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.
Why you need to pack carefully for Cuba: Tips on supermarkets and shops, what you need to know...
Written by: Sandra Tanner
There are no regular supermarkets in Cuba, not as we know them. Shops are much smaller 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.
Shops in Cuba 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!
Not much variety in the supermarket in Cuba
What to Pack for Cuba: Toiletries & Medications...
What to Pack for Cuba: Toiletries & Medications
First Aid Kit - Bug Repellent - Suntan Lotion - Hand Sanitizer - Kleenex Tissue
- First Aid Kit: 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.
- Bug repellent: 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 really like this small, non-liquid mosquito repellent stick.
- Suntan lotion: and 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.
- Prescriptions - 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.
- Toilet Paper: 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 fit into your handbag better.
- Hand wipes: or wet wipes are not available. Buy the travel pack size.
- Soap: most private casa’s and some hotels won’t supply soap, so bring your own.
- Toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, shampoo & deodorant: Poor quality or the variety is terrible. Plus hard to find.
- Face Cloth: might be handy if you use one.
- Tampons / pads: Make sure you don't run out and bring Panty Liners to keep you fresh in the heat. Very poor range and again very expensive in Cuba.
- Hand sanitizer: strap on a handy travel size bottle of hand sanitizer to your bag so you always carry it.
- MultiVitamins: can't say I've seen any of these around, I don't use them. Pharmacy's in Cuba only sell the most basic items.
- Washing powder: Fill a small plastic ziploc bag with your favourite washing powder. 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 charge an absolute fortune for doing your laundry.
- Dish-washing liquid: If you’re staying in an apartment with a kitchen, a small bottle will be very handy. Bring a good washcloth too!
- Condoms etc (self explanatory)
What to Pack for Cuba: Electronic Items...
What to Pack for Cuba: Electronic Items
GoPro Camera - Boom Box - Power Pack - Torch - Power Converter - Batteries - Shaver
- Power Converter: 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 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.
- Camera: 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.
- Music speaker: unless your very upmarket hotel has cable TV (rare) then you'll be without sounds. Normal TV in Cuba is pretty terrible and radio's 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 100gb memory stick with loads of movies, not that we had much time to actually watch them!
- Battery-powered alarm clock: if you don’t have a smartphone. You don't want to miss your flight.
- Extra Batteries: 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.
- Battery Powered Shaver: these are handy for use anywhere on your holiday. Battery powered shavers are small and easy to travel with.
Good walking gear for Cuba
What to Pack for Cuba: Clothing...
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, so look smart 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.
For more clothing tips on What to Pack for Cuba, please read:
What to wear at night in Cuba, our perfect going out attire.
What to Pack for Cuba: Food...
- Snack bars or Muesli/Granola bars: these are very hard to find so bring plenty with you.
- Peanut butter: if you plan on making your own breakfast
- Tea: Bring your own
- Plunger: If you love plunger coffee like we do, then bring your own plunger. 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.
- Spices and sauces: Again if you’re planning on doing your own cooking then bring
- Nuts & Raisins: including Almonds, Peanuts, Sunflower Seeds etc - bring enough with you to cover your stay.
- No need to bring tinned Tuna, you can find this.
- You'll have no problem getting any food into the country so bring plenty with you. The range and variety is very poor in Cuba.
Not much variety in the supermarket in Cuba
What to Pack for Cuba: Other things you might want to pack...
- 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 you’re planning on doing a tour out to an island, don’t bother if you’re 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, 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.
Other related pages on what to bring to Cuba
Perfect walking gear to bring to Cuba
What to Pack for Cuba: Gifts for the Locals...
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 you would do 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.
Typical que in a supermarket in Havana Cuba
Don’t bring to Cuba: Things you should NOT 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:
- Your Visa or credit card if you’re from the USA - it won’t work in Cuba
- More than one computer per person
- More than one smartphone per person
- More than one camera per person
- Satellite phones
- Handheld GPS equipment
- Air conditioners
- Water heaters
- Electric frying pans
- Any other item that draws heavily on electricity
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Pornographic material
Permitted items you can pack and bring into Cuba:
- Video cameras, camping tent, fishing gear, bicycle, sports equipment, equipment for recording and reproducing sounds.
- You might find incorrect information about items of clothing or accessories made from camouflage material, including rucksacks, that they will be confiscated at customs. This is not true, there is no problem with wearing camouflage clothing.
- Play Stations consoles are permitted.
Check out the Cuban Customs website at for more info as it can change: http://www.aduana.co.cu/index.php?opt...
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