Packing for most summer vacations follows a fairly standard list of swimwear, cotton dresses, and sunscreen, but as I tossed items into my carry-on for a five-day trip to Havana, Cuba, I realized this destination isn't like the rest. If you forget toothpaste or deodorant you'll have to do without—trade sanctions imposed on Cuba mean that it's hard for tourists to buy imported items we often take for granted on vacation.
Then there's the city. I expected Havana to be close to the beach given its proximity to the coast, but unless your hotel has a pool, there's no point in packing a swimsuit for your trip. When we arrived in February, the air was balmy, and the streets were gritty, making me wish I'd brought enclosed sneakers rather than my nice sandals and a ton of cotton dresses and jumpsuits instead of jeans.
With the benefit of hindsight, I've put together a list of the items I should have packed on my trip to Cuba. Word to the wise: Don't forget deodorant like I did.
The city has a warm climate, meaning you probably won't need those jeans or heavy jackets for most months. The streets were gritty when I visited, so I'd recommend packing dark denim shorts and T-shirts that you're happy to get dirty during the day.
- Cotton shirt
- Cotton sundress
- Denim shorts
- Lightweight denim jacket
- Gym clothes
Many of the products we take for granted in the U.S. aren't easy to buy in Cuba. Be sure to pack travel-size shampoo and conditioner, especially if you're staying in a local home, called a casa particular. If you don't plan to check a bag, you'll have to forfeit your razor and spray deodarant—opt for roll-on instead.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Mosquito repellant
- Ibuprofen or pain-relief medication
- First aid kit
- Makeup remover
- Hand sanitizer
If you plan on wandering the alleyways in Havana, leave your Stan Smiths at home—black or dark sneakers are best. The streets can be cobbled and uneven, so don't pack heels or shoes that are difficult to walk in.
- Tote bag
- Towel (a casa particular may not supply towels)
Like with toiletries, it can be near impossible to find a replacement phone charger here if you forget to pack your own. Cuba and America have the same power outlet, but we found the voltage to vary greatly and blew a smart suitcase by recharging it. Pack a battery pack to charge precious items.
- Phone charger
- Other device chargers (camera, Kindle, iPad, etc.)
- Spare batteries
One of the most common mistakes travelers make is not printing their flights and hotel reservations. Internet is scarce in Havana if you're not staying at a five-star hotel, so you will find it hard to access those bookings during your vacation and may not be able to check into your flight or confirm the correct terminal when you're there.
It's also a good idea to get your money exchanged to Canadian dollars prior to leaving America. U.S. currency is charged an additional exchange rate in Cuba, so you'll be hit with double the fees.
- Passport and driver's license
- Printouts of reservations and tickets
- Earplugs and an eye mask