Cuba is a beautiful winter destination. With temperatures ranging from high 20°C to low 30°C in winter, this is an ideal destination if you are looking to escape frigid winter temperatures on low-budget. However, traveling to Cuba poses a unique challenge when it comes to packing. There are some items, such as over the counter medicines, that you take for granted when traveling to other countries. However, these items may not be as easily available. Therefore, before you head to Cuba, make sure you have packed everything listed in my “what to pack for Cuba checklist” to make your holiday pleasurable and worry-free.
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Please see: This section is geared mostly towards Canadians or Permanent residents of Canada.
If you are a Canadian and visiting Cuba for less than 30 days, you will need only your passport and a Tourist Card to enter the country. Make sure that your passport is valid well beyond (at least 1 month) the date of your departure from Cuba. If you are a permanent resident of Canada and not a citizen, then carry your PR card with you (you will have to carry your PR card with you when you leave Canada else you cannot re-enter…so, a moot point!). Permanent residents of Canada are also not required to get any additional visa apart from the Tourist Card. However, if you are a permanent resident and not a citizen of Canada, be ready to answer questions about employment, where you are staying, date and proof of departure.
If you are flying from Canada, you will get a Tourist Card at the check-in counter at the airport or in-flight which you will fill out and keep with you till the date of departure from Cuba (Don’t lose it else you will have to pay for it again). If you buy an all-inclusive vacation package to Cuba, usually the cost of the tourist card is included as part of the package. Most flights departing from Canada have the cost of the tourist card included in the airplane ticket price (check with your airline). The tourist card is collected by Border Control when you leave Cuba.
The Cuban Economy is heavily cash-oriented. A few shops or hotels accept credit cards but these are hard to come by. Especially, Credit cards issued by US banks are not accepted in Cuba. So, make sure you bring adequate cash to cover all expenses for the length of your trip. If your debit card has a Visa or Mastercard enabled on it (and not issued by a US bank), you can withdraw cash from an ATM or bank. However, ATMs in Havana are few and usually have long lines. You can also change your money at the hotel/resort you are staying at but you will get a better rate at the bank.
Cuba has a dual economy system. This means that the locals and the tourists deal with different currencies. The local population uses the Cuban Peso (CUP) whereas outsiders to the island have to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). You will often see two prices listed for all items on sale, one in CUC and one in CUP. One CUC is 25 times that of CUP. Since there is a huge difference in the value of these currencies, sometimes locals try to scam you by giving you CUP when you don’t have exact change to pay for items. Be careful and double-check that the currency that you receive is CUC not CUP. Check for the word Pesos Convertibles on the currency bill.
As mentioned above, tourists in Cuba have to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). This currency is only available in Cuba and cannot be exchanged in the international market. So, bring cash in your country’s denomination and get it exchanged in Cuba. US dollars are subject to an extra 10% tax. So, you are better off bringing other currencies like the Canadian dollar or Euro.
Pharmacies in Cuba are few and not well stocked. Even over the counter medications are hard to find. So make sure to bring pain relief and flu medications such as Tylenol or Advil, anti-allergy medications, medications for Travelers’ diarrhea and nausea. Buy an insect repellant or Mosquito repellant sprays as reported cases of Zika Virus are on the rise in Cuba. Carry some band-aids and ointments to soothe insect and mosquito bites. Purchasing an international travel kit or first-aid kit which has all the medicines and first-aid items included is a good idea.
The sun is intense in Cuba even in the winter months. So carry your sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen to protect yourself from sun damage. Make sure that your sunscreen has a Sun Protection Factor of 50 and above.
As of May 2010, Cuba requires that visitors to Cuba should have travel insurance in place. If you don’t have travel insurance, you can buy it on arrival at the airport from Asistur S.A. The travel insurance from Asistur S.A. is affordable at 2.50 to 3.00 CUC per day with coverage as listed here. If you are a Canadian or resident of Canada, your provincial health insurance may be enough and you may not have to buy any additional travel insurance.
If your appliances need 220 volts to run, you will have to buy a voltage converter as the power supply in Cuba is 110 volts. Most modern electronics can work with 220v and 110v so a voltage converter may not be required. Check the voltage need of your device before you plug-in to be safe.
Some resorts and hotels in Cuba have sockets with 220 volts and have sockets that can accommodate both flat pin and rounded European plugs. However, if you are going to stay at Casa Particulares (a bed and breakfast type of accommodation in Cuba), the sockets usually have two flat pin slots. In that case, you may have to buy a plug adapter. I prefer buying 2 to 3 Universal Plug adapters as I travel to different places around the world and I have a lot of electronics that need charging overnight.
Internet access in Cuba is very limited. Even in resorts, paid wi-fi connection is often just accessible from the lobby. So, plan to get printed maps (as shown below) and Cuba travel guides if you plan to explore Cuba on your own.
Also, If you are not well versed in the local language, it’s difficult to converse with the locals to get directions. When I visit a place where language is a barrier, I learn a few useful sentences like -“Where is this hotel”, “Can you please help me”, “Where is the bus stop” etc., in the local language. With Google Translate App, you can translate on the go. However, in Cuba, since you’ll not have an internet connection, download the Spanish language package before you go so that you can use it offline. You can also download offline maps of Cuba as well. Look for “offline maps of Cuba” in your mobile AppStore.
Cuba is, relatively speaking, a safe place to visit. The overall crime rate is very low. Having said that, there are still minor thefts that take place. Canada’s travel advisory says that things have been reported missing even from checked-in luggage. Therefore I advise you not to take unnecessary expensive things to Cuba. Also, don’t leave your expensive items lying around in the tour bus or hotel rooms. Lock up all important documents in the locker provided by the hotel in your room before going out. If that is not available carry them with you in a backpack or better yet a fanny pack that is on you at all times.
This is the most obvious item of the list. Most people visit Cuba to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Varadero, swim in the Saturno Caves or snorkel and scuba dive. Make sure you pack swimwear, sandals, and clothes appropriate for warm weather such as shorts, sundresses, etc. Don’t forget to pack a pair of full-length pants in case of semi-formal dining requirements in your resort.
Some visitors like to bring gifts for the locals as some items that are commonly available in developed countries are not easily available in Cuba. Especially, if you are staying at a Casa (local bed and breakfast) and not a resort, these gifts are appropriate and well received.
I hope you find this extensive list helpful on your trip to Cuba. Comment and let me know where you are travelling to. If you are traveling to Havana, check out my post on Old Havana here.
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