Packing for Cuba has posed a unique challenge and a bit more preparation, knowing that much of what I might need in a pinch is not going to be available in a Cuban pharmacy or market, especially outside of Havana. Here are some items you should definitely pack for Cuba, especially during a summer vacation:
- Cash — despite what might you have read in the news about Cuba opening U.S. banks, there is still no way to take money out of an ATM machine or a bank. You must bring enough money for your entire stay and then change it into Cuban Convertible.
- Bug Spray or Wipes — Havana didn’t have too many mosquitoes but then again I was there during January. This time it was summer and I was in the country. There were mosquitoes. Lots of them. Do not forget but spray. I normally don’t like to put Deet products on my skin, but I haven’t found many alternatives that actually combat mosquitoes, especially because I’m usually the first one to be attacked. For a product with Deet, I like OFF’s Deep Woods towelettes, and for a more natural alternative I like Avon’s Skin So Soft bug wipes plus Picaridin. Either way, I prefer the towelettes to actual spray because they can be packed in your carry-on.
- Hat & Sunscreen – I’ve been to Colombia in the summer, which is practically ON the equator, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt heat like in Santiago de Cuba. It’s known as the hottest city in Cuba as the heat gets trapped by the surrounding Sierra Maestra Mountains. Bring a hat, sunscreen and lots of water. I did not hydrate myself nearly enough and learned my lesson.
- Fan – while the fancier restaurants and hotels have AC, many of the more rustic paladars or casa particulars do not. You should bring a fan.
- Pepto Bismol – I will spare you the details, but I stupidly brushed my teeth with the tap water in Cuba for a few days and let’s say I paid the price. Don’t forget to drink the bottled water the hotel provides to you, and also pack your Pepto.
- Converters – Most hotels have both 110 and 220 volt (American and European style), but not all. So it’s safer just to bring a couple of converters.
- Copies of your Passports and Visas – airport customs, especially at Cienfuegos and Holguin…well they mean business. Not the kind of place you would want to get stuck.