Your main focus when doing your packing list for Cuba, or any destination in the Caribbean region, should be dealing with high temperatures, high humidity, and SPF in all shapes and forms.
After traveling extensively to the region through summer and winter (the Caribbean, not European), wet and dry seasons alike, I can safely say I do have a few tips when it comes to packing in order to survive and thrive.
To make sure you don’t suffer from “rookie mistakes”, here are exactly what clothes, gadgets, and supplies your packing list for Cuba should include to secure the perfect Cuba holiday!
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The Weather In Cuba
Cuba is SUPER hot and humid pretty much all year round with its Caribbean climate. But there are differences in seasons, and in Cuba, they are divided into two, the wet and the dry season.
The dry season runs from October to May, and as the name implies this period there is less rain, and cooler than the wet season. In the winter months, you may occasionally need a sweater or light jacket in the evening.
About 30% of the Cuban rain falls in the dry season, the rest in the summer months when the temperature is sizzling and humidity rather extreme.
Also, the hurricane season runs from June to November (September and October highest risk for hurricanes), when you can expect sudden heavy showers and thunderstorms.
Now don`t worry, even in the wet season serious hurricanes are very rare and mainly alerted beforehand, but the weather Gods CAN strike down hard on this part of the world!
Some things need to be on a pacling list for Cuba in particular. Not just because of the climate and the seasons, but also because it is Cuba.
A lot of normal commodities are not as easily available as in the rest of the world, so you need to bring them.
Best Time To Travel To Cuba
It is hard to give generic advice on what is the best time to travel to Cuba, as it depends on what makes you happy on your holidays.
The official high season for tourism runs mainly from mid-December to mid-March, the peak of the dry season. Also, the summer months of July and August are high seasons in Cuba, when the whole world has a summer holiday.
Prices are highest and tourist crowds thickest in the summer, so if you prefer more space and fewer crowds all other months would be better for you.
In the summer months, it is HOT, and your normal physical state (be prepared) will be damp and sweaty. Bordering soaking wet. Your most important item might just be your portable fan (and water) (and airy clothes).
The main packing list for Cuba advice is to avoid anything that has heavy fabric or even lots of fabric. You will need AIR. And shade. Check out my bullet-point packing list and all my packing-for-Cuba advice below!
The Mothership Packing List For Cuba
- Light summer dresses
- Light tops
- Airy skirts or shorts
- Light and airy pants for exploring days
- Light airy shirts
- Evening outfits (Cuban evening outfits can be rather sparkly)
- Bikini or swimsuit
- Multi-use shawl (aka towel, dress, beachwear, beach blanket, etc)
- A pair of jeans (for going horseback riding in Vinales, which you should!)
- A light shawl or scarf to wipe your face during the day, and have around your shoulders in the evening
- Sun hat or something protecting your face from the sun
- Flip flops/sandals
- Comfy breathing walking shoes
- One pair of (comfy) heels (that you can salsa in!!!)
- An old-fashioned fan to “cool” your face in the daytime
- Your handbag should have a zipper or a proper way to close the compartments
- Tiny cloth bags or plastic bags to roll up inside your handbag/day bag. Not all shops or cafes have bags to offer for items you buy or food to take away, so bringing your own extra little bag can come in handy.
- A small purse for passport, vaccine card, visa, cash back-up, and relevant papers.
Travel Pharmacy Packing List For Cuba
- Any prescription meds you normally or sometimes take
- Ordinary pain killers
- Mosquito repellant
- Antipruritic cream
- Antiseptic cream
- Wet wipes
- Sunscreen SPF 50 for your face, 30 for your body
- Remember confirmation that you have travel insurance including health insurance (2021 also Covid-19 coverage).
- Let me stress this a little extra; you WILL NOT find paracetamol or any super-normal pills or ointments you can buy anywhere in your country. Bring it with you.
Beauty Packing Tips
- Bring water (and sweat) resistant makeup!
- Freshening face-mist spray can be very pleasant, I use the pink bottle from Clinique.
- Mineral powder with SPF 30 to touch up sun protection of your sweaty face during the day. Like the super-easy Colorescience Brush-On that I have been using for years.
- Elastic bands or similar to hold your hair in the heat (hanging lose it may look like moist seaweed after a while).
- Dry shampoo (for when the water disappears just when you are going out)
- Anti-frizz hair stuff if your hair tends to frizz up when the air is in the humid spectrum
- Body sunscreen with at least SPF 30 in the Caribbean sun.
- After-sun lotion for face and body.
Super-Smart Packing Tips For Toiletries
- Bring ALL THE TOILETRIES you need for the duration of your stay. These types of items are available, but probably not the ones you want. Expect that it will be a hassle finding and buying them in Cuba (toothpaste, soap, shampoo, moisturizers, sunscreen, all that stuff).
- Because of this, Cuba might not be the destination where you travel light with hand luggage only. Depending on the duration of your stay, it is likely you will congratulate yourself on bringing your favorite jars and tubes (even over 100ml).
- These items are also in short supply for Cubans, and VERY expensive in Cuban economical terms. It could be an idea to bring a little extra, to gift to your hosts or friends you make instead of tips.
Clever Cuba Travel Packing Hacks
- Bring at least TWO credit cards you keep separately. ATMs are readily available in large cities, and in shops, it is cash in the Moneda National (CUP) that counts. Extract CUP at an ATM upon arrival at the airport
- Bring a lot of cash, preferably Euro. “Everyone” wants to get paid in Euro, as many national shops only accept Euro as payment.
- In March 2021 there are also so-called MLC stores in Cuba (Moneda Libremente Convertible), where you can only shop with credit cards – not cash. These stores have the best selection of goods but expect queues.
- NOTE! For Americans, your credit cards will not work in Cuba due to sanctions. You will need to bring cash for your duration and change the currency in offices when in Cuba.
- A copy (and a photo on your phone) of your passport (and visa)
- Pre-booked pick-up at the airport. Getting transport is not very difficult, but as Cuba is an off-line, cash-based nation, it CAN be smart to have the arrival and pick-up guaranteed the first time you visit. Especially if you don’t speak Spanish, and you can expect to be off the grid for the first few hours.
- Keep the phone number of your host or hotel with you. If the taxi driver (says he) has navigational problems, he can call them with his Cuban cell phone.
- Water bottle with internal filter (for when you cannot find water to buy anywhere)
Best Travel Gadget And Tech Tips
- Adapter (Cuba has 110W in most places).
- Power bank! For any gadget, you always need for longer journeys or for when the electricity goes out. I recommend the Mophie Powerstation XXL, which charges your phone 4,5 times in one go, brilliant!
- Mini speaker! All the Cubans have them, and you will meet one-man-discos anywhere at any time around Cuba. I have the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2, with great sound and compact size for travel.
- I recommend installing a good VPN service before you travel to Cuba. If you are using an iPhone, you will not be able to download or update your Apps from Appstore when in Cuba without it due to sanctions. I use ExpressVPN, which successfully puts me anywhere I prefer on the planet when I am in Cuba and allows me to work as a Digital Nomad.
- Set your phone to flight mode to avoid surprises on your phone bill.
- Get WiFi cards at Etecsa (a national phone company) to get online in your hotel or one of the many WiFi parks in the city.
- For longer stays, consider a Cuban data sim card from Etecsa.
- A pocket dictionary (as you cannot just surf google translate anytime anywhere in Cuba). But remember; Cubans speak “Cuban” – not “Spanish”!
- Also, a lot of booking services online are not available when in Cuba due to sanctions. Again, VPN may help here if you need to consult different apps during your stay.
Tings That Are Not Easy To Find In Cuba
- Chewing gum
- Chips or chocolates
- Nuts and bars
- Pre-made salads and little meals
- Soft drinks (well, you will find it. It costs $10 for a coca-cola in November 2021)
- Wine opener
- Bottled water may be in short supply and difficult to find for periods of time. If you can buy a water bottle with a filter to bring with you, that may come in handy during your stay
- Papers and magazines
- City maps
- Chargers or adapters
- Kitchen appliances (knives, casseroles, garlic press, etc)
- Ordinary pharmacy items
What To Bring For Cuban Locals
Because of a mix of a lot of things, including sanctions, the pandemic, and domestic political turmoil and reforms, Cubans in Cuba are having a tough time towards the end of 2021.
As a visiting tourist, there are simple things you can do and bring, in order to help out a bit. As food prices have skyrocketed the last year, many people have to prioritize all their money for food and not a lot more.
Here is a little list of things Cubans, in general, will be very happy to get in this day and age!
- The number one thing; bring cash. Lots of it, preferably in Euro. People will buy it from you to be able to shop for food in the national MLC shops
- Toothpaste and toothbrushes
- Creams and soaps
- Razors and razor blades
- Sports shoes and sports clothes
- Glue, tape, needle and thread, repair stuff
- Old telephones that are not locked to a provider
- Anything transportable, a little luxurious that is not a basic need!
Caribbean Skin Care
On a different note, anyone spending time in climates that can be tough on skin and hair knows the importance of taking care of both!
The Caribbean climate with the wonderful but merciless sun requires a little TCL and caring products to protect the skin from radiation, salt water, and humidity.
Below I have chosen some of the products I, a woman 48, use every day to take care of my skin.
Number one on the list is of course SPF 50 (at least 30). Also cleaning and moisturizing the skin day and night is important, and to top it off you will not regret investing in serum or two as well. Make sure they have vitamin C and retinol, at least if you are over 35!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a dermatologist, hence this is my advice based on my own user experience!
Wrap-Up Packing List For Cuba
As you can tell, apart from the weather and climate-adapted packing, you need to remember that Cuba is not like “other nations”.
Make sure you have all the things you normally use or need, in your luggage! DON`T count on finding it in Cuban stores, as the likelihood is super low.
Do you have any questions about Cuba? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail! Happy to help!