All visitors are required to demonstrate health-insurance coverage upon arrival in Cuba. Since U.S. policies are not valid here, American visitors cannot meet this requirement and are obliged to buy a temporary policy for their trip's duration. Asistur sells such policies in the airport-arrivals area at a cost of CUC$3 per day. In practice, you may not be asked about health insurance when you arrive.
In Cuba the major health risk is traveler's diarrhea, caused by eating contaminated fruit or vegetables or drinking contaminated water. So watch what you eat. Stay away from ice, uncooked food, and unpasteurized milk and milk products, and drink only bottled water, or water that has been boiled for at least 20 minutes, even when you're brushing your teeth. Make sure that fruit is thoroughly washed and/or peeled before eating it. Although Cuban lobsters are beyond reproach, avoid eating clams and mussels.
Locals call the almacigo tree the "tourist tree" owing to its red, peeling bark (and its bulging trunk), a nod to Cuba's greatest health risk: the Caribbean sun. Use plenty of sunscreen with a high SPF.
Despite official claims to the contrary, the risk of contracting HIV in Cuba has grown in recent years, thanks to tourism-related prostitution. Other sexually transmitted diseases are more common. Extreme caution is advised in this area. Local condoms are of poor quality, so bring your own supply from home.
Since medical supplies in Cuba are short, pack a small first-aid kit/medicine bag with basic bandages and topical ointments as well as sunscreen; insect repellent; and your favorite brands of over-the-counter allergy, cold, headache, and stomach/diarrhea medicine. (No U.S. brands are available in Cuba.) Bring enough prescription medications to last the entire trip. You may want to pick up some cheap vitamins, aspirin, and other common remedies at the discount drug store to give away, since most Cubans have a hard time getting even the most basic medicines.
Shots and Medications
No vaccinations are required for travel to Cuba, but make sure you are up-to-date on all routine immunizations. There's some risk of contracting Hepatitis A and typhoid, so it's generally a good practice to be vaccinated against both. Another ongoing problem is the mosquito-carried dengue fever, though it is not preventable by any vaccination. Incidents of all three diseases are rare, and practically nonexistent in tourist zones. Malaria has been eradicated in Cuba. Visitors with allergies take note: the air quality in cities can be horrible, particularly in summer, when the thick, smoky exhaust from aging Eastern European trucks and buses mixes with choking dust and lingers in the humid air.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 800/232–4636; www.cdc.gov/travel.
World Health Organization. www.who.int.