Updated on May 11, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
With a fascinating history and important-to-note restrictions placed on foreign travelers, it can be difficult to know what to pack for your trip.
Our Cuba Packing List also includes what to wear in Cuba, what NOT to bring, and helpful frequently asked questions.
What to Pack for Cuba – 17 Essentials
1. Neck Wallet
2. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Mobile 3G internet only arrived in Cuba in 2018, so the signal is still sporadic throughout the country. Therefore, most travelers rely on hotel and restaurant WiFi networks for their daily internet fix. The issue is that public WiFi is notoriously prone to attack, which means another user could be watching your every move. And should they gain access to your online bank account – which is alarmingly easy to do – then you run the serious risk of losing your money and potentially other parts of your personal and financial identity. Thankfully, using a Virtual Private Network such as NordVPN can encrypt your traffic and keep you safe.
3. HERO Packing Cubes
4. Activated Charcoal
5. Mosquito Repellent Wristbands
6. Jet Lag Relief Relief Pills
7. International Power Adapter
8. Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger
9. Hanging Toilet Case
10. Travel Insurance for Cuba
11. Quick Dry Travel Towel
12. A Budget Smart Phone
14. Flip Flops
16. Cigar Cutter
Don’t forget these other items for a Cuba vacation
Water Purifier Bottle
Carry On Backpack
Swimsuit Cover Up
Waterproof Phone Case
Waterproof Dry Bag
Lip Balm with SPF
Hard Copies of Vital Documents
Cash in the Special Tourist and Local Currencies
Over the Counter Medications
Makeup Removing Wipes
Steripod Toothbrush Cover
Aloe Vera Gel
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Travel Neck Pillow
Cuba power adapter
*I also highly recommend bringing small gifts to hand out to the Cuban people you meet, such as granola bars, small candies, socks, simple medications, bandaids, small toys, any extra shoes you don’t need, etc… The people really benefit from anything you can give, but be sure to form relationships first, as Cubans can be quite proud and aren’t looking for handouts. The exception to that is giving out candies; hand them to kids, cab drivers, whoever, as people like to give them to their kids and grandkids and may ask you for a few.
What to wear in Cuba
Cuba is a hot and humid country so you’ll want to dress accordingly with clothing that’s both stylish and will keep you cool. Pack versatile pieces that work with different outfits and fit for any occasion. Think breezy skirts, sundresses, neutral-colored shorts, t-shirts and tank tops.
However, you decide to dress, remember that Cuba is hot and humid year-round. Light and breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen are your best bet. Avoid clothing that is thick and heavy and doesn’t dry quickly, like wool.
Cuban men tend to dress casually in their day to day life, and it’s perfectly acceptable for foreigners to follow suit. That said, men should still appear put together in public, so be sure that your clothing is clean, free from holes, and of a proper fit.
Lightweight cotton and linen shorts and t-shirts do the trick, and sandals and flip-flops are acceptable just about everywhere. The one exception is on a night out if you plan to go somewhere higher-end, in which case you’ll need closed-toe shoes (not sneakers) and a nicer shirt or you may not be allowed entry.
Like other Caribbean nations, Cuba doesn’t experience the four seasons that we’re used to in much of the USA. Rather, the country has an extended wet and dry season each year.
DRY SEASON – (November to April)
Stretching from November through to the end of April, the dry season sees slightly lower temperatures and significantly less rainfall than the rest of the year. Unsurprisingly, this balmy weather also coincides with the country’s peak tourist season that runs between December and March as the northern hemisphere heads on holiday to escape the winter chill.
Daytime temperatures tend to fluctuate between a comfortable 75° to 80°F (24°-27°C), making shorts and a t-shirt perfect attire. In January and February, northerly winds bring cold fronts that see night-time temperatures plummet, so it’s wise to pack a long shirt and light trousers.
WET SEASON – (May to September)
Cuba’s wet season lasts from May to September. The precipitation peaks in June and again in October, and there will be a dry spell in either July or August. Downpours can last several hours or several days, so wet weather gear is a must if you’re planning a trip during this season.
The wet season also sees higher average temperatures of 86° to 90°F (30°-32°C, so bring plenty of breathable clothing. August is the hottest and most humid month of the year, so pack accordingly.
Cuba’s annual hurricane season runs between June and November. Keep a close eye on the news if you’re traveling during this time of year.
Cuban streets and sidewalks are notoriously uneven, so it pays to don a pair of comfortable shoes such as trainers should you plan on doing a lot of walking. Flip-flops are fine fashion-wise, although they’re not ideal for walking long distances.
Religous Sites – Although there’s no written dress code to govern Cuba’s countless Catholic churches, local worshippers appreciate it when tourists wear modest attire inside.
The easiest option for women is to pack a lightweight shirt or shawl to quickly slip on over a tank top that doesn’t cover the shoulders.
Both genders should remove hats and sunglasses upon entry and keep the volume to a minimum.
Beaches / Resorts – The short answer is to wear whatever you like. Much like other Latin American cultures, Cubans won’t think anything of a scantily clad swimsuit on the beach. Some stretches of sand even accommodate topless and naturalist sunbathers
A Night Out – Sipping on a mojito while listening to a lively local band is a quintessential Cuban experience, and you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more if you’re dressed for the part.
The amount of effort you should put into preparing for a night out really depends on where you want to go. Cheaper watering holes and touristy restaurants are pretty casual, so most travelers get away with shorts and flip-flops.
However, upmarket restaurants and hotels sometimes have a dress code in place, which may or may not be strictly enforced.
If you plan on mingling with high society at any point, it pays to pack at least one set of smart attire. A button-up shirt for guys and a cocktail dress for gals is enough to blend in at most classy establishments, while polished leather shoes and heels wouldn’t go astray at the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
What NOT to bring to Cuba
Now that we’ve established what to bring to Cuba, let’s take a look at what NOT to bring. There are a couple of surprises you may want to take note of.
2) DON’T BRING drones: Drones are banned in Cuba, as is any remote control flying toy, so leave yours at home.
3) DON’T BRING pornography: Porn is also illegal in Cuba, so you should resist the urge to bring anything of the sort into the country.
4) DON’T PACK any material critical of the government or the revolution: Now is not the time to be reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis or the pitfalls of communism. Although you’re unlikely to suffer severe consequences, customs agents will confiscate any material that doesn’t align with the official government stance. That said, you’ll want to be careful about voicing any overt criticisms of Cuba, communism, or the government while in public…you don’t want to run into any trouble, political or otherwise, while in Cuba.
5) DON’T TAKE wireless tech and GPS: The Cuban government has long had strict control over communication technologies, and they even resisted the urge to install mobile internet infrastructure until as late as 2018. Any kind of networking hardware such as routers and switches are forbidden, as is radio equipment such as walkie talkies.
Aside from the standard smartphone, you cannot import GPS capable devices without expressed written permission from the National Office for Hydrography and Geodesics.
6) DON’T BRING too many luxury items: Feel free to take your personal electronics into Cuba, but refrain from bringing too many of the same type.
Customs agents will assume a tourist with multiple laptops or smartphones is looking to skirt the country’s strict tax obligations and will impose an appropriate fee.
- Heavy jackets: Cuba gets a little chilly at night, but not enough to warrant a coat at any time of year. A long sleeve sweater or blouse will do.
- Thick jeans or heavy pants: aim for lightweight jeans or denim shorts rather than heavy ones that will be slow to dry and bulky in your suitcase.
- High heels or uncomfortable shoes: Cuba’s pothole-ridden streets and sidewalks are a nightmare to navigate in heels, so opt for a pair of strappy flats instead.
FAQs about traveling in Cuba
1. What is the currency in Cuba?
Cuba has two separate currencies which are used for different things: the Cuban National Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).
Locals earn CUP and use it to purchase everyday items. Tourists will spend CUP on a limited number of things such as groceries, local transportation, and snacks.
CUC, on the other hand, is kind of like a tourism or luxury currency. Travelers will find they use CUC far more frequently as it is the only local currency accepted in most hotels, tourist restaurants, and tour agencies. Tipping or offering money to locals (particularly to those outside the tourism industry) will be much more appreciated in CUC, as it’s of much greater value than CUP and will go a long way in the hands of a local.
CUC is pegged to the US Dollar, and $1 USD/CUC buys about 26.5 CUP. The two currencies look similar, so it’s vital to familiarize yourself with both to avoid getting ripped off.
Tourists are frequently forced to use CUC and end up paying more than locals. Rather than getting annoyed, it’s best just to accept that this is how things are so you can relax and enjoy your holiday. That said, know that the tourist currency you’re spending in Cuba really helps the Cuban people who have access to that type of currency and whose families rely on that income, so think of it as helping those in need.
2. Is Cuba expensive?
Compared to the United States and other developed countries, Cuba’s cost of living is meager.
However, the dual currency system means that tourists pay a premium for virtually all services, which make the country quite expensive by Latin American standards. Nevertheless, it’s still pretty cheap in comparison to the other resort nations of the Caribbean.
3. How much should I budget for a trip to Cuba?
A budget backpacker could get away with spending as little as $50 USD/CUC per day, excluding flights.
A midrange traveler would want around $100 USD/CUC daily, while a luxury trip would be closer to $200 USD/CUC per day.
4. How can I access my cash in Cuba?
US-issued credit and debit cards will not work in any Cuban ATMs or anywhere in the country. Therefore, you’ll need to bring all the cash you’ll need or take an expensive credit card advance from a local bank. Consider bringing an international credit card that will allow you to access ATMs in Cuba without charging international fees. Note that exchanging US dollars attracts a steep 10% commission on top of the usual forex fee, so it’s wise to first exchange your US dollars to Euros or Canadian dollars before entering Cuba. Debit and credit cards from other nations often work in Cuba, but double-check with your bank before departing. Euros and pounds are readily accepted in Cuba and don’t attract the same hefty 10% commission.
5. Where should I go in Cuba?
The ideal itinerary depends on your interests and timeframe.
Havana is a must for its beautiful colonial old town and fascinating historical sites. Nearby, Trinidad provides travelers with an enticing glimpse into a bygone era. For beach resorts, the blindingly white sands of Varadero and Cayo Coco are pretty hard to beat. Santiago de Cuba is famed for its vibrant Afro culture, music, and festivals. The lush town of Viñales is an idyllic rural spot to unwind and explore the outlying tobacco farms.
6. How do I get around in Cuba?
Most tourists take domestic flights to cover longer distances. National carrier Cubana de Aviación serves 11 domestic destinations from Havana. Note that Havana has the only international airport in the country.
For shorter distances, it’s often more convenient to jump on an intercity bus. Viazul is the most prevalent tourist-friendly service and has frequent departures on all the major routes.
7. What’s the accommodation like?
Most budget travelers prefer to rent a room in a private family home called a Casa Particular, a cheap and cheerful option that provides a fascinating insight into day to day Cuban life.
Midrange and luxury hotels are available throughout all the major tourist destinations, some of which are mind-blowingly extravagant.