17 Top Cuba Packing List Items for 2020 + What to Wear & NOT to bring

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Updated on May 11, 2020 by Asher Fergusson

Famed for its world-renowned cigars, cool vintage cars, and crumbling colonial edifices, Cuba enchants the curious traveler at every turn. From scenic mountains to gorgeous beaches, Cuba has so much to explore.

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

Cuba has had its share of economic struggles, and as is the case in many countries, pickpockets often regard tourists as an easy target. It’s not as common as you may think, but it’s certainly something to be aware of! To keep valuables like your passport and credit cards safe, bring this handy neck wallet to stash your belongings safely away under your shirt and out of sight. This lightweight and breathable model is just what you need.

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neck wallet

2. Virtual Private Network (VPN)

virtual private networkMobile 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.

View NordVPN.com Options ➜


3. HERO Packing Cubes

Are you the type of traveler whose clothes end up in every corner of your hotel room within minutes of arrival? Then you’re the kind of traveler who needs a set of packing cubes. These lightweight and malleable cubes have become incredibly popular in recent years as a means of keeping clothes organized on the road. Store each clothing article type together to maintain an orderly wardrobe as you travel. We love this set of packing cubes because it’s durable, includes multiple handy and easy-to-pack sizes, and comes in a variety of cute colors!

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Stack of aqua packing cubes

4. Activated Charcoal

It’s an unfortunate truth that some countries’ food sanitation standards are just not what our tourist bellies are accustomed to. Sometimes, even if you’re careful, your stomach may react poorly to a meal. Don’t let it ruin your Cuban vacation, though. Bring along these activated charcoal tablets to quickly and effectively flush out the toxins in your system and keep you enjoying your trip in good health.

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charcoal-tablets-for-dysentery

5. Mosquito Repellent Wristbands

Cuba is a humid, tropical island, which means the mosquitos come out in force. The last thing you want is to spend your vacation itching and worrying about catching a mosquito-borne illness. It’s best to avoid bites in the first place. Bringing your own mosquito repellent will be useful, and consider doubling up on the protection by using mosquito repellent wristbands as well! It can’t hurt, and the wristbands each last hundreds of hours, so you can put them on and just forget about them.

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Colorful Mosquito Repellant Wristbands with Deet Free symbol

6. Jet Lag Relief Relief Pills

Although Havana is quite close to the Florida Keys, you’ll face a long flight to Cuba if you’re coming from the Pacific Northwest. Add on a substantial time difference, and there’s a good chance you’ll suffer the effects of jet lag upon arrival. To offset the issue, it’s sensible to take the prescribed amount of jet lag relief pills. These nifty tablets work both as a prevention and a cure, helping you make the most of your precious first day in the country.

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Jet Lag Relief Pill Label

7. International Power Adapter

Cuba uses Type A/B and C/L power outlets throughout the country, which corresponds to both the American and European style. Therefore, your American devices will work with some outlets but not with others, which can be confusing and sometimes dangerous to your devices. However, the issue is easy enough to remedy when you bring a universal power adapter to solve all your electrical woes. This one includes built-in fuse protection, dual USB ports to charge multiple devices at once, and is tested right here in the USA by strict quality control standards so you can rest easy knowing your electronics are safe.

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Universal Power Adapter

8. Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger

Now that 3G internet has finally arrived in Cuba, you’ll want to have a charged phone as you make your way around the island. If you plan on using your smartphone for navigation, music, and photos, you may find yourself in a situation where your phone has run out of battery at an inconvenient time. Bring along a convenient and reliable lipstick-sized charge like this one so you can charge your device on the go.

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Pink Lip-stick sized charger

9. Hanging Toilet Case

Unless you plan to stay exclusively in 5-star hotels, you may not always be able to rely on Cuban lodgings to provide ample amenities. Therefore, you’re going to need a sizable toiletry case to carry your shampoo, toothpaste, and anything else you may need. We love this one because it’s compact yet roomy enough to hold all of our toiletries, and it’s got enough compartments to keep everything organized.

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brown toiletry bag

10. Travel Insurance for Cuba

Some say Cuba has the best doctors in the world, which is excellent if you happen to need them! Unfortunately, a trip to the Cuban ER or other healthcare facilities will end up costing you quite a lot of money as a foreigner. Add that to the ever-present possibility of things like canceled reservations and lost luggage, and you’ve got some variables to plan for. This is why it’s always prudent to purchase a reputable travel insurance policy to cover your unforeseen expenses. World Nomads is our favorite provider for their cost-effective plans and generous inclusions.

View their plans at WorldNomads.com ➜


11. Quick Dry Travel Towel

Much like hygiene amenities, you can’t always rely on budget lodgings to provide you with a towel. And even if they do, it won’t necessarily be clean. Pack one a good quick-drying microfiber travel towel like this one. It’s compact and lightweight so it will barely take up any space in your luggage, and will be a lifesaver for the shower, the beach, or a rainforest hike.

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12. A Budget Smart Phone

It may be safest to leave your expensive electronics at home, and to opt for a cheaper smartphone for while you’re traveling. I’ve done it for years, and it really puts my mind at ease to know that I’m not risking my device while traveling and I’m still provided with everything I need. Try a cheap, travel-friendly phone such as the lauded Motorola G7. With a reliable battery and a high-resolution camera, it’s the perfect budget-friendly device to take with you on the road.

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Moto G7 Mobile Phone

13. Swimsuit

Cuba boasts some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, with resort towns like Varadero and Cayo Coco home to a few particularly picturesque stretches of white sand. And like many Latin countries, Cubans aren’t shy about exposing a little skin! With that in mind, you’ll need a few cute swimsuits to make the most of your beach time in Cuba. For men, check out these short swim trunks which will help you blend right in with the locals.

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Teal Swimming Trunks

14. Flip Flops

Even if you don’t spend a lot of time on the beach, in tropical Cuba, you can’t go wrong with a pair of flip flops to keep your feet cool and comfortable. These are trendy, comfortable, and come in a variety of colors for you to choose from. Stick with something a bit higher quality to be sure they’ll last through your entire vacation.

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Flip flops

15. Sunglasses

Cuba is a sunny country, so you’ll need a trendy pair of shades. Be sure to bring something with good UV protection, as the sun’s rays in the Caribbean can be stronger than what you’re used to at home. We like these sunglasses because they’re stylish, offer UV protection, and are relatively inexpensive in case they get lost or broken.

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Brown and turquoise sunglasses

16. Cigar Cutter

Cuba is synonymous with the cigar, and there isn’t a more quintessential travel experience than puffing on a hand-cut cigar with gusto at an outdoor Havana café. That said, you can’t possibly finish the whole thing in one sitting, and it’d be a crime to let it go to waste. The solution is simple: bring along an elegant cigar cutter. You’ll impress locals and fellow tourists alike with your worldliness and smoking expertise.

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Cigar cutter

17. Phrasebook

Hablas Español? If not, you’re going to have a hard time communicating with the locals. Outside of the tourism industry, very few Cubans speak much English, so it’s vital to know a few phrases to get around. This phrasebook from Lonely planet will help you with everything you need.

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Spanish Phrasebook
 

Don’t forget these other items for a Cuba vacation


 
*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


Despite the hardship that plagues Cuba’s economy, the Cuban people love to dress to impress, so you’ll want to look put together while walking the streets.

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.

What should WOMEN wear in Cuba? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Women wearing striped blouse
Woman wearing white button up short-sleeve shirt
Woman wearing brown blouse
Woman wearing jeans shorts.
Women in brown shorts
Women in blue summer dress
Roman Catholicism may reign supreme in Cuba, but the perpetually hot climate and a relatively relaxed attitude towards sexuality give Cuban women the freedom to wear what they wish. As a westerner, you’ll enjoy similar liberties as well. However, there is one big caveat to consider: Cuban men tend to be quite forward in their admiration of women. Whether Cuban catcalling is a compliment or sexual harassment depends on who you ask. Either way, you’re sure to receive proportionally more of it the less clothing you wear.
 
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.

What should MEN wear in Cuba? – (Click to expand)

Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Guy wearing drawstring shorts

Guy wearing shorts

Guy wearing brown pants

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.

How to dress for different activities in Cuba – (Click to expand)

Streets and Sightseeing – Cubans are a pretty relaxed bunch in terms of fashion, so feel free to wear whatever you feel most comfortable in while wandering around the streets of old town Havana and other tourist sites.

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.
 
1) 🚫 DON’T TAKE flashy jewellery: Although Cubans do love flashing a little bling, it’s never a good idea to draw attention to yourself as a tourist traveling with valuables. Thankfully the solution is simple: leave your valuables at home.

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.

What clothing should I NOT wear in Cuba? – (Click to expand)

Avoid the following fashion faux pas in Cuba:
  • 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.