It’s easy to remember to pack sunscreen and t-shirts when you head to the Caribbean. You might not think to pack these essentials:
10. Flashlight with extra batteries. One never knows when the power outage might affect your neighborhood in the middle of the night. They are becoming more common with the economic and energy shortages in Cuba this year.
9. Gifts. It is discouraged from handing out things to strangers on the streets, because it can create a culture of begging. It’s nice to give something to your B & B host family, the maid (if you stay in a hotel) and other friends you make on the journey. Popular items? Baseballs or tennis balls, “Cuban Tres” guitar strings, nail polish & new make-up, aspirin, bars of body soap, pens/pencils and notebooks.
8. Flip flops. In most Latin cultures people ALWAYS wear shoes indoors. It’s easy to put them on when you get up in the morning or if your shoes get soaked in a rainstorm.
7. Pocket-sized, reusable rain poncho. Tropical weather means tropical rainstorms!
6. A little cold medicine, tylenol, pepto, etc. of the over-the-counter drugs you have in your medicine cabinet. These can be difficult or impossible to find in Cuba! (Of course, take extras of your prescriptions with you)
5. A small-sized roll of toilet paper. Not every restroom will have it.
4.A magazine or local newspaper. My tour guides always ask if they can read what I brought, as they are very limited in access to international news. If you bring magazine in Spanish, even better!
3. Spanish Bibles. Whether or not the Bible is an important piece of your everyday life, still consider it. Cuban churches were boarded up from the 1960’s -1990’s, so generations have grown up without the opportunity to learn about God. Statistics show there is only 1 Bible for every 4 people in Cuba. I bring them gift-wrapped, so it’s obvious I’m not importing to sell.
2. Reusable water bottle. As with most Latin American countries, your stomach will thank you if you drink only bottled water while you are there. That also means a lot of 12 oz plastic bottles going to the dump every day. Bring your own and refill it from 5 gallon jugs.
1. Brand new $20’s and $50’s-and lots of them. Many places won’t accept a bill if it seems worn, wrinkled, or even has a mark on the corner. ATM and credit card machines are scarce, and often won’t work with American banks. Some tourists take Canadian money or Euros, which have a better exchange rate. I have found some places can’t exchange it, but every place will exchange US dollars.
Although the average Cuban makes $35 a month, the two currency system means tourists pay higher prices than locals. Expect to pay $10-$20 for a meal.
Don’t be afraid to engage Cubans-and love the adventure!