Extras and Personal Preferences
Lastly, consider packing some extras and personal preferences to enhance your trip to Cuba. These can include:
- Snacks: Pack some of your favorite snacks or energy bars for long travel days or when you’re on the go. Make sure they’re in unopened vacuum sealed bags.
- Entertainment: If you’re got NordVPN you’ll be able to watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, listen to Spotify or scroll TikTok. So make sure your subscription is up to date.
Remember to pack light and prioritize the essentials. Leave room in your luggage for any souvenirs or items you may want to bring back from Cuba. Just don’t buy any souvenirs at Cuba’s airports because they’re overpriced.
Packing for a trip to Cuba doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By following my advice in this guide, you’ll have everything you need to make your journey to Cuba smooth and enjoyable.
Just remember to check the entry requirements, choose the right luggage, pack appropriate clothing and accessories, protect yourself from the sun and bring your essential travel documents and medications.
But don’t forget your electronic essentials, cash and any extras or personal preferences that will enhance your trip. And don’t travel to Cuba without a VPN or travelers medical insurance!
Happy travels to Cuba!
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination where you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.