Cuba Packing: What to Bring to Cuba
Cuba definitely presents a packing challenge—you won’t find a corner store to easily grab something you forgot. So if you’re wondering what to bring to Cuba, make a list (and check it at least twice). Cuba packing is probably the only time you shouldn’t pack lightly. Bring to Cuba everything you think you might possibly need. Here’s a Cuba packing list to help you plan for your trip.
The number one item on my list of what to bring to Cuba is cash. You'll have to take out all of the money that you'll need for your trip in advance, as most U.S. credit and debit cards will not work in Cuba. (And most places in Cuba are cash-only.) Understandably, it can be nerve-wracking to carry all that cash around, and you might not be staying somewhere with a reliable room safe. A portable safe gives you a place to store all that money; simply secure the cable around something heavy in your room to prevent anyone from walking off with it.
Along the same lines as the travel safe, you'll need to get all of that cash safely to your room from the money exchange desk (you can't exchange Cuban currency ahead of time). So be sure to pack a money belt for Cuba, such as this money belt by Alpha Keeper. It can discreetly hold a lot of cash as well as your passport.
If you take prescription medications, be sure to bring plenty of it (including extra, just in case). It's difficult to obtain certain medications while you're in the country. Over-the-counter medication can be hard to find as well, so when packing for Cuba you might want to throw in a first-aid kit with a variety of medicines (like allergy pills and aspirin) and Band-Aids. Trust me, pharmacies and places like CVS are few and far between in Cuba.
It's possible to contract insect-borne diseases like Zika, cikungunya, and dengue while you are in Cuba. When deciding what to bring, go with CDC-recommended DEET bug-spray. I picked up this travel-sized deep woods spray, and I layered it with this insect repellent lotion for extra protection.
Sunscreen can be hard to find and buy (when you do come across it, you may find the lotion is expired), so bring as much as you think you'll need. If your Cuba packing plan is to go carry-on only, invest in a big pack of travel-size sunscreen, and make sure it's sweat-resistant, as it can get really hot in Cuba. The Beach Defense brand from Neutrogena stands up to water and sun, which is crucial if you're hitting any of the gorgeous beaches in Cuba.
Double up your protection by bringing to Cuba sun-protective clothing and a hat. When I visited in early October, the forecast was for hot days with lots of rain—but it turned out to be cloudless and sunny the entire time. A UPF hat will offer much more protection than a regular hat, and it will save you from having to buy the cliché Cuban fedora hats that only tourists actually wear in Havana. UPF clothing can help you stay cool and let you stay out longer in the hot sun, too. Pack something sun-protective like these options from Columbia or Coolibar.
A good pair of walking shoes is essential to bring to Cuba. There are lots of cobblestone streets in Havana, and the whole city is very walkable, so you'll want to explore by foot. Also, if you're venturing out to the countryside (highly recommended) you'll need something that will protect your feet from mud and dirt.
One of my best packing tips for Havana is to bring a pair of fashionable sneakers (I opted for Keds) that will go with the casual Cuban style. If you plan on taking a jog or long walk with the locals along the Malecon (a popular seaside promenade), bring some running shoes that are easy to pack, like the Nike Flyknits.