What to Wear In Cuba
More and more travelers are heading to Cuba! Havana and all of Cuba is a tropical destination and generally hot all year round so bring out the summer wear.Read more: 20 Amazing Things to Do in Cuba
Cuba Packing List
1. 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.
You can read more about Cuba’s travel categories, visa card and other FAQs in this post.Read more: How to Travel to Cuba as an American
2. Breathable Summer 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 Cuba in 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.
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.
Here are some popular day tours in Cuba
3. Comfortable Walking Shoes
Havana has a lot of cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks so stick to flats, sandals and comfortable sneakers.Read more: The Best Travel Walking Shoes
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.
Lip Balm with SPF | An absolute must have to avoid chapped lips! My favorite day balm is Lanolips.
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.
5. Travel Gadgets
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!
6. Lightweight Luggage
Carry On Suitcase | I usually try to travel with just a carry on suitcase. Delsey makes high quality, beautiful luggage and offers a fantastic quality guarantee.
Packing Cubes | I swear by packing cubes! Once you try them, you’ll wonder how you ever did without. If you’re visiting multiple places, these cubes will keep your clothes organized and your suitcase tidy. I keep one pouch for undies, one for dirty clothes and then group outfits in the other cubes.
Travel Bottles | I use these bottles for shampoo and conditioner – you can use them to story anything, even skincare products. I also love this inexpensive yet stylish jewelry case to organize earrings, necklaces and any small items like bobby pins + hair ties!
I bring a professional DSLR camera and a couple lenses to shoot all the photos you see on this blog. I also bring my spare battery, battery charger and extra SD cards. To keep everything organized, I use a memory card case and a travel accessories case so the wires, chargers and small things don’t get lost.
For underwater photos, I use a GoPro, backdoor floatie and dome. For video, I use a stabilizer and my iphone, along with an external battery. You can find all my gear here.
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.Read more: 45 Magnificent Photos That Will Transport You to Havana
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:
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 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?
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
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 favorite restaurants in Havana here.
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. Also know that the Government controls cigar production in Cuba so over time quality has declined.
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.
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.Read more: Where to Eat & Stay in Havana!
Shop Cuba Outfits
Visiting Cuba – Travel Checklist
Flights | Traveling to Cuba is unpredictable, given the political relations between the U.S. and Cuba. When I visited in the end of 2016, President Obama had relaxed restrictions and as a result, airlines and cruises actively promoted travel to Cuba so long as your journey fell under the approved visitation categories. Today's climate is slightly more dicey, but you can check here for flight deals.
Insurance | Be sure to visit Cuba with travel insurance. Whether your flight is cancelled, your camera & electronics get stolen or you get and need to be hospitalized, travel insurance will help when you need it most. Get a quote online for your trip here.
Tours | If you want the same quality of accommodation and food you're used to at home, I would suggest visiting with a cruise company. Cruises offer gourmet, all you can eat meals, western style accommodation with hot showers and air conditioning, plus often there is the option to get wifi on board. Browse cruises to Cuba here.
If you're up for an adventure and more easy-going, give casa particulars a go. You can book a tour with Intrepid on a People to People visa. They organize everything, explore Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad while supporting local businesses – check out the itinerary and more info here.
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Where to Stay in Havana: A Guide to Accommodation Types
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