Having a hard time figuring out what to bring to Cuba? It’s not surprising – Cuba can be a challenging place to pack for. Add in restrictions or limitations on what you can bring to Cuba and it can be downright challenging.
In this ultimate Cuba packing list (written by a local and expat!) we’re sharing exactly what you need to bring to Cuba, whether you’re here for a few days or a few weeks. Plus, check out our top recommendations for travel safety in Cuba, and the travel essentials we never leave home without.
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Backpacks or Luggage for Cuba
I generally recommend traveling with a crossbody purse for safety purposes, though bag snatching is not common in Cuba – the most you’ll really need to be aware of is the potential for pickpocketing in crowded areas.
You should feel comfortable bringing whatever purse you like, as long at it has a good zipper or closure.
When I’m carrying a bit more stuff with me, I use the North Face Recon Backpack, which is great for daily use or even for short trips up to three or four days.
If you’ll be using it while you’re out and about, I recommend s-biner microlocks to keep the zippers clipped together.
You’ll definitely see travelers to Cuba using backpacking backpacks, but whether you travel with a backpack or luggage is really a personal decision here. A backpacking backpack might be a better choice if you’re headed to more remote parts of Cuba or planning to travel extensively by bus.
The Osprey lifetime warranty was huge for us, and you know when you purchase one of these bags you’ll never need to buy another one again.
You’ll have no problem maneuvering your luggage here, so no need to stick with just a carry on luggage size – especially in the roomy vintage American cars used so frequently for cabs – though a backpack might be easier if you plan to travel a lot by bus (but this is not a dealbreaker).
Travel Essentials for Cuba
The most essential travel essential in Cuba is CASH. Travelers from the United States will not be able to use their debit or credit cards, so you MUST bring ALL the cash you’ll need to the island with you.
Even if you aren’t a traveler from the United States, I recommend bringing cash. The official exchange rate for Cuban pesos is MUCH less than the exchange rate you’ll find from local money changers.
You’ll get 4x or 5x more pesos if you exchange cash than you would withdrawing from an ATM.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Currency in Cuba
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A Virtual Private Network is essential for travel, especially in Cuba. Due to the U.S. embargo (not, actually, due to Cuban censorship), many websites like PayPal, banking apps, and the App Store are not accessible from Cuba.
To protect your personal information from hackers, and to access these websites you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, you’ll need a VPN.
We love NordVPN, and due to its best-available speed, it’s by far the best VPN for use in Cuba – by a long shot. It’s incredibly simple to use (just one click to activate!), and offers the best protection you’ll find in the industry.
- Ultimate Guide to Using the Internet + Getting Wifi in Cuba
- The Best VPN for Cuba (And Why You Need One)
A steripen is a game changer for international travel. This tiny UV-light water sanitation device quickly and easily makes any tap water safe to drink, meaning you’ll save tons by not having to buy bottled water while traveling abroad. Plus, think of all the single-use plastic you’re saving.
Water Bottle with Filter
I usually travel with a steripen and a water bottle with a filter – the water bottle is perfect for refills on the go. I’ve tried a lot of water bottles with sanitization filters over the years, but the Lifestraw filtering bottle is by far the best.
White Noise Machine
A tiny, portable sound machine can make such a difference when you’re sleeping somewhere new. Especially if you’re staying in Old Havana, you might hear a lot of street noise, or noise from the courtyard of these old buildings.
It’s like an insurance policy for your sleep while traveling.
I always recommend bringing an eye mask for travel, even if you don’t usually sleep with one at home. They’re great for the plane, and for a hotel or Airbnb room with curtains that just don’t cut it.
For the same reason you’d want to bring a white noise machine, you’ll want to bring ear plugs! These started out as a hostel must-have, but I’ve since learned the value of bringing them wherever I travel.
A quick-drying microfiber travel towel is a must for Cuba, especially if you’re headed to the beach, or if your accommodation has a pool. You’ll be provided with a towel wherever you stay, but this is great for bringing along when you leave the room.
A travel blanket is a great, versatile item for keeping warm on freezing airplanes, using for picnics, or even on the beach. A great travel blanket folds down to next to nothing, so they won’t take up much space in your suitcase or backpack.
Silicone Reusable Bags
You might have some of these reusable silicone baggies at home for food storage – but did you know they’re a great piece of travel gear? I love to bring a few along wherever I travel to hold jewelry, pack a wet towel or swimsuit, or keep my travel documents safe.
Playing Cards or Similar
Internet isn’t as easily accessible in Cuba as it is elsewhere, and many guesthouses (casas particulares or Airbnbs) don’t have internet.
Bring a pack of playing cards, a tablet with downloaded movies or tv shows, a book, or something similar to keep entertained at the end of the evening.
Laundry Detergent Sheets
Traveling with one or two laundry detergent sheets is the easiest and most packing-efficient way to do a clothing refresh on the go.
Even if you don’t usually do this, you may want to in Cuba – don’t underestimate how hot it can get, and no one wants to reuse sweaty clothes.
If you plan to do any hand-washing of your clothes, a cheap silicone drain-stopper is a handy addition to your bag.
Another easily-packable item to make hand-washing clothes on the go a breeze is a tiny clothesline. Even if you just need to hang up sweaty clothes at the end of the day, this is a great and often overlooked piece of travel gear.
Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:
Clothing for Cuba
Unless you’re at the beach, you’ll probably want a good pair of sneakers for traveling in Cuba. Especially in larger cities, sandals will leave you with dirty feet by the end of the day, and with cobblestones in historic areas, you’ll want something with good support.
Chacos or Similar Water Shoes
Chacos, Tevas, or similar water shoes are generally all you’ll need if you’re hiking in Cuba. They’re perfect for any of the waterfall hikes like Soroa, Topes de Collantes near Trinidad, or just for hiking around Viñales.
You’ll only need hiking boots in Cuba if you plan on hiking Pico Turquino. However, they may come in handy if you plan on hiking other areas of Cuba in the rainy season.
For example, if you’re headed to Viñales in the rainy season, you might want hiking boots because the soil is bright red – I’ve had clothes and sneakers permanently stained from hiking here during the rainy season, even on sunny days!
Waterproof Slides or Flip-Flops
Make sure to pack good sandals, flip-flops, or waterproof slides for beach days or a quick walk around the neighborhood.
Light Layers and Loose, Flowing Clothing
Cuba is hot year round – even in December or January, it can get toasty. You’ll want light, loose layers and comfortable clothing.
Sarong or Wrap
Bring a multi-purpose sarong or light scarf, which can serve as a beach cover up, or a light layer to protect from the sun.
You will need a light sweater for evenings in Cuba’s cities, or a heavier sweater for evenings in more rural areas, like Viñales or the outskirts of Havana.
Sun Hat and Sunglasses
You’ll need good sun protection no matter what season of the year you travel in Cuba, so make sure you have a good sun hat, sunglasses, and anything else you’ll need to keep cool and protected.
During the rainy season, it won’t rain constantly in Cuba, but you’ll often have passing rainstorms, especially in the afternoons. It’s worth bringing a rain jacket so you don’t get trapped inside.
We love Columbia rain jackets because they magically won’t create that awful sauna effect against your body when wearing them on a hot day, as many rain jackets do. It’s a game changer – especially for Cuba.
If you’re traveling during the rainy season, bring an umbrella, too.
Toiletries and Personal Care Items for Cuba
You will absolutely need your sunscreen here! Whether you’re on the beach or exploring Havana, be diligent about wearing your sunscreen. As a reminder, if you plan on swimming in the ocean, you’ll need reef-safe sunscreen – try Sun Bum if you haven’t yet!
Insect repellant is a must if you’re traveling outside of a major city, like to Viñales, Cienaga de Zapata, or even the outskirts of Havana. Your standard insect repellant should be fine, either insect repellant lotion or insect repellant spray, though the spray can be more conveniently layered with sunscreen.
Go Toobs are a game changer if you need to travel with liquids. These silicone toiletry bottles allow you to squeeze out every last drop of shampoo and conditioner, and they’ll save you from buying specific travel-sized products each time you travel.
Shampoo and Conditioner
Cuba is not the place to plan to buy shampoo and conditioner when you travel just to save a little space in your bag. This stuff can be hard to find sometimes or require waiting in long lines at special stores that only accept payment in foreign currency. Bring what you need, and a little extra.
Lotion and Lip Balm
Just as you’ll want to bring your own shampoo and conditioner, the same goes for lotion and lip balm. It can be very challenging – or impossible – to find here.
Aspirin / Ibuprofen
Make sure to bring along aspirin, ibuprofen, or your preferred basic painkiller if you’re traveling to Cuba. Even simple medications like this can sometimes be challenging to find or impossible to get a hold of, so bring some along just in case.
The not-so-fun part of travel is that stomach issues could strike when you least expect them. Bring along some Imodium or a similar product just in case – I also recommend electrolyte rehydration powder that you can add to water for the same reason.
Any Needed Medications
Make sure to bring any medication you need, or any you MIGHT need. Again, it can be very challenging to get ahold of certain medications here, so even something basic like decongestant should go in your bag in case you need it while you’re traveling.
Feminine Care Products
Unlike medication, you’ll always find feminine care products in Cuba, but they probably won’t be like the ones you’re used to. Bring along your preferred products just in case – trust me!
Must-Have for Travel: VPN
Don’t even think of traveling – ESPECIALLY to Cuba! – without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect you when accessing the internet. VPNs are extremely affordable and will save your important information from being hacked when using new wifi networks. We’ve used NordVPN for years, and are very happy with the speed and service.
Tech and Photography Gear for Cuba
While you shouldn’t really have an issue with packing restrictions when traveling to Cuba, customs can get weird about some tech gear that they’re unsure of.
According to Cuban Customs and Immigration, you can’t bring devices like walkie-talkies, satellite telephones, or other similar communication devices into Cuba without prior authorization.
This doesn’t affect most travelers at all – the standard tech and gear that any traveler will have is totally permitted.
A good power bank is a must for travel! We love the Anker powerbanks and have used them without issue for years – even the basic model is usually more than enough to keep all our gear charged throughout the day.
Travel Adapter / Converter
You’ll find a mix of 110 V and 220 V power, and a mix of plug types here – even sometimes with the same building. You’ll want to bring along a voltage converter and plug adapter duo. We love the BESTEK duo converter and adapter – it has lots of plugs and USB ports, so it basically works like a charging station as well.
The Nikon Coolpix is an excellent point and shoot for beginners looking for some next-level travel photos, and the Z 50 is great for those looking for the an excellent DSLR for travel (without spending on a pro model) – this body is the smallest Nikon makes for a DSLR, making it perfect for travel.
Extra Camera Memory Card
You probably won’t be able to find something like this in Cuba if you use up all the space on your SD card, so I recommend bringing an additional SD memory card for your camera just in case.
Extra Camera Battery
This isn’t the type of thing you’d be able to buy in Cuba, so if you have an extra camera battery, bring it.
A GoPro is a great addition to your photography gear, especially in a place like Cuba where you can get some great underwater or adventure shots. The GoPro Hero9 is a great model for everyone – excellent quality, and no need to get any more expensive models unless you’re a professional photographer.
Finding internet can sometimes be a challenge in Cuba, and many guesthouses (casa particular) still don’t have a wifi connection.
I recommend bringing a tablet (Jose is obsessed with his Amazon Fire tablet) with downloaded movies, tv shows, or books to keep you busy at the end of a long day if you’re used to scrolling through your phone.
I had a friend gift me some wireless Beats a few years ago (great friend, right!?) and I’ll never look back. Whatever brand you prefer, headphones are a must for travel!
Wired Headphones and Headphone Adapter
Travel Apps for Cuba
It is much more difficult to access the internet in Cuba than it is anywhere else. You won’t find wifi connections in every restaurant and cafe, like you would elsewhere, and many guesthouses and Airbnbs still don’t have internet connections.
There are several apps you should download before coming to Cuba that make it much easier to navigate this. Check out our guide to 10 Essential Apps for Cuba Travel for the details and recommendations.
Its important to note that you can NOT bring a drone in to Cuba! Don’t try, don’t cross your fingers and hope it will sneak by security unnoticed. Just don’t. It will hold you up when entering the country, and you might lose your drone for good.
Travel Safety Gear for Cuba
You may want to consider bringing a travel wallet if you’re concerned about card readers or are looking for something waterproof or extra secure. Check out this travel wallet guide for cool new features for travelers if you’re interested!
First Aid Kit
You never know when you’ll get a cut, scrape, or blister while traveling, so throw some basic first aid supplies together in a pouch or get a small travel first aid kit on Amazon for your trip.
S-biner microlocks are my favorite cheap, tiny piece of travel gear. These tiny carabiners keep zippers locked together on your backpack or suitcase, which is often just enough deterrence for potential pickpockets.
I also recommend traveling with luggage locks with flexible hooks – I keep my suitcase locked at all times, including when I leave it in a hotel room. They’re a must for staying in hostels, plus, these are TSA safe.
A portable safe is a great way to keep your money, travel documents, and phone safe while leaving them in your hotel room. You can also bring these to the beach to keep your valuables safe while you’re swimming!
I think a door stop is a must-have for travel safety, especially as a solo traveler or as a female. These are tiny, inexpensive, and can be lifesaving.
They’ll stop intruders from being able to force your down open at night – I travel with a doorstop with an alarm, which trips an alarm to scare off an intruder if the door is being forced.
I’ve never like money belts or the like – they’re generally not cute, tricky to use, and pickpockets know you’re wearing them. The “passport scarf” is something you’ll actually use – it looks like any other infinity scarf, but has a hidden pocket for your passport and money.
You would NEVER know.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.