The Health Nuts Packing Guide for Central America, Mexico and Cuba

I have read a few packing lists lately – as you do! Some have had some great suggestions and some are frankly a little crazy… Like disposable paper underwear… really? For a year?

Rather than a comprehensive packing list, here is our guide for health nuts who wish to travel in Central America, Mexico and Cuba.

Note: This packing list will translate well to other hot tropical places too.

Hiking boots in central america

Super light hiking shoes/boots

We learned this the hard way… twice. There are lots of cool things to hike in Central America, like volcanoes, jungles and mountains. There are also caves to explore, rivers to canyon and many other adventury type activities where flip flops just wont cut it .

If you plan to do these things and your feet are larger than 42 for men and 39 for women, buy your shoes at home. Large sizes (by Central America standards) can be a nightmare to find and if you find something after days of hunting there will be no choices!

If you have cute little feet you will find shoes in many places – just don’t gloat.

 Boody Bamboo Underwear

Comfy undies!

At first I brought a mix of sexy, lacy knickers along with my comfy undies on this trip, but with all the random laundromats my pretty knickers didn’t last more than a couple of months.

What became my mainstay was Boody bamboo undies, bras and singlets for travelling. They are super soft, super comfortable and breathable. They also dry fast and are sturdy enough to last even when thrown in the general washer and dryer at a variety of laundromats all over the world.

 Natural Insect Repellent

Natural insect repellent

Call me crazy but I prefer insect repellent that isn’t going to poison me. We tested a bunch out, here are the results.

 Insect repellent plug in

Insect repellent plugins + extra packets

No one wants to wear insect repellent day and night unless you really have to. There are some great insect repellent plugins – just make sure you have enough inserts and an adapter plug for different countries. You can buy them readily in Central America but the chemicals they use are pretty harsh and smelly. So if you have the option – bring them from home.

 Natralus Natural Paw Paw Ointment

Natralus Natural Paw Paw Ointment

I can’t get enough of this stuff but I am forever losing tubes of it on buses and down the back of couches. I use it mainly for lip balm, but also to ease chafing, insect bites, cuts and sunburn – it is a general ease all and the one thing I am missing right now! It is so hard to buy decent lip balm in Latin America so when I have Paw Paw creme I really appreciate it.

Many top paw paw creme brands are made with petrochemicals – this is much better for you.



It doesn’t matter how much you like “real” books, the fifth time you pick up your pack, you will be thrilled you are not lugging them around. Get one with a back light and you will never look back.

I have recently started buying audio books and my Kindle keeps pace which means it doesn’t matter whether I listen or read, it always brings me to the right page… très cool!

 Tomato Paste Sunblock


You can buy sunblock in all countries in Central America and Mexico – but bring it with you to Cuba.

We saw a documentary before we left that followed a study that showed eating tomato paste helps as a natural sunblock – the women ate 3 tablespoons of tomato paste a day and found an increase in their skins natural protection. We tried it and it really does work – John would still use sunblock, but I almost stopped altogether unless I was out for a whole day.

We didn’t get burnt and we were out in the sun constantly for 8 months.

Natural unprocessed coconut oil also has some protective properties against the sun. Of course the effectiveness of this depends on just how pale you are to start with.

Considering all the carcinogenic chemicals in most commercial sunblocks it is worth shopping around for more healthy options and you won’t find these in Central America.

I firmly believe that anything over SPF 30 is a waste of money (and just more extreme chemicals). If you do the maths SPF 30 will give you 30 x protection. So if your burn time is 20 minutes you will theoretically get 600 minutes (10 hours) of protection. SPF 60 will theoretically give you 20 hours protection – who spends 20 hours straight in a burning sun? No-one.

SPF 100 is just ridiculous – and scary!

Regardless of your sun factor – you still need to apply every couple of hours to account for sweat, swimming and rubbing on towels and clothes.

If you are burning regularly with SPF 30 – you should probably spend more time indoors!

 Malaria tablets

Malaria tablets

Malaria tablets may prevent you from getting malaria, but the side effects can be rotten, including: a massive increase in sensitivity to the sun, which is not a good thing in sun drenched Central America. Especially when travelling long term.

Almost every traveller we have met has bought the tablets and then ditched them – this of course is your choice, but we suggest to save your money and slap on the repellent.

 Buying the pill in Central America

The pill and other prescription drugs

Most drugs are available over the counter in pharmacies including the contraceptive pill. Depending on the country it is anywhere from 20-70% cheaper than the same prescriptions in Australia and NZ. So if you are travelling long term, you will be able to find most of the typical prescriptions that you use at home.

 buying contact lenses in Central America

Contact lenses

In Central America and Mexico you will find it is easy to buy contact lenses without a prescription – although it is almost impossible to find daily contact lenses. Monthly and two monthlies are easy to find as well as solution in most pharmacies and optometrists.

But if you can’t live without your daily’s – bring enough for your whole trip from home.

I was very happy recently to find a much much cheaper alternative for daily contacts: Daysoft Contact Lenses which you can order from around the world. Great product and great customer service – I have been using them for 3 weeks so far and very happy at this point.

 Inca Inchi Oil

Coconut, avocado and/or Inca Inchi oil

If you have not discovered the wonderful world of natural oils, you are in for a treat! I usually carry at least one kind of organic, virgin cold pressed super oil that I use for consumption in cooking or as dressings, as a face and body moisturizer, massage oil, hair treatment, makeup remover and general cure all.

Coconut Oil is my favourite (here are 160 uses!) although it hardens at temperatures below 25C.

For this reason in cooler climates I am more likely to use Avocado Oil, or the latest awesome find on our travels: Inca Inchi (also known as Sasha Inchi) packed full of Omega 3, 6 and 9, Antioxidants and Vitamins A and E.

The only downside with these oils is that they often come in bulky glass jars, so I am on the hunt for a more travel friendly container to protect my magic oils!

 Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is another mainstay in my pack. I use it as a general disinfectant on cuts, to melt random sticky stuff that you find on your clothes or gear and to take the itch out of bites.

Cooking essentials

We are vegetarian foodies who appreciate quality, so we have a cooking kit of all the goodies that are seldom stocked in hostel and apartment kitchens. Our kit includes:

  • Vegetarian stock (most stock in Central America contains MSG)
  • Good balsamic or cider vinegar and olive oil
  • A pepper grinder and salt
  • Chia seeds
  • Spices
  • A sharp kitchen knife
  • Bottle opener 🙂

None of this is needed in Cuba as you are very unlikely to have a chance to cook anything.

 water wipes

Water wipes

Wet wipes are super useful when travelling and are found in most countries in Central America (except Cuba) but Water Wipes are not yet available, so bring a stash from home and be kind to your skin.

I seldom use them except for bus trips, hiking and overnight adventures, but when I need them I REALLY appreciate them!

 BPA Free Water Bottle

BPA free drinking bottles

One thing that sucks while travelling long term is the sheer number of plastic bottles we end up buying and throwing away. Recycling doesn’t exist in many places, so this is a big deal. Also loads of plastic is full BPA and PET and you never know how long something has sat in the sun absorbing the nasties!

Wherever possible we will buy big bottles and then refill our water bottles to take out for the day. In some countries you can buy water in 5 litre bags which you can then pour into bottles you have bought earlier. Likewise if you will be somewhere for a week or more you can often buy a drum of water. This is often cheaper – as you can return the drum for your initial deposit.

If your bottle needs a special kind of brush to clean it, bring one with you – they can be hard to find.

 Do you need a mosquito net

Do you need a mosquito net?

We have been carrying around a mosquito net for 18 months through Central America and South America and only needed it for one week when volunteering at a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica.

There, we would wake up with literally 150 mosquitoes outside the net waiting for us, so we were pretty happy we had it.

Unless you plan on visiting places with no electricity – a good powered plug in remove any need for a mosquito net and save you loads of room in your backpack too.


Well – there you have some of our healthy tips for packing for Central America, Mexico and Cuba.  I would love to know what travel essentials are on your list!

Want more on packing and travel?

Serena Star Leonard

3 thoughts on “The Health Nuts Packing Guide for Central America, Mexico and Cuba”

  1. When you find a travel friendly way to carry your oils, please share 🙂 I too carry coconut oil with me on my trip and only the other day discovered a spillage in my bag at the bus station – extremely messy! Thanks for the tip on insect repellant plug ins, had not thought about them, awesome idea! Definitely going to use them through Central America now 🙂 Cheers, Tara.

    • OH NO! That is my worst nightmare! Not only do you make a mess but you lose your precious oil too! I am determined to find a suitable container, thinking silicone tubes with screw tops! But I will keep you posted 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.


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