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Health Cuba

Travellers to Cuba who take the usual level of care of their hygiene and skin care are unlikely to encounter any health problems. However, below are a couple of issues that should be considered:

Food and drink: Tap water is not fit for consumption but mineral water is fine and is on sale everywhere (please note that it is cheaper to buy water from kiosks or shops than from hotel bars). When ordering a drink, make sure that the ice cubes are made of 'agua purificada', since common tapwater may contain bacteria. When eating in small restaurants, do not order pre-prepared fruit or salads. If you can, go to busy restaurants. They are busy for good reason and guarantee a fast turnover of the food, meaning that it is more likely to be fresh. Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and keep your fingernails short.

Skin care: Sunbathing is often a significant cause of health problems. The tropical sun is fierce and it is easier to get sunburn and sunstroke than you might think. Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day. Wear a hat or an umbrella when walking and always use a good suntan lotion. The latter is best brought from home, where there is a much greater choice of products and prices are lower. Drink a lot because people dehydrate much faster in the heat. A final word of advice on skincare: make it a habit to treat any wound, however small, with something like iodine. In the tropics, infections are easily caught and can be difficult to get rid of.

Diarrhoea: Next to sunburn, the most common health problem is diarrhoea. It often strikes travellers in the tropics after they have been there for just a few days. In most cases, it is an utterly innocuous phenomenon caused by the change of diet, the heat or harmless bacteria, against which the body will soon develop defences. The main risk is dehydration. This occurs when the body loses more fluid, salt and glucose than it receives. The result is a feeling of listlessness and weakness which can be prevented by drinking a solution of water and ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution). The latter is sold in bags in pharmacies at home and contains all the minerals and sugars that are evacuated with diarrhoea. Instead of this solution, you can also take noncarbonated soft drinks or heavily salted broth. If the diarrhoea is accompanied by high fever, bloody defecation or a strong urge to vomit, it is sensible to consult a physician. If the diarrhoea lasts for more than a few days without the afore-mentioned symptoms or if you have to travel, you can take Imodium. This is a strong and effective medicine that stops all bowel movements completely for a number of hours.

Insect bites: Mosquitoes cannot be entirely avoided in this part of the world, but there are some measures that will considerably reduce the inconvenience of mosquito bites. The “mosquito coil”, similar to an incense stick, will keep the mosquitoes at a distance for about eight hours. Wearing long trousers and a close-fitting long-sleeved roll-neck T-shirt in the evenings will help too. Citronella and other repellents do have some effect, but do not expect miracles.

Prickly heat: Prickly heat is an inflammation of the pores caused by excessive perspiration. It is common and harmless, but very annoying. The skin grows red and irritated in places. Places where skin chafes, such as armpits and thighs, are particularly susceptible. The symptoms will decrease if you take a cold shower – without using soap – a few times a day and dry yourself off thoroughly. Talcum powder on the affected spots may also help. During hot and damp nights, do not sleep under a sheet but wear a cotton T-shirt instead. If the irritation is really troubling you, the best thing to do is to take an air-conditioned room for a couple of nights.

Traveller’s health kit: A health kit for the tropics should contain plasters, cotton wool, scissors, thermometer, iodine, painkillers, malaria tablets, ORS-packages (Oral Rehydration Solution), loperamide (against diarrhoea), suncream, a pair of tweezers, insect-repellents such as DEET and a bite soothing stick or ointment against itching. If you are on medication, make sure you have a precise description available in English (no brand name, but composition and dosage are important). Bring along twice your normal quantity for the duration of travel and keep the two lots in separate places.

Medication: If you are on essential medicine, bring an extra supply to keep separately so that you will always have a spare stock. Ask your pharmacy to draw up a medical passport for you. This includes names of the substances and the exact composition of the medication that you use. Keep this document and your medication in your hand luggage. If you have a chronic illness, ask your GP for a written explanation of your disease and its treatment (in English). Likewise, make sure you carry a doctor’s statement if you are travelling with needles.

Vaccinations
The information below was given by the healthcare authorities at the time of writing. This information may change. Moreover, your needs depend on whether you have had previous vaccinations, whether you are allergic to certain medicine, if you are pregnant, your age, and so on. ALWAYS contact your GP or some other healthcare authority for advice. The complete vaccination package includes DTP, hepatitis A and malaria. There are no compulsory vaccinations, except for those who have been to regions with yellow fever or cholera within two weeks before arrival in Cuba.

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