What to Wear in Cuba
Click the icon next to each image to shop directly on the retailer page or browse via the links below. I’ve also linked more affordable options throughout the post. Cuban attire is casual, comfortable and classic.
1. Fendi 2Jours Handbag | 2. Circle Leather Belt | 3. Sun & Stars Earrings | 4. Red Grossgrain Straw Sunhat | 5. Zimmerman Floral Dress | 6. Tie Front Cotton Dress | 7. Printed Flare Dress | 8. Colorblock Ruffle Dress | 9. Wide Leg Pants | 10. Striped Loafers | 11. Johanna Ortiz One-Shoulder Ruffled Top | 12. Gucci Floral Print Loafers | 13. Bow One-Shouldered Top | 14. Wide-legged Buckle Pants | 15. Knit Top | 16. Yellow Houndstooth Cardigan | 17. Graphic Tee | 18. Miu Miu Pussy-Bow Silk Blouse
What to Pack For Cuba
More and more travelers are heading to Cuba and 2017 is the perfect time to go! Havana and all of Cuba is a tropical destination and generally hot all year round so bring out the summer wear. Due to American – Cuban relations, American visitors are now allowed to visit Cuba but will need a visa in advance. You can read more about Cuban visas, insurance requirements, souvenir caps and general Cuba FAQs below.
Read more: How to Travel to Cuba as an American
When packing for Cuba, light breathable fabrics in pastel and neutral colors are key. The sun can be especially hot in the afternoon when most walking tours will run so comfortable shoes and an umbrella or hat for shade are must-haves. I did both walking tours of Havana and bus tours and was pleasantly surprised for how modern and comfortable the tour buses are. The tour company I used in Cuba was Havana Tours and I did their half day bus tours in Santiago, Cienfuegos and Havana. The tour buses themselves are imported from China, brand spanking new and quite comfortable but can be chilly. For everything you need to pack for Cuba, keep reading for my packing list!
Cuba Packing List: The Essentials
Passport & Visa | It goes without saying that you need your passport for customs entry into Cuba. Americans also need to purchase a Cuban visa – if you are flying directly you can buy this right at the airport kiosk when you check in but depending on which airline you choose, the price will vary! The actual price of an American visa to Cuba is $50 per person. Jet Blue charges this exact amount but American Airlines charges $100 per person so for a family of 4 this can get pricey. Check your airline website for the latest up to date information.
I visited Cuba on a small ship cruise with Fathom and they charged $75 for a visa. You can read more about my experience cruising across Havana, Santiago and Cienfuegos with Fathom and other essential things to know before you go in this post.
Clothes | Feel free to bring whatever clothing you want to Cuba. As a tropical country it gets extremely hot in the afternoons and shorts, t-shirts, tank tops are all acceptable. I didn’t feel like Cuba was particularly conservative in that aspect. At night it gets cooler so a cardigan or light jacket would be a good thing to pack as well.
The pastel colors and magnificent architecture in Havana make for excellent photographs so I would recommend pretty sundresses and light, cooling fabrics like linen and cotton for ladies and men. You can find my best pictures of Havana Cubain this photo diary for some pre-trip inspiration!
If you want to see the Tropicana show at night, definitely dress up! It’s more of a nightclub / show type atmosphere and expected to see people in slightly fancier clothing.
Shoes | Havana has a lot of cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks so stick to flats, sandals and comfortable sneakers.
Sunscreen | A must have wherever you go, I like to bring both a facial sunscreen and all over body sunscreen. For the face, this Japanese brand is my hands down favorite – it’s non greasy, affordable and non-tacky without any scent. For the body, I love this broad spectrum sunscreen which smells like coconuts and leaves your legs nice and glowy.
Aloe Vera | Sunburns inevitably happen and aloe very gel is the key to relieve any pain. Currently I’m using this organic version made from cold pressed aloe.
Bug Spray | Cuba is in the Zika zone but I personally didn’t get bit at all while in the country. Up to you if you want to bring. I always carry this spray if I’m in the woods or a forested area but for regular day time use, I’ve been loving these wrist bands. The bracelets contain a blend of insect repelling oil so you don’t have to apply bug spray directly on your skin. I usually get 2 – one for my wrist and one for the ankle otherwise the range of coverage doesn’t seem to extend across the full body.
Guidebook | I did lots of research online before my trip and used Lonely Planet’s Cuba book for its local maps and sights during the trip. Overall, I found it helpful! You can also download the offline map of Havana using Google Maps on your phone or the Cuba travel guide map for free on the iTunes stores.
Snorkel Gear | Cuba has some amazing reefs and underwater marine life. I didn’t have time to dive but if you do plan to, I recommend bringing along your own gear. Local shops may have old gear and it can be much cheaper to buy an inexpensive set off Amazon than to rent… not to mention more sanitary. I got this inexpensive snorkel set off Amazon, which comes with its own waterproof bag for easy transport.
Lightweight Beach Towel | While hotels will provide towels, if you plan to stay at an AirBnB or casa particular, it’s a good idea to bring along small, light weight towel as they might not replace the standard towel. This is my favorite one to pack as it’s made of microfiber and dries quickly – perfect for those times when you only stay overnight in a hotel. If you’re staying in a local casa or AirBnB, they should provide towels but I’ve found this can be hit or miss and they typically don’t replace daily so an extra towel can come in handy.
Swimsuits | Only pack if you’re headed to the beach. Cuba does have some great beaches!
Travel Bags, Organizers & Electronics
Suitcase | I went carry-on only and didn’t have any issues with customs.
Packing Cubes | I like to group clothing by color or function and pack each group of items snugly in their own packing cube. These are a lifesaver for keeping your suitcase organized in your hotel room and are my number 1 secret to maximize space and function in just a carry on suitcase. I typically reserve one packing cube for all my worn clothes to separate the dirty stuff from my fresh clothes!
Amazon has their own inexpensive 4 piece packing cube set and several travel blogger friends swear by this set from eBags. Personally I use a set from CalPak which I love. They’re machine washable for easy cleaning and if you have CalPak luggage – they’re perfectly sized for their carry on luggage pieces!
Travel Bottles | If I know I’m going somewhere tropical, I prefer to pack my own hair products since my hair tends to dry out from the sun and chlorine. I currently like these for shampoo and conditioner.
Canon 5D Mark III | This is my go-to travel camera and I brought along one lens, my trusty 24-70mm. Along with the camera, I also bring my spare battery, battery charger and extra SD and CF cards. I now shoot with just SD cards since I realized you can insert them in your laptop to easily offload, but I keep all my cards in this wallet to keep them organized and easily reachable. When I kept my SD cards loose, I would lose them all the time – even if they were in a zippered pocket. The memory card case fits both SD and CF cards and was under $7 so it’s a no brainer purchase.
I walked around the streets of Havana snapping away and didn’t feel unsafe toting around camera gear. Overall, the people were very friendly and the country felt safe.
Portable Charger | I currently use an iPhone 6S and this Anker portable charger to keep it fully charged at all times. This charger is small and sleek with enough life to fully charge an iPhone 2x. Also I really love Anker’s products since they have great customer service. I once bought a product that ended up dying and they quickly sent me a replacement free of charge, so I highly recommend them!
What to Take with You to Bring to Cuba as Gifts for the Locals
Many travelers opt to bring small gifts and items for local Cubans. I know not everyone agrees with doing this but I did see firsthand that many adult Cubans would come up to directly ask tourist for gifts. If you want to, these are the most frequently requested items that you can bring to Cuba:
Soap | This was the most requested thing so if you have lots of bar soap that you don’t use or small hotel-sized shower gel bottles, they will very much appreciate this.
Clothes | Clothes are in hot demand in Cuba and I’ve heard two explanations for this. One Cuban tour guide said that the monthly government stipend can be used on necessities like grocery staples or clothes; there isn’t enough funding provided to cover both. Second, that many local shops will often run out of clothing to sell. Whatever the reason, cotton t-shirts, hats and basic clothing is much appreciated by local Cubans.
Reusable Shopping Bags | I don’t know about you but in the last year or so, it seems like every store I shop or event I attend gives these out and I hate to throw anything away so I now have over 100 of those canvas-y reusable shopping bags. A man in our group gave out some of these and the locals found them useful. I also heard that sometimes certain items, like shopping bags, will be mass bought and resold at a markup in Cuban stores so perhaps this is why?
Pens | Another popular item to give out and one that we as tourists always seem to have extras of (except when you’re at the airport in the customs hall)
Some tips for donating or giving out items in any foreign country, not just Cuba:
– resist the urge to give to children and give instead to adults or the elderly (in many places like Cambodia, giving gifts to children has resulted in parents removing their kids from school to beg for money and gifts in tourist areas)
– give school supplies directly to schools and teachers if possible
– donate to a reputable NGO or non-profit where the funds can be put to large-scale and proper use
Souvenirs and Cuban Cigars
Cuban Cigars | The number one souvenir you can look forward to bringing back home is obviously Cuban cigars. For Americans, the $100 cap on cigars and other souvenirs was removed on October 14th, 2016. Make sure to buy Cuban cigars from reputable government stores as “fake” cigars (stuffed with paper or even hazardous materials) can be sold as well. The three most popular Cuban brands are Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo & Juliet.
We were lucky enough to get a Romeo & Juliet cigar to smoke as a treat after dinner at one restaurant. You can find more of my recommended Cuban restaurants in my Where to Eat in Cuba guide.
Rough pricing: Cuban cigar prices vary from store to store but I saw a box of 6 cigars selling for ~$30 in one store and $75 in another store… that were both located in the same hall! Shop around and do some research.
Cuban rum | Another popular item for tourists to bring home is Cuban rum. Havana Club is probably the most famous brand with a number of different varities – 7 Años is a popular one, Selección de Maestros is an aged rum with a little sweetness and Especial is the go-to for Cuban cocktails like mojitos and El Presidente.
Local Crafts | There are also many markets and stalls selling leather goods and handbags, domino sets, figures and toy carvings as well as art. Cubans prize art and there are tons of local artists who make beautiful paintings for sale.
Paper Goods & Propaganda | Looking for old political or paper souvenirs? Head to Havana’s Plaza de Armas, which is a tourist flea market of sorts. There you’ll find old newspapers from when Fidel Castro took the capital, old propaganda books, military pins, historic Cuban stamps, large leftist posters and more. I bought a newspaper from the day Castro passed away from a woman on the street.
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