A comprehensive Cuba packing list is arguably the most important thing you need when you’re preparing to jet off for the country’s chock-a-block cities, Caribbean beaches, and jungle. Unlike many other global destinations, Cuba isn’t the type of place where you can just rock up and pick up any missing supplies as you go. The shops mostly stock water, alcohol, and tinned goods.

So, when you’re packing for Cuba, it’s vital that you bring everything you need with you. You don’t want to be missing shampoo in 30-degree weather or lacking a swimsuit when you’re staying kilometres or even metres from white-sand beaches. When you’re drawing up your packing list for Cuba, double and triple checking you’ve packed everything you might need is key.

The following Cuba packing list has covered all bases, even going as far as to include what you’re not allowed to bring into Cuba, the dress code in Cuba, and whether you should bring cash or card. Of course, my packing list for Cuba also covers all essentials and optional items, including travel documents, clothes, valuables, toiletries, and any other knick knacks you might need or benefit from packing. I visited Cuba in February 2022, so I can give you the full low-down, along with other insider’s tips.

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Cuba Packing List: What not to bring to Cuba

What are you not allowed to bring into Cuba?

Let’s start with what you are not allowed to bring into Cuba. Luckily, the list isn’t particularly long, and it’s unlikely you’re not going to miss any of these items. The only slight surprise might be that your airport snacks should not include meat or fruit. If you arrive with a meat sandwich or a fruit salad, expect it to be promptly taken away and destroyed.

Busy street in Parque Central lined with classic cars

Do not bring any of the following items to Cuba, because they are banned by custom laws:

  • Pornographic material.
  • Narcotics (drugs), excluding prescription drugs accompanied by a copy of the prescription.
  • Live animals.
  • Firearms.
  • Any item or piece of literature negatively representing Cuba or the Cuban revolution or that could be deemed dangerous in terms of national security.
  • Fruit.
  • Meat products.
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) such as Sat Navs. Mobiles, telephones, tablets and laptops are permitted, but inbuilt GPS or location services should be disconnected or disabled.
  • Items with an antenna e.g. a walkie talkie.
  • Drones.
  • More than two bottles of liquor.
  • More than one carton of cigarettes.
  • Household appliances like toasters and kettles.
  • More than two laptops per person.
  • More than two cameras per person.
  • More than two mobile phones per person.

Cuba’s custom laws also say that one person can only bring a maximum of two pieces of checked-in luggage, and they must weigh no more than 32kgs. Your airline should already be aware of this rule.

INSIDER’S TIP

If you’re yet to book your flight to Cuba, I recommend booking through Skyscanner. I book all of my flights through Skyscanner, and I’ve found deals that have saved me nearly £500.

What not to pack for Cuba to save you space

Aside from the list of absolutely banned items in Cuba, there are some items that it just doesn’t make sense to bring to Cuba.

  • High heels: High heels don’t pair well with the rough terrain in Cuba. Many of the towns and cities have cobbles. Others have very dusty roads, dirt tracks, or rough terrain. Leave your heels at home, unless you’re spending all of your time in a Cuban resort and want to wear them to dinner.
  • Heavy coats. In general, Cuba is hot and humid. While the country does experience some tropical downpours, you’ll be absolutely fine bringing along a lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Online work gear, such as a laptop. If you need internet access for your work, you might want to think again about spending a workcation in Cuba. Internet access is sketchy and access to any WiFi network requires a paid-for Etecsa card, which gives you a limited amount of time on the network (usually one to five hours).

Cuba Packing List: Is there a dress code in Cuba?

While the custom rules are strict, the dress code in Cuba is not so much. I’ve covered exactly what you should wear in Cuba in the article linked above. However, to summarise, you don’t need to cover your arms, shoulders, legs, or chest, unless you feel more comfortable doing so to avoid catcalling (even men get catcalled in Cuba, so I observed).

Blonde woman standing in front of the Malecon in Havana

If you want to blend in with the locals, women can wear long, floaty dresses or a skirt and vest top. Men can wear a cigar shirt and jeans or a t-shirt and long shorts. Either way, Cuba is a hot and humid country, so breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen or sweat-wicking fabrics are your best friend.

INSIDER’S TIP

As of 2022, it’s mandatory that everyone in Cuba wears a face mask in public. This includes tourists. That doesn’t just mean indoors, either. It also refers to outdoor spaces. While this rule could change in the future, it’s the law for now. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, if you’ve tried to track down anything but water or alcohol in Cuba), disposable face masks are tricky to get a hold of. You should pack plenty of your own face masks instead. Disposable face masks are better than fabric face masks, not just in terms of quality, but also because they are more breathable in hot and humid weather.

Cuba Packing List: Should you bring cash to Cuba?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when packing for Cuba is to forget to pack cash. As I explain in more detail in my article on money for Cuba, Cuba is mostly a cash-only country. The government imposes a steep exchange rate on any cash withdrawn from the country’s ATMs. This means that every time you withdraw cash, you’re getting nowhere near the amount you’d expect in return. On top of that, the ATMs in Cuba are notoriously unreliable. They don’t work half the time (take it from me, I had a 20% success rate during my two weeks there).

Cuban pesos currency

The best currency to bring to Cuba is the euro. While US dollars are currently widely accepted by Cuban locals, they’re part of a black market. You will need to exchange some of your money into Cuban National Pesos (CUP), Cuba’s closed currency. While hotels, excursions and long-distance transport must be paid for in euros or US dollars, food and drink from restaurants and short-distance transport must be paid for in CUP. So, you will need to bring cash and exchange part of it from euro to CUP.

Cuba packing list: What to pack for Cuba

With your dress code and cash sorted, the next step is to start packing for Cuba. Writing yourself a check-list, or printing or bookmarking this page, will help.

Bags

Before anything else, you need to decide which bags to bring to Cuba. In general, I usually recommend travelling with a backpack rather than a suitcase, because it’s easier and quicker to transport over rough travel terrains. However, Cuba is a little different. Either option will be suitable, because the main method of getting around Cuba is by taxi, whether it’s a single taxi or a shared collectivo taxi.

Yellow taxis and bicycle taxis parked in bays on the road

Cuba doesn’t have a comprehensive, reliable, or comfortable public transport system, so these taxis will conveniently drop you to and from your start and end destinations. That means you won’t be carrying your suitcase or backpack very far at all, unless the driver gets the address incorrect.

  • One backpackers’ backpack or one suitcase. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly hard shell suitcase with easy-to-maneuver spinner wheels, I’d recommend the highly-rated Amazon Basics Hardside Spinner Luggage or the American Tourister Bon Air Spinner Luggage. Remember, if you’re taking carry-on luggage, check that the dimensions and weight of your luggage don’t exceed your airline’s limits. If you’re taking a backpack, I’d advise getting a backpack fitted professionally to avoid any back or shoulder pain.
  • One day-sized backpack. If you’re worried about pickpockets, which do operate in Cuba but aren’t very common, a theft-proof bag such as the Tzowla Backpack is a great deterrent for thieves. The backpack comes with durable zippers and a built-in lock.
  • A laundry bag. This can be used to separate your fresh clothes from your dirty clothes. The ProCase Travel Laundry Bag is a cheap and cheerful option. If you’re on a budget, a zippered plastic bag or a tied-up bin bag will do the job.
  • Optional: Camera bag.
  • Optional: A money belt to store valuables close to your body.

Travel documents

Travel documents should be packed in your carry-on baggage. You might want to consider storing your travel documents in a zippered poly pocket or folder to keep them in one place and protected from possible liquid spillages.

  • Passport.
  • A visa (tourist card) for Cuba, which should be purchased through the official website Visas Cuba. If you book your trip through a tour agency, they may arrange a tourist card for you. However, you should check this with them directly.
  • Details of your travel insurance. If you’re yet to purchase travel insurance, you should make sure that it includes Covid-19 coverage. If you’re a digital nomad, I recommend using Safety Wing, which is designed specifically for nomads and remote workers.
  • A copy of your completed Covid-19 health declaration form, which should be completed on the D’Viajeros website before you travel.
  • A copy of your flight’s booking details, so you can receive your boarding pass upon arrival at the airport. Remember, many airlines require you to check-in online 48 or 24 hours before your arrival at the airport.
  • A copy of accommodation, tour, car hire, or transport bookings.

You must keep up-to-date with Cuba’s current Covid-19 entry requirements , as they are constantly changing. While Cuba has been permitting tourists to enter the country without proof of a negative PCR or a complete vaccination record since April 2022, this could be subject to change.

Valuables

If you’re planning on bringing valuables such as a laptop or tablet to Cuba, the most important thing to consider is whether your accommodation is secure. The hostel I stayed in in Havana, Lunass Hostel, was on the third floor of a high-rise building and had very secure, prison-style bars on the front door, so I felt perfectly safe leaving valuables in the locked private room, even when I didn’t use the safe.

Escape Artist Katie sitting on a balcony over Havana's streets at Lunass Hostel

The view from the balcony at Lunass Hostel in Havana.

If you’re staying in a dorm room or a hotel which experiences high footfall, look for rooms that have lockers or safes.

Personal Items

  • Any prescription medication, along with a copy of the prescription.
  • Wallet or purse with cash (in euros).
  • A debit or credit card. Any cards you bring to Cuba should not be affiliated with a US bank, because these cards are blacklisted in Cuba. I’d recommend using a travel card instead, such as Monzo or Revolut, which have travel perks such as no international handling fees. If you bring a debit or credit card not affiliated with a US bank, I’d suggest taking a second card as a back-up.
  • ID card.

Electronics

  • Mobile phone and case.
  • Earphones. Earphones will be lighter to carry than headphones. You might want to consider a pair of Bluetooth earphones, which can connect remotely to your mobile phone. This will make your taxi ride or airplane ride more comfortable. A pair of Apple AirPods will do the job, but I suggest using the Beats Studio Buds, as they’re sweat-resistant and noise-cancelling.
  • Phone charger(s).
  • Type-A plug adaptors. Plug sockets in Cuba accept type-A plugs. This is the same type of plug used in the United States and Canada. The following type-A plug is suitable for Cuba. However, I always recommend using an international travel adaptor, which can be re-used on future trips around the globe. The iBlockCube international travel adaptor is a fantastic, comprehensive option.
  • Camera, including a memory card and camera charger
  • A power bank. If you’re taking long journeys or day trips, you might want to invest in a good-quality power bank such as the INIU Power Bank to keep your mobile phone topped up throughout the day.
  • Optional: iPod.
  • Optional: An underwater or action camera to capture all of the action at Cuba’s waterfalls and beaches. The GoPro Hero10 is one of the most popular action cameras, and used by content creators and tourists alike.
  • Optional: A Kindle. If you want to keep your load lightweight, you might prefer to download offline books to a Kindle so you have plenty of reading for the plane, taxi rides, and beaches.

Clothes

The main thing to bear in mind when packing clothes for Cuba is that it is hot and humid. In the summer months, the average temperature is 27°C (81°F). In the winter, the average temperature is 21°C (70°F).

Most of your clothes should be made of sweat-wicking or breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen and as airy and floaty as possible. The hot climate also means that you might need more changes of clothes than you’d expect. Remember, I have an article all about the dress code in Cuba if you need more inspiration.

  • Swimwear, including spares if you’re planning on plenty of beach or waterfall trips.
  • Socks, including spare socks
  • Underwear and bras, including spares.
  • A lightweight rain jacket. Cuba does experience the occasional tropical downpour, so you should arrive prepared with a good-quality, lightweight raincoat such as the Mountain Warehouse Waterproof Packable Jacket for men or women.
  • Lightweight, breathable t-shirts, tops, or cigar shirts.
  • Shorts and skirts
  • Long trousers or jeans.
  • Maxi, midi or mini dresses. Long and floaty is your best friend.
  • Optional: Beach cover-up or kimono.

Shoes

If you’re wondering what shoes to bring to Cuba, you’re going to want a sturdy, closed-toe pair of shoes. There are cobbled streets in destinations such as Trinidad and very dusty roads in the cities and beach districts.

Don’t forget the sand either. Whether you’re exploring the best beaches Havana or sunning it up in Santiago de Cuba or Baracoa, you’ll also need a pair of sandals or flip-flops.

Sloping cobbled street in Trinidad, Cuba

  • Sandals or flip-flops for the beach.
  • Sturdy trainers
  • Hiking shoes. If you’re planning hikes, such as those in the Topes de Collantes National Park between Cienfuegos and Trinidad, you might want a sturdy pair of hiking boots to protect your feet and ankles. There are rough terrains in the national parks, so while it’ll be possible to tackle the trails wearing a pair of trainers with good grips, you might want to give your ankles and feet some extra protection.
  • Sea shoes. The Racqua Mesh Water Shoes and Mishansha Water Shoes are two of the best-rated options on Amazon. While I didn’t use sea shoes on Cuba’s beaches, the country does have sea urchins and some beaches may also be rocky. You might also want to wear water shoes when you’re clambering over waterfalls and wild swimming (for this, check out my Guide to the Parque Guanayara Waterfalls, an offbeat waterfall destination in the Topes de Collantes National Park).

Accessories

Escape Artist Katie on a cobbled street in Trinidad with colourful houses

While Cuba is a relatively safe country to visit, wearing flashy jewellery or accessories can be seen as insensitive. In general, you should try to avoid wearing any designer items of clothing or especially expensive or flashy jewellery and accessories.

  • Sunglasses.
  • Sun hat.
  • Subtle jewellery.

Toiletries

Getting hold of toiletries in Cuba will be tricky, because, as I mentioned previously, the shops almost exclusively sell water, alcohol, and tinned goods like tomatoes and beans. You should pack everything you need.

If you’re travelling with carry-on luggage only, be sure to pack small-sized bottles under 100 ml and don’t leave any toiletries up to chance. The only form of toiletries I came across in my two weeks in Cuba was a small selection of sanitary products and small shampoo bottles in a shop in Trinidad, which is several hour’s drive from Havana.

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Face wash.
  • Shampoo and conditioner.
  • Shower gel and applicator.
  • Moisturiser.
  • Hair brush or comb.
  • Deodorant.
  • Body spray or perfume.
  • Razors and shaving cream.
  • Tweezers.
  • Suncream. If you want a non-oily solution for acne-prone skin, dermatologists recommend using the Roche-Posay sun cream for body or face. I’ve used this suncream for over five years and it’s the best thing I’ve done for my skin.
  • At least one or two packs of medical face masks. Remember, face masks are required in all public spaces in Cuba. If you’re lucky enough to experience hot weather (which you should be, in Cuba), you’re going to sweat underneath there.
  • Hand sanitiser. Hand sanitiser is not widely available in Cuba.
  • Sanitary products, such as tampons, pads or a menstrual cup.
  • Make-up, such as foundation, concealer, primer, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and any other products you use daily.
  • Makeup remover.
  • Face wipes.
  • Condoms (if required).

First-aid kit

Over-the-counter medication and painkillers are tricky to get hold of in Cuba, so make sure that you bring your own. There’s no free healthcare for tourists in Cuba, so any medications or treatment you need will come out of your travel insurance policy.

  • Waterproof plasters and blister plasters.
  • Gauze, wrapped in serile squares.
  • Crepe bandages and a small pair of scissors.
  • Surgical tape.
  • Tweezers.
  • Antiseptic wipes.
  • Imodium (loperamide tablets): These are an essential, in case you catch travellers’ diarrhoea while in transit.
  • Antibacterial cream such as Savlon.
  • Painkillers, such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen.
  • Mosquito relief cream. I actually use Hoe Hin, a herbal solution I picked up in the Philippines, but Anthisan Bite and Sting Cream is very highly-rated and my fall-back.
  • Anti-acids.

Towels

  • A quick-dry microfibre beach towel. I use the Dock & Bay Beach Towel, which has lasted me six years. In my experience, it dries within half an hour in the sun or a couple of hours out of the sun.
  • A lightweight, quick-dry microfibre towel. Unless you’re absolutely certain that your accommodation provides towels, you should pack a quick-dry towel as a back-up. They’re inexpensive and handy for your future trips. I use the Fit-Flip Microfiber Towel and have done so for over six years.

Waves lapping a sandy shore at Boca Ciega beachOther miscellaneous items

  • Mosquito repellant. The best mosquito repellent contains DEET, like the Jungle Formula.
  • Books. Just remember to make sure that any books you bring to Cuba should not mention Cuba or the Cuban revolution, unless you want an awkward conversation at customs.
  • A water bottle. If you’d rather not drink out of plastic water bottles, you can transfer bottled water into your personal water bottle. Tap water in Cuba isn’t safe to drink.
  • Padlocks for any lockers.
  • Snacks. If you have diet restrictions, snacks are an essential. The Cuban cuisine largely consists of plain rice, bean stew, and fish, chicken, or pork. As someone with a gluten intolerance but a large appetite, I mainly struggled at breakfast, because my accommodation always served bread or gluten-containing cereals. I was very grateful I’d packed a bunch of protein bars, and I’m sure any others with a big appetite will appreciate snacks too. By the way, if you’re a gluten-free traveller, I have a series of dedicated gluten-free travel guides, which will help you to navigate your travels abroad.
  • A map of Cuba. This is the one thing I wished I had packed when I arrived in Cuba. In order to access any WiFi network in Cuba, you need to track down an Etecsa centre. However, since you don’t have the internet, you must do this the old-school way, using a map. My accommodation didn’t have a map handy, so I spotted a tall, golden roof in the Havana skyline and followed the gold until I found Parque Central and could ask for directions to an Etecsa centre. A map definitely would have been handy. Here’s a cheap, foldable map of Cuba from National Geographic; it’s a must.
  • Tissues. Any public toilets you visit, or restaurant toilets for that matter, are likely to be lacking one thing: toilet paper.
  • A small, travel-sized bottle of laundry detergent. Bringing a portable bottle with liquid laundry detergent will mean that you can tend to any sweaty clothes in the sink of your accommodation. Some hostels, hotels and homestays also offer laundry services for a fee.
  • We’re Not Really Strangers Card Game: Whether you’re travelling with someone you know or going solo, this card game really is the best at opening up deep and introspective topics with your new or long-time travel friends.
  • Optional: Ear plugs and an eye mask, if you have trouble sleeping in new destinations.
  • Optional: A travel journal. Consider packing a small notebook or travel journal. A travel journal is my favourite piece of luggage. You forget many details within 24 hours, 48 hours, and a week, so jot things down as you go along so you don’t forget the little memories.
INSIDER’S TIP

If you’re going hiking in Cuba, it’s illegal to go without a guide. This is because the government is worried about tourists getting lost. I don’t blame them, what with the thick jungle and remote landscapes. So, find yourself a guide through your accommodation (ideally) or pick one up on the street. The second will probably be the cheapest, but the first will be more reliable.

Packing list for Cuba resort

If you’re looking for a packing list for a Cuba resort, it’s going to be the same as the above packing list. The only difference is that you might want to bring extra swimwear, since you’ll probably be spending lots of time in the water. There are also more opportunities to dress up, since you’re less likely to be troubled by catcalls or concerned about safety. Heels are more manageable for dinners, because you won’t have far to walk and the resort terrain should be easy to navigate.

Palm trees framing a walkway to the beach

Remember to bring a credit card to your resort, as some hotels may require payments by credit card. If you’re paying for anything in cash, it’s likely that you’ll be asked to pay in euros and not in Cuban pesos. So, bear this in mind if you’re planning on exchanging some cash before you arrive at the resort.

Useful apps

Mobile apps might not be part of your physical luggage, but it’s essential you download any before you depart for Cuba because it’ll be a while until you get internet access. Even then, the internet isn’t strong in Cuba.

  • Google Translate: People in Cuba speak Spanish. While many workers in the travel industry can speak English or broken English, sometimes you might need to use Google Translate to cross any language barriers.
  • Maps.me or Google Maps: Okay, so technically, you’re not allowed to use GPS in Cuba, but there’s no rule against downloading offline maps of Cuba, which can prevent you from getting lost. Remember to save the location of your accommodation so you don’t forget where it is.
  • DuoLingo: Learn a few essential Spanish phrases while you’re in Cuba.
  • Currency Converter Plus: If you want to keep track of your spendings, the Currency Converter Plus app works offline and can give you a rough estimation of how much you’re spending in your usual currency.

What to bring to Cuba for the locals

Whether you’re visiting friends or family or you just want to give a little something to your casa host as a sign of appreciation, one of the best ideas is chocolate. Chocolate is a commodity in Cuba. I saw crowds of locals ‘smuggling’ (legally) bags of chocolate into Cuba for their friends or family, so it’s clearly something that’s in demand. Just remember to keep the chocolate somewhere cool, so it doesn’t melt too quickly. Spanish books are always welcome gifts, as long as they don’t mention Cuba or the Cuban revolution.

Man pushes a bicycle wearing a cigar shirt

If you’re looking to make a difference to the local communities, one idea is to bring second-hand clothes (still in good condition) or hygiene products such as soap or deodorant. If your hosts don’t use it themselves, they can donate it to others in need. Even things like toothpaste, shampoo, mouthwash, bed sheets, or tea towels are seen as luxurious in Cuba.

Great gifts for children in Cuba could include dolls or action figures. Western toys are a rarity in Cuba, so children are sure to treasure any small toys or gifts. As many of the kids play in the street, small balls or even a deflated football with a small pump should also go down a treat.

If you really want to support the Cuban community, consider staying in a casa particulare. This is the Cuban equivalent of a homestay or a bed and breakfast. They are private rooms, part of a normal Cuban household. Most casa particulares include at least one meal, usually breakfast, but many provide breakfast and dinner. Rooms usually have a private or shared bathroom. A large chunk of the booking goes to the government, so the owners rely heavily on regular bookings for their income.

FAQ

What should I bring on my carry-on to Cuba?

Essential items to bring in your carry-on to Cuba include your complete travel documents (a passport, Cuban tourist card, travel insurance details, your Covid-19 declaration form and copies of your flight, accommodation, and tour booking information). Pack face masks and hand sanitiser, as face masks are required in all public spaces in Cuba, even outdoors.  Other items you might want to pack include books, technology such as a mobile phone, earphones, Kindle or iPod, face wipes, a water bottle, phone charger, ear plugs, an eye mask, and a head pillow.

Can I bring snacks to Cuba?

You can bring snacks to Cuba, as long as they don’t contain any fruit or meat products.

Can I take my medication to Cuba?

Prescription medication and over-the-counter medication is permitted in Cuba, as long as you pack a copy of the prescription and the box of any over-the-counter medication.

How many mobile phones can I take to Cuba?

You’re not permitted to bring more than two mobile phones to Cuba. The same rule applies to laptops and cameras.

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