In addition to your personal items, here's what Cubans need you to bring with you for them; medicines, vitamins, toiletries and more.
what to pack for Cuba
The author shares a photo of one of the many packages of donations she’s bringing to Cuba. Photo: Cassie Yeldham

So you’re thinking about going to Cuba, right? Great! Because Cuba needs you to go, as I wrote about here.  And, if you’ve been to Cuba before, you’ll know about the classic pre-pandemic list written in all of the generic traveler blogs about ‘What To Pack for Cuba’, mainly consisting of toiletries and crafts for kids.  Unfortunately, the list has since been upgraded – and significantly so; Cubans need you to pack along daily supplies more than ever.

Ahead of my return to Cuba in November, with several suitcases worth of supplies in tow, I’ve been asking friends and family on the island what is really needed in the current Cuba.  Let me share this intel with you so you know exactly what to pack for Cuba when your time comes. 

pack asprin for Cuba
Asprin is in short supply in Cuba.

1. Medication – Anything and Everything, Quite Literally

There is currently a devastating shortage of medication in Cuba. From pain relievers to anti-inflammatories, antibiotics to antiseptics, creams for aches, burns, scrapes and scratches, diabetic medicine to heartburn tablets, vitamins… there truly is nothing available, even if you have money. 

The most prominent things that have been requested to bring to Cuba, directly by Cubans are: 

  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen/Naproxen/Piroxicam
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics (amoxicillin, penicillin etc.)
  • Antiseptic, antibacterial & antibiotic creams (e.g. Germolene or Triple Antibiotic)
  • Gels for joint pain/arthritis (Diclofenac) (e.g. FlexiSEQ or Lumboxen)
  • Vitamins (B1, 6, 12, C)
  • Folic acid tablets
  • Rehydration salts
  • Opioids (co-codamol, Tramadol)
  • Shostakovsky Balm (yes, you read that right… they swear by it)
  • Silicolgel / Dulcolax / Glycerin suppositories 
  • Antihistamines
  • Imodium
  • Gaviscon
  • Compression socks
  • Bandages / plasters (band aids) / wound dressings 
  • Anti-fungal creams and shoe sprays (Terbinafine)
  • Antigen tests (lateral flow kits)
  • Surgical gloves & masks
What to pack for Cuba: Toothpaste is needec
Toothpaste and toothbrushes are needed.

2. Toiletries – But Not Just Your Big Standard Tresemme Bottles

Let me give you some context. Toiletries have always been needed in Cuba. Pre-pandemic there were often weeks where no shampoo, deodorants or soaps could be found. People would queue for hours when they heard a delivery came in, though were often unlucky by the time it reached their turn – the sales assistants had already wheeled and dealed the contents of the shipment to their pals. 

However, as a whole, the people had easier access to ‘resolviendo’ (figuring out) their shortage by paying people off or swapping something in return. 

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The situation now is quite different and significantly worse. In 2020, the country introduced what are known as ‘Dollar Stores’. You can only enter if you have an MLC card (Moneda Libremente Convertible AKA Freely Convertible Money). It’s a complicated system to get your head around and I won’t go into it now. But just know that those who don’t have friends or family living outside of Cuba who could send USD/GBP/EUR back to the island, can’t access anything in these shops. 

To donate supplies for this author’s next trip to Cuba, contact her on Instagram: @cassieincuba

If they want to buy something through the Black Market, it costs them double what it should be. So a bottle of questionable quality shampoo might cost somebody the equivalent of $18 when their monthly income isn’t much more… 

And so now you understand the need to bring toiletries, what exactly should you bring? 

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I recommend bringing longer-lasting and sustainable products (plus they’re lighter for your suitcase and plastic free) as listed below:

  • Shampoo / conditioner bars (e.g. Ethique or Faith In Nature)
  • Soap bars (instead of shower gel bottles)
  • Deodorant (consider Alum Stones)
  • Condoms (they’re selling for over $5 a pop on the street so you can imagine how little they’re used)
  • Feminine hygiene products (the menstrual cup is more sustainable than tampons but you may need to explain/persuade too)
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes (bamboo ideally)
  • Laundry detergent sheets
what to pack for Cuba
Clothing for children.

3. Toys & Supplies for Children

Whilst times have been hard and families have been stuck at home throughout the lockdowns, children have suffered intolerably from boredom and misery. I know many children who have never seen a Barbie or a Hot-Wheels car in their life. They entertain themselves by making pretend hobby-horses from sticks. As wholesome and ‘back-to-basics’ as this may sound, they naturally dream of having their own real life toys to play with. 

So take a £10 doll from Amazon with you and you’ve entertained a child for the next year. 

As well as this, we all know how quickly children grow. There is a shortage of clothes and what they do manage to find is priced through the roof (think $200 for a pair of fake Nike trainers (sneakers). They need:

  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Basic medicine e.g. Sudocrem & Calpol 
Bring Wellington boots to Cuba for farmers.
Welly boots keeping a walker dry through a muddy puddle on a footpath.

4. Basic Equipment for the Farmers

Not everyone thinks of these guys when bringing essential items to Cuba. Having spent years out in the sticks and marrying into a farming family, they hold a special place in my heart. They graft day after day under the hot sun without access to suitable clothing or medication, for next to no money. 

The current street price in Cuba for a pair of Wellington boots is around $200 for what will cost you $20. Yes, they’re big and heavy, but there’s a viejito (old man) in the middle of a field somewhere who’s next 6 months will be made bearable if you sacrifice that space in your luggage. As well as the following: 

5. Supplies for Animals

Similar to the people, the animals are struggling more than ever. Because of the lack of flights entering the island during the pandemic, it means less medication and supplies have been bought in. 

Food is hard enough to find for the humans let alone sharing it with the animals, and the skyrocketed prices make it impossible for the locals to care for their animals adequately. It’s a sorry state of affairs and they need your help. 

  • Worming tablets (Drontal)
  • Flea / tick treatments
  • Bandages / antiseptic creams / dressings
  • Anti-mange shampoos (antifungal, anti-parasitic, antibacterial)
  • Inflatable ‘Elizabethan Collar’ Donuts
  • Blankets for beds / puppies etc.

Contact groups like CEDA, Cuban Animal Rescue and Vinales Street Paws Project to see if they have any specific and urgent needs. 

cuban currency is called moneda nacional or CUP

6. The Right Currency – Cuba’s Economic System Has Been on a Wild Ride

Dollars? British Pounds? Euros? It’s hard to keep up with all the economic changes so I’ll keep it short and sweet for now: as it stands in November 2021, USD in cash is not legally accepted and you won’t be able to exchange it in the CADECAs for the CUP (moneda nacional / Cuban peso). It’s currently best to bring Euros.

what to pack for Cuba
Don’t forget to bring your own things too!

7. Personal Items

Aside from bringing all of the above for the Cubans, let’s not forget that you’ve got to bring your own things too!

Aside from a summer dress and a pair of shorts, keep it simple but bring absolutely everything you need. 

You now know that supplies are short and you don’t want to be a burden on an already struggling society. Bring all of the clothes, toiletries and medicines that you personally need to last for your entire trip, and pop in spares of everything just to be safe. 


As a final word to the wise: be careful who you give your gifts to. If you take a suitcase full of medication into a ‘policlinico’ (AKA local surgery or hospital) your items won’t necessarily go to the right places (think Black Market, because yes – even doctors wheel and deal). It’s best to give everything out personally and directly to those who need it. 

If you’re not familiar with the island and want a helping hand in knowing where to take your donations, let us know. 


Full Compiled List

Medicine

  • Paracetamol
  • Ibuprofen/Naproxen/Piroxicam
  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics (amoxicillin, penicillin etc.)
  • Antiseptic, antibacterial & antibiotic creams (e.g. Germolene or Triple Antibiotic)
  • Gels for joint pain/arthritis (Diclofenac) (e.g. FlexiSEQ or Lumboxen)
  • Vitamins (B1, 6, 12, C)
  • Folic acid tablets
  • Rehydration salts
  • Opioids (co-codamol, Tramadol)
  • Shostakovsky Balm (yes, you read that right… they swear by it)
  • Silicolgel / Dulcolax / Glycerin suppositories 
  • Antihistamines
  • Imodium
  • Gaviscon
  • Compression socks
  • Bandages / plasters (band aids) / wound dressings 
  • Anti-fungal creams and shoe sprays (Terbinafine)
  • Antigen tests (lateral flow kits)
  • Surgical gloves & masks

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Toiletries

  • Shampoo / conditioner bars (e.g. Ethique or Faith In Nature)
  • Soap bars (instead of shower gel bottles)
  • Deodorant (consider Alum Stones)
  • Condoms (they’re selling for over $5 a pop on the street so you can imagine how little they’re used)
  • Feminine hygiene products (the menstrual cup is more sustainable than tampons but you may need to explain/persuade too)
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes (bamboo ideally)

Children

  • Underwear (all ages)
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Basic medicine e.g. Sudocrem & Calpol
  • Toys and crafts

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Farmers

  • Wellington Boots (sizes EU 40 – 44 are standard)
  • Socks (the better the quality the longer they’ll last)
  • Antifungal creams (you won’t imagine the state of their feet and what they have to endure without treatment)
  • Antifungal shoe sprays (because they bacteria stays inside the boots)
  • Workman gloves (and perhaps some hand cream)

Animals

  • Worming tablets (Drontal)
  • Flea / tick treatments
  • Bandages / antiseptic creams / dressings
  • Anti-mange shampoos (antifungal, anti-parasitic, antibacterial)
  • Inflatable ‘Elizabethan Collar’ Donuts
  • Blankets for beds / puppies etc.
  • Horse worming kits (Equimax gel + syringe)
  • Horse tick control (Bayticol)

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Cassie is a Cuba travel planner and freelance writer. In 2016 she threw caution to the wind and swapped office life in London for the slow life in rural Cuba. Here she met her now-husband, and together they navigate the complexities of cross-cultural, cross-continental and bilingual married life. An advocate for responsible and sustainable travel, Cassie specializes in promoting immersive and meaningful experiences in Cuba. She works with US, European and Cuban travel agencies & tour operators - as well as private clients - in planning, organizing, and curating bespoke itineraries. Endeavoring to support both the local environment and community, Cassie and her husband are building a rural eco-project and home in the outskirts of Viñales. Her idea of heaven is exploring Cuba’s countryside on horseback, ending with a bowl of 'arroz y frijoles' and a swig of rum at sunset. Though a fresh coconut on the beach wouldn’t go a miss either.

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