Cuba, gifts for the locals
  • I am traveling to Cuba for the first time in a couple of weeks and heard that it can be appreciated to brings gifts for the local. What kinds of things would be best?
  • I have never gone to Cuba but I have friends who go often. I heard that they really appreciate any type of personal hygiene products such as soap, toothpaste, small things such as these.
  • Is it politically correct to take things like children`s clothes as gifts? I do not want to embarrass anyone by doing the wrong thing. Pam March 2009
  • If i were a local of Cuba i would be totally embarrassed if some tourist started giving me toiletries, clothes etc. I read one report of a tourist saving her hotel toiletries and then giving them to the maid at the end of the week - not only humiliating for the maid, but the maid could end up getting into trouble as the hotel management might think she stole them. They're not beggers, they're very proud and friendly people and also proud of their heritage. They're not reliant on tourists who think they're superior to them and feel sorry for them so they give them silly gifts. They do appreciate being tipped. In Hotels and restaurants it doesn't matter whether you tip staff or not though, you still get the same service (excellent). We did tip most staff as we were pleased with the service they provided.
  • Well since I was the one who started this conversation and have since traveled to Cuba, it would be prudent to share my learnings with others who may be visiting this wonderful island. Gifts are appreciated by the locals. I was approached by the locals daily as I strolled along the beached in Santa Lucia. They asked for the following items repeatedly: toothbrushes, toothpaste, pens, coloured pencils, sandals and of course money. In the end they are indeed a proud people but sometimes fund themselves with little to offer their children. I found that generally speaking they are looking for personal hygiene products and school supplies.
  • Flyball - thanks for checking back in. The info on gifts is really useful and hopefully will help inform others to also bring presents and share them!
  • I am a native of Cuba. The people would be thankful to recieve toileries. Please give any left over soaps,toilet paper,toothpaste,brushes,deodorant,and, left over pens and paper pads,for school. They have a great need for all these things. If yoiu are concerned about the maids getting in trouble, talk to the manager , chances are she is going to share the items with him(her) also.
  • I recommend to buy the gifts in Cuba and preferably in the smaller local shops.
  • On my recent trip to Cuba, we brought several colouring books, crayons, colored markers; we also brought kids sunglasses, candy shampoo, soap, hair accessories for both adults and children. Notebooks, colored paper. We did up a medium sized freezer bag up for each day and left one along with 1 or 2 pesos every day. We didn't need this to obtain good service, but it was really appreciated.

    We also tipped the bar staff - it doesn't take a lot and is really appreciated. They remember your drink after awhile and it's almost ready before you get to the bar! We found all staff of the hotel were very pleasant and accommodating.
  • I am soon travelling to Cuba for the first time and appreciate your comments. I heard that the locals do not like American money as tips. Is this true? If so what currency do they prefer.
  • we will be going to Cuba and wondered if small tools would be appropriate for gifts-ie a socket set, wrenches,etc.
  • Cubans are not embarrassed by gifts - there are shortages in Cuba and things like shampoo, conditioner, moisturisers, cleansing creams, panadol, aspirin, toothpaste and toothbrushes (good ones - there are cheap and nasty ones available in Cuba) are really, really welcome. Socket sets and wrenches would be handy for some ............. better still, anything for repairs to bicycles. Clothes aren't really the thing - personal hygiene products of a reasonable quality are always welcome. Don't save up your toiletries from the hotel that you stay in in Cuba ............ bring some!

    Personal insect repellant and sunscreen is something that is appreciated.

    There are shortages of everything above.

    Happy travelling in Cuba!
  • The Cubans will lose 8% on USD - better to exchange your usd to cuc's and give cu
  • Thanks Monserrate, good tips!
  • I HAVE BEEN TO CUBA SEVERAL TIMES AND IT HAS BECOME MY FAVORITE DESTINATION MAINLY BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE AND THE FACT THAT IT IS NOT AT ALL COMMERCIALIZED. I HAVE ALWAYS TAKEN GIFTS FOR THE SCHOOL KIDS IN HAVANA AND HAVE ENJOYED SEEING THE JOY ON THIEIR FACES WHEN I HAND THEM THE GIFTS. I ALWAYS LEAVE A TIP AND GIFTS FOR MY MAIDS EVERY DAY AND IT IS VERY MUCH APPRECIATED AS CERTAIN ITEMS ARE EXPENSIVE AND CAN BE DIFFICULT FOR THEM TO PURCHASE. I WILL ALSO TAKE T SHIRTS AND CAPS TO GIVE OUT TO THE GARDENERS AS THEY DO SUCH A GREAT JOB OF KEEPING THE GARDENS SO BEAUTIFUL IN ALL THAT HEAT. AS FOR BAR STAFF AND WAIT STAFF, I ALWAYS TIP JUST AS I WOULD DO AT HOME.
    THE FIRST TIME I WENT TO CUBA A WAITER OF THE RESORT ASKED MY HUSBAND IF HE HAD ANY SHAVING GEAR ETC. ON OUR LAST DAY THERE. WE LOADED ABSOLUTLY EVERY THING WE COULD INTO A BAG TO GIVE TO HIM AND HIS WIFE. NOW I AM SURE THAT HE APPRECIATED THAT VERY MUCH AND FROM THAT TRIP ON I HAVE ALWAYS LOADED UP WITH GIFTS TO TAKE WITH ME. I THINK YOU CAN GIVE OUT GIFTS TO CUBANS IN A WAY OF MAKING THEM FEEL LIKE YOU ARE JUST SHARING WITH THEM THE SAME WAY THEY SHARE THERE WONDERFUL SMILES AND APPRECIATION WITH US. SO PLEASE TAKE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN WHEN YOU GO.
    HAPPY TRAVELS
    P.S IF YOU GO DURING EASTER IT IS ALWAYS FUN TO GIVE OUT EASTER EGGS AND BUNNIES.
  • Hi, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone here!!
    A friend of mine said it's a good idea to take some bits to Cuba but I wasn't sure What!
    I do hope that it isn't offensive to them-I actually think it's a lovely touch from anyone on holiday!
    -Especially as there are plenty of places in England to buy toiletries, etc and in Cuba they probably aren't so common.
    I've never been before-we're actually going in a few weeks' time but it sounds wonderful, and we are really looking forward to it!
    I've bought loads of packs of pens, colouring books, pencils, stencil and sticker sets, sweets, all sorts! My husband thinks I've gone mad!
    But I wouldn't have known what to get if it wasn't for everyone here!
    Thanks again!
  • I have been to Cuba be for, going back again soon it is a very nice place to have a relaxing two weeks. White sands and palm trees.

    The people are very friendly but it is the same the world over, we are only there for a holiday. Yes, it nice to give gifts to other people. Most of the local people you will meet get items given to them all the time.it's the ones when your out and about on your trips that need the gifts.
  • I'm going to cuba soon and wanted to take some things also but have been wondering as to how to give them out. I don't want to go up to random people on the street and give them kids' toys for example. Any advice?
  • Check out the forums on trip advisor. Go to the Varadero forum & type gifts ionto the search box. You'll get many threads, but the concensous (sp?) seems to be 1)tip for good service
    2) gifts for people you know, don't hand out loot to strangers,
    it teaches Cubans to be beggars & it becomes expected.
    3) Appropriate venue for charitable gifts fairly distributed-
    give to local charities , such as churches schools etc
  • Thank you Luli and Monserrate. I am going to Cuba and heard about bring some things to give to the maids . I wasn't sure as I didn't want to hurt anyones feelings or be insulting I also heard taking childrens tylenol along with school supplies
  • My husband and I have been to Varadero Cuba 13 times now. Obviously it is our # 1 vacation place now. We have come to find out that some items they can't get there are: advil (ibuprofen) buffered aspirin, children's tylenol, $1 store eye glasses, allergy caplets/pills, sunscreen and yes bug spray. I read all the threads above and I too leave items for the maids, but not on a daily basis. The maids at hotels do very very well.I usually leave them $10 for the week and then other items I leave on my bed pillow, that way they know they are theirs. If you have an MP3 player that you are no longer using or want to upgrade, leave your old one there. While most Cubans don't have computers, they know someone that does to upload songs for them. They have their ways. Many travellers having been to Cuba once always return for second, third visit. Enjoy your holiday
  • We are returning to Cuba next month, had a wonderful experience last time! On various excursions we were often politely approached by both adults and children asking if we had any spare toiletries or writing materials so we will definitely be taking some this time as we could only offer a few pens and some paper. In hotels we left tips as we would in this country - except if you tip in a foreign currency make sure it's notes, not coins! - and all staff were extremely pleased to receive them. I think the post by "i loved cuba" is a bit misplaced.
  • Make sure you take sufficient pieces to leave in each hotel you stay at - suggest soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razors (even if only Bic), boiled sweets (individually wrapped), biros, etc. Consider the whole family! These things don't have to be expensive at home but will really be appreciated. People on the receiving end realise you have gone out of your way to learn about their situation before visiting. Cotton clothing is also in short supply - last time we visited, a deaf mute who had befriended and protected us asked for a man's shirt - we have since regretted not thinking to give one of our own - after all, we could easily have replaced a shirt. We had an umbrella with us (that we never used) and a craft stall holder was very pleased to accept it as his wife could use it as a parasol for their six month old baby. Be aware, there is rationing in Cuba due to shortages (even sugar is rationed) and children don't get many toys - Cubans don't just improvise with their cars! If giving sweets, coins or anything else out in the street, do not attract attention by being obvious - you'll get mobbed - just keep stuff loose in a (deep) pocket and give out singly and quietly. We always carried a bar of soap in one pocket and sweets in another just in case we got talking to someone and they were helpful - these things can be given as a thank you without anyone feeling obliged or insulted. If you see a group of children playing along a boulevard, count them first before giving sweets or sticks of chewing gum out - that way, no-one will be disappointed. In fact, we all take so much for granted in England that you'll probably wish you'd taken all sorts of other things you haven't thought of. Finally, a word of warning - don't be fooled by beggars (especially in Havana) - they are "professionals" at making you feel sorry for them and, although not well off, the disabled are looked after by the state. Incidentally, try checking out Cuba Solidarity Campaign online.
  • I just want to add that these gifts are appreciated so much by the cuban people because they are hard to come by, not neccesarily because they can't affort it. American products are not imported into Cuba...the selection there is totally different. The toothpaste they have doesn't taste the same as ours, and the selection of goods there is very limited. When you walk into a store there, the shelves are bare. It is not insulting to them to give these types of gifts, and it is not a good idea to buy the gifts while in Cuba, because you will have a very hard time finding many items.
  • Varadero isn't the real Cuba! If you want to sit on a beach all day, you may as well go to Spain - it's nearer (if you live in Europe) and cheaper! If you go, mix with the locals, go Casa particuliare (not sure if that's the right spelling) Get your first address off the Internet, and the person you stay with will arrange the next stop - no matter where you choose to go. And there will be someone waiting for you at the other end! We did Cuba by bus - basic but clean, comfy and air conditioned - and not expensive. If you take pens, by the way, take them into a school and give them directly to the kids - teachers have been known to hand out a couple, keep some for themselves, and sell the rest! You can't blame them, it's a way of making a few more pence! If you must go to Varaderos, don't leave Cuban soaps for the hotel staff etc - some hotels search their staff and they have to be able to prove that they were legitimately obtained, not stolen from hotel supplies,far better to take English stuff and leave that. Also, the Brits are known for their meanness in tipping - don't forget that the waiter who serves you may very well be a qualified teacher or doctor, it's just that Cuba being a communist country, most people earn the same whatever their job, and tipping is the only way they have to make a bit extra. Take sweeties for the kids, but only take out a little each day - if you can't show empty hands/bags, the kids WILL pester. If you give a lot at once, they'll eat some, sell the rest! We loved the whole Cuban experience, we'll be back to do the other half of the island as soon as we've saved up enough!
  • Hi! I have been to Cuba several times and scheduled to visit again in early March this year during school break in Montreal, Canada. It is our annual pilgrimage to the south. As mentionned by others before, Cubans are proud individuals, proud of their system but painfully realize that a large number of amenities that we take for granted in our day to day life are just not available to them or in short supply. For example, there was a big shortage of toilet paper last fall. Tootbrushes,paste, pen, pencils, paper pads, batteries, sun caps, T-shirts, childreen clothings, dolls, shoes, plastic containers for lunches or storage in refrigerator are great items. Jeans, bicycle parts, travel/school bags are also much appreciated. Essentially, practicl items that makes our life easier. You will see in their eyes if it suits/pleases them or not. By the way, distribute your gifts evenly to those Cubans working on your resort, not only to the barman/barmaid. Think about the maids, the gardenner, the pool attendant, waitress, etc.

    Enjoy your trip and let the Cuban know how you are enjoying you stay on their island.

    Maxymus
  • Hi All, I just want to thank all of you for your posts they are are great help to the new visitor to Cuba (heading to Cayo Coco mid-April) and explaining why the items recommended are so highly sought after. I ditto the sentiment about "I Love Cuba"'s comment as being miss placed, perhaps although they feel they Love Cuba they aren't understanding the shortages that Cuba's are living with. The comments about the shortage of toilet paper a while back also answers the cause of other posts I have read else where and those up set travelers that took issue with having to as they put it "beg" for a role. We take allot for granted with the everyday conveniences we enjoy at home so we need to bare that in mind when we find ourselves not getting exactly what we want!

    One question I do have thought and would appreciate an answer to is regarding "nice to take with you's" for your comfort, as I know having traveled to the Dominican a couple of times that food/beverage wise they don't have the same things as we come to expect. Like Tetley Tea or Jam for your toast that kind of thing. So any suggestions there would be appreciated. As well what is the coffee like there and Milk/Cream?

    Thanks again for all of your wonderful suggestions, I am getting excitted about going already!
    Have a great day!
  • I don't drink coffee, but my husband drinks it all the time, and cuban coffee is good, the milk is a little creamier than what we have. No splenda, just real sugar, as that is one of their biggest business.
  • Thanks Cheezwhiz! Much appreciated as we too enjoy our morning coffee!!
  • Last time I was in Cuba I lived with a family in Matanzas. They were thrilled to receive shampoo, soap, hand cream, tooth paste. They have these items there but they cost about what they cost in Canada and are of very low quality. Of course these items are available in Varadero because Varadero is tourist central and Fidel doesn't want tourists to know what life is really like in Cuba. In non-tourist Matanzas my friends tell me some months there is no toilet paper and some food is still rationed. Every morning the papa of the house went to the bodega to get his government issued 3 pieces of bread and have his ration book initialed. Life is difficult, there are not too proud to accept simple necessities.
  • Varadero is not the real Cuba but many tourists would not want to go there if they had to make do with the lack of commodities which we take for granted in developed economies. Cuba needs tourism and the tourist experience in many 'all exclusive resorts' worldwide is generally very different from what life is like for the local people - I've heard of barbed wire and guards surrounding purpose built resorts in other countries. The difference in Cuba is that the shortage of pharmaceuticals, toiletries and stationery etc. is due to illegal USA blockade. I echo the comment about logging onto the Cuba Solidarity Campaign website, and all the positive comments about the warmth, hospitality and pride of the Cuban people. Hasta la victoria siempre!
  • My husband and I have been to Cuba at least 30 times (stopped counting) We have friends in Cuba and have stayed in their home, visited their "stores" etc. Monetary tips are great, gifts are better. They can't get this stuff for any price. Take anything you can spare. Dollar store items such as bicycle repair kits, shoe shine kits, shoe laces, small tools, anitbiotic creams, diaper rash cream, baby medicine, tylenol, ladies sanitary products, scissors, safety pins,toiletries...(you get the idea) are invaluable. It sounds ridiculous, but they literally cannot buy this stuff (American embargo). Take your used (or new) clothing (summer), and shoes. The need for everything is desparate. Be careful when entering Cuba, as the officials will try to tax tourists for bringing gifts so don't be too obvious. If travelling with kids, leave behind that old stroller you don't need anymore, they're like gold. There is no insult taken if the gifts are given with dignity, and not given as pity to beggars. This is a great site for info, and I was glad to come across it.
  • Does anybody know an efficient way to send packages to Cuba. Letters get opened and DHL costs more than the airfare to fly there. I wish to send my friends household items that they lack cuz they lack everything. Please let me know........blondepeter@yahoo.com
  • Thank you everyone for all the wonderful comments - We are travelling there at Christmas and I was trying to figure out what to take and now I have some ideas! All those small tubes of toothpaste from the Dentist will be going to a new home!! I was thinking of taking some chocolate as Christmas presents - is this a good idea? How do make sure that everyone receives these gifts?
    Thank you for your comments!!
  • Hi Ladyburgh
    Take as much chocolate as possible because Cuba does not have it really. Toothpaste is fine but consider anything that is beyond the very basics such as light material underwear for the ladies/girls and briefs for the guys as well. Memory sticks are good but don't bother with games or software. Shoes/sandals are really good so are sunglasses. Medicines, powdered baby milk, nappies, toilet paper, anything that we take for granted is most useful. I want to take a stethescope and pump up blood pressure thing but my wife says they are too heavy and the weight is better used for clothes. Baseball bats, balls and gloves for a predetermined school, they love baseball. The list is endless, I am English and my wife is Cuban, I was married in Cuba and I love the place. We take as much as possible and I hope you do too because they really need assistance, the biggest problem is to give to the right people. A catholic priest is a good contact, also if you know a local person who is genuine, and they do exsist, just play it cool and keep back your presents until you find a truly worthy recipient. It is too easy to give everything to someone who works in the tourist trade when really you should be looking for someone that does not have tourist connections. Hope this helps you to give skillfully.
  • Thank you Guest for your wonderful help - I will definitely take what I can but I do worry about giving it to the right people. Should we not give to the people who work at the hotels? Or is it better to give them cash? This is my family's first visit to Cuba and we are very excited and want to enjoy our visit. Thank you again for the helpful comments!
  • There are some great posts here and a few that contain outdated information or erroneous assumptions. I just launched a website - it's still in the early stages, but I'm hoping it will help to answer this very question - which gets asked frequently on travel forums, and often receives very inaccurate information. Hope my site helps to correct some misconceptions. www.giftsforcubans.com
  • There is an astounding amount of naivete and misinformation on this thread.

    The Cubans you meet on the resorts are among the richest Cubans on the island and they don't need to be buried under a constant avalanche of shampoo and toothpaste. The maids take home bags and bags of stuff constantly, it simply feeds the black market tiendas that are all over Varadero and other town close to resorts.

    Giving out treats/candy/etc. to kids on the street?! Are you crazy?! That's the most irresponsible action imaginable. If you saw strangers giving your kids candy without permission you'd likely call the police! Cuba is no different so please act with the same respect as you would at home.

    1.) Tip generously in CUC for good service. 2.) Gift to Cubans with whom you've developed a personal relationship. 3.) Direct your much needed generosity through the proper charitable organizations that will ensure your donations reach the people in most need.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Dear Nancy,

    Just had a quick look through your website. Very disappointed to see that you don't mention any charitable organizations where donates can be properly distributed. That's your choice of course - different strokes for different folks - but continuing to avalanche resort workers with more stuff for the black market is (in my opinion) counter productive and you're not helping the social fabric of a foreign country by perpetuating these actions.

    What you must change is to edit your support of illegally importing meat, fruit, seeds, etc. These kinds of products aren't only illegal to bring into Cuba, they're illegal to import into almost ALL countries.

    The import regulations in Cuba are very clear. Start your research by having a look at these links:

    1.) http://www.sld.cu/sitios/med-veterinaria/temas.php?idv=20627
    2.) http://www.aduana.co.cu/

    All the best to you.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hoala

    This is our 7th year going to Cuba and we love the people and the country. It doesn't matter what you give them, they appreciate it all . But don't forget the ones that take care of the grounds.

    Gracias

    A & J
  • "... It doesn't matter what you give them, they appreciate it all..."

    ================================

    Doesn't matter what you give them?! LOL

    If you could hear what the resort workers say behind your back you'd have a heart attack...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Cheers Terry.....what do they say?
  • To sum it up in one word for the mountains of cheap dollar store crap and other junk that naive or just plain dumb tourists think the "poor" resort workers appreciate: SCORN.

    Complete and utter scorn for yet another load of stuff to sell on the black market.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • ok so much mixed information it's hard to know what is acurate...we are heading to Cuba in Dec 2011 fo rthe first time and I just bought a whole bunch of school supplies...are they are are they not needed????? There are plenty of needy families I can donate to locally if there is not truly a need in Cuba specifically by the maids and grounds keepers and tour guides as we are going to be in Caya coco not the cities and will mostly be doing water/snorkeling excursions
  • realtorlady44,

    Coya Coco is small island tourist enclave off the north coast of Cuba. There is no Cuban town or village on the island, in fact until recently "normal" Cubans weren't even allowed to step foot on Cayo Coyo - it was tourist apartheid at its worst.

    So unless you take a long excursion to the mainland you'll never meet a "normal" Cuban on your vacation, the only locals you'll meet are resort workers. They will gladly accept your donation and if you find the right person maybe they'll even properly direct it to a school... chances are though that it'll simply be sold on the black market.

    Your call.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Dear Terry,

    a few post ago you write on trustworthy charitable organizations that can distribute goods.

    Can you please give names/ locations? I will be travelling in 2 weeks and plan to bring some childrensclothes.

    would be nice to have a good adress to bring them to.

    Thanks, Cindy
  • Cindy, where will you be in Cuba?

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi Terry,

    we will go from Havana to Vinales and then off to Santiago with some stops ( have not planned them yet..). We will be travelling by Viazul, so we will go where it will take us.

    Kind regards, Cindy
  • Mi Casita, Presencia de Lenin, Filial Artemisa, Lu-Sin, Hogar para Ni
  • Dear Terry,

    Thanks!! I have googled the adresses already. Will pack some small toys as well ( travelling with backpack so limited space...). I am already looking forward to see some happy faces!!

    Kind regadrs, Cindy
  • Don't get too excited about seeing happy faces, Cindy... unless you make arrangements in advance many places won't allow you into the school proper, they don't want outsiders disrupting classes. (There are of course exceptions, especially in places far from the tourist centres.)

    Schools in particular can be very strict with this. Some schools near tourist centres have put up fences to keep foreigners off the playgrounds (some idiots actually try to give candy/gifts directly to the kids) and they have banned ALL foreigners from entering the schools under any circumstances.

    You can see why I've been quite hard on some of the posters above... irresponsible gift giving is out-of-control in Cuba...

    Cheers,
    Terry

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