Expedition Information

Cuba Kit list

The objective is to take the smallest amount of equipment needed to be comfortable and safe. You will need to carry your equipment and baggage on occasions and there are also maximum weight allowances which vary depending on the airline used (normally 20Kg in a single bag). Always aim to buy equipment that is compact, light weight, durable, quick drying, versatile and in good repair. You may find that you have suitable gear already, so don’t feel you have to buy everything new. Shop around and price everything before purchasing anything. Some items you may be able to borrow from friends or relatives, pick up second hand, or get deals off the internet.

Certain outlets will give you some excellent deals if you mention our name. In the UK our main contacts are: Nomad Travel and Outdoor (0207 833 4114), for the terrestrial projects whilst Watersports Warehouse provide good deals on any marine equipment needed. Please mention that you are joining an Operation Wallacea expedition when you contact them and you should be able to get a further discount on the published prices.

In Canada Mountain Equipment Co-operative has a range of relevant equipment whilst Scuba Store has a good range of marine equipment.

Try out your kit in realistic circumstances if at all possible before your expedition. All baggage, clothes and kit should be clearly labelled to avoid confusion. There are many volunteers, and some may have the same or similar items to you. Valuables are very occasionally at risk. Please make sure you have insurance, record all serial numbers and keep all receipts. Remember to carry all personal documents and cash safely in a concealed money belt.

Don’t forget to order your Opwall t-shirt for this years expedition!

Rucksack/Travel Bag. A basic rucksack or large travel bag is needed to include all clothing and kit that you wish to bring on the expedition. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive bag unless you wish to invest in one for further travels in the future. You will not need to carry your bag for long periods of time, just between the airport, taxi and hotel and for a short distance from the boat to the expedition site on the beach.

Day bag. Needed for your field work for carrying water, paper, pens, binoculars, cameras etc.

Water bottle. Hydration is essential at all times when on expedition as you will be working in very warm temperatures and sometimes in exposed sites. A combination of leak-proof plastic bottles (total capacity 2 litres) is important. There are many styles to choose from, it is not necessary to get anything fancy, just make sure you have a large plastic bottle which you can carry in your day sack.  NB: water bottles are not available in Cuba so if you would like to leave yours behind to donate to the local community then please let the Opwall staff member on-site know.

Torch. Torches may be needed at the hotel. Normal hand held torches are fine. Don’t forget spare batteries!

Small towel/sarong. Don’t bring a big thick towel as it is heavy and won’t dry quickly enough . Excellent travelpac towels (eg Lifeventure) are available, but can be pricey. Sarongs are ideal and can double up as sheets and skirts.

Waterproof watch with alarm. Required to be depth rated to 50 m if diving. It doesn’t have to be anything technical or expensive. Require an alarm to make sure you are up on time to join the various activities. A travel alarm clock will also do.

Sun glasses. Needed for manatee work, improve chances of seeing a manatee, and protect the eyes from the sun. No need to be very expensive, but polarized lenses are a must.

Notebooks/pencils. These are a necessity for all fieldwork.

Clothing-essentials. Dark colours don’t show the dirt, but they do retain more heat than light colours, so we recommend light colours, but not white. Also, a combination of natural and synthetic fibres are advisable – whereas nylon has the advantage of drying quickly it can also cause you to sweat more thus causing chaffing and heat rash. Cotton on the other hand is kind to your skin, but can take a while to dry. Both have their strengths and weaknesses – seek advice when purchasing.

Hat or bandana. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are two potential debilitators, especially in the first few days before you have fully acclimatised. The wearing of a hat or bandanna in conjunction with regular fluid intake can make all the difference

Teva type/reef sandals or flip-flops. These are a necessity when on the boats. The advantage of Tevas are that they stay on securely in water and have good grip for on the boat deck, but flip-flops are fine.

Waterproof. Rainfall is likely for short periods, so a plastic poncho or lightweight rainjacket is invaluable. Expensive heavyweight Gore-Tex raincoats are not recommended – they are hot and may get snagged and torn.

Waterproof plastic bags. A combination of sizes and styles are necessary to keep water out of your kit and clothes. A large gravel sack or heavy duty bin liner will act as a rucksack liner (bring spares), and Ziploc (freezer) bags are brilliant for keeping your camera, and other bits of kit dry (bring plenty).

Latin American/Spanish phrase book or dictionary. Useful if you want to practice your language skills while on-site.

Binoculars. Needed for manatee projects if you have them.


Insect repellent. It is essential to bring repellent that works for sandflies as well as mosquitoes as both are common at the hotel, especially in the evening and early morning. Mosi-Guard’ is an effective, environmentally friendly insect repellent that does not contain DEET, as is ‘Skin so soft’ by Avon and Incognito. DEET products are not recommended so we can minimise our impact on the environment. See: www.alternativeinsectrepellent.co.uk/. Avon Skin So Soft Dry Oil Body Spray can sometimes help to prevent sandfly bites and brewer’s yeast tablets taken regularly are also reputedly a good repellent. You will need to completely cover up when you are at the ranger station or working in the forest or on the beaches because of biting insects and it is advisable in the evenings and early mornings even in the hotel or on the boats. However, on those days that you are diving, you will NOT be able to wear any insect repellent with DEET as it is harmful to coral and other marine life.

Biodegradable soap/shampoo/washing liquid. To minimise impact on the environment we ask all volunteers to bring ‘green’ detergents. Please bring personal soap such as ‘lifestyles’ or ‘mountain suds’ – soap that can also be used as laundry detergent is recommended. Lush, Sanex and Sukin provide a good range of biodegradable shampoos and soaps.

Sunblock. An essential part of any tropical expedition kit. Factor 30 minimum, is recommended. Ideally, please look into reef-safe sun creams like those offered by Badger to help protect the marine life.

Talcum powder/Anti Fungal Powder. Due to the humid nature of the tropics, it is imperative to take extra special care of feet and crotch areas. Regular application of talcum powder can aid drying, and anti-fungal powder can help prevent and combat athletes foot/other fungal infections.

Dive Training Courses
All those learning to dive will need to bring a PADI Open Water manual, RDP and logbook with them. They’ll also need a form of PIC, which allows you to register your completion of the course at the end of it. You can find information on purchasing these from http://opwall.com/get-involved/making-a-payment/padi-pack-and-pic-purchase/

If you want to buy these items elsewhere, please remember that the PIC is rarely included with the training materials, but it is still a required item. You can buy them on their own from us, but they’re £26 (or equivalent) each.

You will not be able to complete the Open Water course if you arrive on site without these items.

If you are already a qualified diver, we will require proof of your dive qualifications on site. You will also need to bring with you your completed log books, and PADI forms. We do accept non-PADI qualifications, as long as it is equivalent to or more advanced than PADI Open Water.

PADI Forms

You must complete your PADI forms online via the Opwall portal at least 3 months prior to travel. If you need a form signed by a doctor in order to dive then you must bring this form with you to site.

Equipment for diving
All the equipment listed below is essential for diving projects. Some is available to hire on site, except for wetsuits and dive watches. If you decide to hire, budget around 15CUC/USD$15/GBP£12 per day for a full set of equipment. If you plan to continue diving in the future, it might be well worth investing in your own kit.

  • Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) – 5CUC per day
  • Regulator – 5CUC per day
  • Fins – 2CUC per day
  • Mask  – 2CUC per day
  • Snorkel – 1CUC per day

Wetsuit. The water temperature in Cuba tends to range between 28-30C. As a result a thick wetsuit is not advised. However, there is an abundance of fire coral in Punta Frances, particularly in the shallow areas where the confined water training is completed. As a result we would recommend a full-length 2-3 mm wetsuit or thinner 1 mm lycra suit. Shorty suits should be avoided as they do not provide protection for the lower legs. Anything thicker than a 3 mm wetsuit will be too warm for Cuba!

Rash vest. Because the water is very warm in Cuba you don’t need a thick wetsuit, but you should bring a rash vest with you, preferably a UV rash vest, if you opt to dive without a wetsuit.

Dive watch or computer. This is a requirement under PADI/BSAC regulations for qualified divers. However both, PADI and BSAC allow qualified divers to go off diving in buddy pairs on their own without a Divemaster/Dive Leader whereas Opwall regulations require that all divers are accompanied by a Divemaster who times their dives. Under these circumstances we don’t consider it necessary but if you have a waterproof watch or dive computer please take it.

Mask and Snorkel. Limited supply available for hire.

Fins and Booties. Fins come in two varieties, full foot fins (booties not necessary), and fins with straps that require neoprene booties. We recommend that you bring fins with straps and booties, as you will be wading in the water when short-spine sea urchins are prevalent. There is a supply of fins available for hire on site.

Medical Kit

Although every expedition will have its own medical supplies, and medical teams on site, you MUST carry your own personal medical kit. This way you will be as self sufficient as possible, and able to treat minor scrapes and injuries yourself.

The following are essential items:

  • Personal medication (see below)
  • Sun cream (SPF 30+)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Antihistamine tablets (Piriton/Piriteze) and antihistamine cream/hydrocortisone cream
  • Paracetamol/ibuprofen
  • Rehydration salts (Dioralyte/Electrolade)
  • Alcohol swabs/antiseptic wipes
  • Elastoplast – waterproof and fabric x 4, medium size (if allergic, use micropore). Blister plasters advised.
  • Tampons/sanitary wear. Travel can disrupt your cycle, so come prepared.

You may also wish to consider taking the following:

  • Sea sickness tablets or aquastraps/seabands
  • Canestan pessaries (treatment of vaginal thrush if you are prone to this)
  • Ear drops (dive projects only)
  • Hand sanitizer

If you need to take prescribed medicines whilst on expedition, please bring sufficient supplies to cover your stay. For example if you are asthmatic you MUST bring you own inhalers, or if you have a history or recognized risk of going into anaphylactic shock due to an allergy, you must supply your own Epipen.

Always waterproof and clearly label drugs (with generic, rather than trade names). Occasionally there are restrictions on travelling with certain medicines. If you think this may be relevant to you, please contact your Home Office Drugs Branch (in the UK: 0207 273 3806).