“All our action is a battle cry against imperialism” – Guevara and Castro’s fight against imperialism has had positive outcomes, but along with the US embargo, has meant that everyday items can be too expensive, or sometimes not available at all, for Cubans to buy.
Any backpacker knows that the lighter their pack, the easier their trip. It makes so much of a difference when walking around town and between accommodations and bus terminals. Travelling through Cuba leaves no excuses for a heavy pack; with a warm climate all year round, a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts and some swimming gear are all most travellers will need. However you may chose to fill up extra space with some items to be donated on the road. Here is a list that should stand you in good stead:
As already mentioned, a few shorts and t-shirts should suffice, with the addition of long trousers and sleeves for mosquito protection/extra warmth in the highlands, and a rain jacket. If you’ll be partying, guys may want to take a collared-shirt and girls a couple of dresses.
All you need is a pair suitable for walking or hiking in, and some flip flops.
Internet in Cuba is slow and sporadically available, so while a phone may be useful, leave your laptop at home. If you have an underwater camera, bring it for the beach and snorkelling.
Bring everything you’re likely to need: shopping in Cuba is not like at home. There are no supermarkets and you’ll find basic items like shampoo and toothpaste hard to find. Everything is sold in individual tiny shops and you won’t want to waste time traipsing round trying to buy something you could have easily brought from home.
Passport, cash, bank cards, power adapter, toilet paper, book, flashlight (there are lots of power cuts).
Most Cubans are poor and survive using their monthly ration books and small salaries. It might be nice to bring some useful items which don’t cost much at home, but will be greatly appreciated by your hosts and new friends.
When my friend and I were in Cuba, our bags got rifled through at one of the casas particulares we were staying in. We had checked out but left our bags in the hallway for the day. We only realised when we arrived at our next destination that random items were missing from our bags: mostly toiletries, but some clothes as well. We deducted that it was probably the teenage girl judging by the items taken, and we were both pretty angry about it. However, looking back, I wished that I had actually taken extra toiletries and clothes to be able to give to the, mostly lovely, families we stayed with. Items that we take for granted, like shampoo, pain killers, and makeup, are terribly expensive/not available for Cubans to buy. I’m not condoning the girl stealing our things, but after the initial resentment subsided, I could completely understand why she would be so tempted to do this. On future trips to Cuba I would definitely plan to take some thoughtfully chosen items to give to people I make friends with or stay with. Some suggestions of gifts which will be appreciated are: toiletries, makeup, and medical supplies, bicycle tyre repair kits, school supplies and toys, clothes and shoes, household items such as sharp knives or flashlights. If you do decide to take some gifts with you, remember to give responsibly and appropriately to those who you make a connection with, not just any random person on the street, as this can encourage unsociable behaviour such as begging.