Cuba was my bucket list trip and had been for yeeeaaaarrrs. I couldn’t believe it when the opportunity presented itself. And, honestly, the first thing that crossed my mind was “what is going to be on my Cuba packing list?” This from a girl who rarely checks bags and is anything but the fashionista. But I knew that going to Cuba was going to be a little different than my past travels.
To check a bag or not check a bag – big questions.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to check a bag or not. I must admit, even with all the traveling we’ve done, I was a little nervous about going to Cuba. Partially because I knew it was a less developed country, which I hadn’t experienced in a few years, partially because I was arriving alone and partially because my Spanish is a disaster. Did I want to mess with trying to collect a bag on the Cuban side? Ultimately I decided no and being the master carry-on packer I am, I planned a week long trip with a small rollaboard suitcase.
I knew for sure that if I forgot something like saline solution or face cream, it might not be too easy to find in Cuba. I’ve been to communist countries in the past and shelves aren’t exactly overflowing with products. My tour agency travel documents reiterated in bold Don’t forget anything you might need and gave a detailed list of things that may or may not be available. For low maintenance people, a lot of this won’t matter. I’m relatively low maintenance (really would it kill me not to wear mascara for a week? Probably not). And I’ll fess up – I literally wash my hair twice a week. But this dry skinned lady has gotta have her face lotion! On the list:
- Any medications
- Saline solution and contact lens necessities
- Feminine Products
- Bug spray
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hair ties for long hair
- Face wash
- Tide for traveling
- Travel shampoo and conditioner
Most of the things on the list are pretty standard, but our tour company really stressed not forgetting anything. Surprisingly, a hair dryer wasn’t necessary as all of our hotels and Casa Paticulares had dryers.
If you’re American like I am, there is certain documentation you must bring. Rules surrounding Cuba seem to be constantly changing and I maintain going with a private tour agency is the best route. One thing is sure…..you need a tourist Visa. When buying a plane ticket, the airline will give you an option to qualify under different Visas and you check a box (I was there on the People to People Visa). Next, you’ll need to buy the actual Visa. I used Cuba Visa Services. A very easy process. They will mail you your Visa and you will need to get it stamped at a kiosk in the airport before departure (my connection was through Miami and there was a kiosk right at my gate). You will need to keep it for the duration of the trip and Cuban officials will ask for it both on arrival and departure. Something to note, as well….make sure you have the necessary tours set up which match your Visa. And have documentation, such as receipts, of those tours. Keep that documentation for at least 5 years. Travel insurance is required for travel to Cuba and, currently, that insurance is included with your plane ticket.
Cash – Cuba will not take American credit cards, so bring cash for food, drinks and tips. Your Cuba travel advisor or tour operator can help you estimate how much. All my hotels, Casa Paticulares and tours were paid for prior to arrival so I did not need to worry about the big payments. But I did have to estimate how much to bring for food and drink.
Last but not least…..clothing
I was only bringing a carry-on, so I really needed to be organized as far as clothing went. Luckily, Cuba is hot, so it was a little easier in terms of keeping things simple. But it really depends on what your activities are. I was touring three cities, hiking and biking, having several nice dinners and visiting artists in studios and galleries. So I needed a little more than a simple shorts and a t-shirt. For my Cuba packing list clothing I brought:
- One pair or “nice shorts”
- One pair of exercise, casual type shorts
- Two “nice t-shirts”
- One workout, exercise type t-shirt
- two pair of casual socks
- gym shoes for touring and one pair of sandals
- Two skirts – one black, one khaki
- Capri style jeans, which I wore on the plane
- Two cute shirts that would go with either a skirt of jeans
- Two sundresses
- Bathing suite which I never used because I was too busy immersing myself in the culture!
- One sweater for air conditioned places
Guys I got all of this into a small carry-on. I was so proud of myself 🙂 I also brought Febreeze. Hiking and touring a hot city makes you sweaty and laundry wasn’t an option!
In addition to the basics, I brought my camera obviously. But I brought too much. I brought my Olympus mirrorless and my Nikon D750 with two lenses. I really only needed either the mirrorless or the Nikon with one lens. I never even pulled out my second lens, not did I use my Olympus. It was my Nikon D750 with the 35mm lens the whole time.
I also brought my iphone and Chromebook. Computer access is essential to my travel business and I wanted to be able to take casual pictures from my phone and have texting abilities with my family.
My Kindle was a must also! We had some long drives between Vinales and Trinidad and that Kindle saved me. I made sure I had plenty of books loaded on it!
While Cuba does take a little more planning that the regular vacation, it’s totally worth it! Some of this will depend on how you choose to travel to Cuba, as well. I’m confident that if I had forgotten my toothpaste, my guide would have grabbed a tube from her house and given me one – such friendly and welcoming people. Err on the side of not being able to find some things and be pleasantly surprised when it all works out I say! Cuba is definitely a country worth visiting, even with the extra steps it takes to go there.