Cuba, gifts for the locals
  • Hi Terry,

    I have met a Cuban family on our visit last year. She has undergone surgery. They have written to ask me to send Vitamin E and Tylenol. Unfortunately, we do not plan to go to Cuba this year. Is there any way someone might be going to Holguin - Guardalavaca?

    Any assistance would be greatly appreciated...thanks.

  • I've struggled with the resort/gift giving thing. I understand Cuba is socialist, and therefore tipping throws off the balance of income between resort workers and the rest of the country -and even within the resort itself between waitstaff & maids vs. all other workers. But yet, every guide book or forum I've read says it's customary to tip waitstaff and maids, as you would in North America, so I still feel obligated. I found this article and intend to follow up on it with locals on my next trip.

    Last time I was at a Casa Particulares, the man of the house used his headlamp a lot, but needed batteries. So I'm taking down a couple of battery chargers, rechargable batteries, and headlamps to people I've made friends with.

    I understand what Cheers Terry is saying, esp. in regards to cheap dollar store items -but then do you not tip service workers, as you assume they are wealthy compared to others? That doesn't seem right either.
  • Jenny, in general here's the 3 rules I follow... there's always exceptions, of course...

    1.) Tip generously in CUC for good service.

    2.) Gift only to people with whom you've developed a personal relationship.

    3.) Direct your much needed anonymous generosity through the proper charitable channels.

    In other words don't run around like an insane Santa Clause giving gifts to strangers, especially children. That's incredibly thoughtless and shows no common sense or respect for a foreign culture. Any decent Cuban who sees this sort of behaviour from idiotic foreigners is appalled.

  • No, I wouldn't expect to give random people gifts. That seems awkward and inappropriate. I agree that it's important to sensitive to the existing culture.

    Idiotic foreigners? That's harsh. I think a lot of people are well intentioned, but misinformed, or don't realize the impact of their actions.

    I've read a few of your posts Terry. It's great that you take the time to educate people. It seems that you could have a lot to offer in the way of information. But I think if you dropped the cynicism and sarcasm, it would be much more effective.
  • In my humble opinion it's not being harsh at all, Jenny.

    Idiotic, out-of-control gift giving has already ripped apart one segment of Cuba's society. Irresponsible, thoughtless actions by foreigners with Santa Clause complex have completely upset Cuba's social fabric amongst locals who work within the tourist industry and it has been perfectly demonstrated by this thread - I've received two private messages from morons desperately trying to justify their, "throw candy from the bus" to Cuban children.

    That's absolutely despicable behaviour and in my Havana neighbourhood of Park Central the local CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution) has drafted a proposal asking the police to ticket and fine foreigners who continue to gift in an irresponsible manner. Yes, it's THAT BAD.

    Your link to tipping was written by my friend CubaJack. It's a very good outline how to tip properly in an all-inclusive resort environment. Here's another link for you... I'd be very curious as to your opinion:

    (Go into Article History and read version #27. It's a much better read from the original author before the Trip Advisor Moderators butchered the post into political correct oblivion.)

    All the best to you.

  • Seems like tipping for good service in CUCs is the answer! The End! :)
  • For a first time visitor with no experience and no friends/acquaintances/connections then yes, that's a safe, common sense solution to a complicated situation.

    Have fun.

  • You Cuban, Terry?
  • Hi Terry -

    I'm heading to Varadero on Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011 and (I admit) loaded up at the dollar store today - school supplies, glasses, kids toys and art supplies, mostly.

    I read about an orphanage in Matanzas, a short drive outside of Varadero. Is this the kind of place I should take my stuff? I'm travelling with my seven year old daughter and I'd like her to see that other children live differently than we do here (in Canada). Its also Christmas so it would be nice to share some things with kids. The all inclusive package was in our budget this year but I'm usually a more "live as they do" traveller.

    If there are better places or other ways, I'd appreciate hearing them. We'll also do a daytrip into Havana, I'm sure.


    Janice in Saskatoon, Canada
  • 1.) Don: Nope, I'm not Cuban. I'm a yuma from Canada but I spend a fair amount of time living/working in Cuba.

    2.) Janice: Since you're in Varadero the best/easiest place for donations is the St. Elvira’s Church on 1st Avenue. Any taxi driver will know it. The priests name is Fr. Jesús Marcoleta. The best time to drop off donations is 9:00am - 12:00pm weekdays.

    I would only go to the orphanage if you make prior arrangements with the Director. They are quite sensitive to, "being on display" for foreigners so it's poor manners to simply show up. Your concierge or someone as your resort should be able to arrange this. (The school in Varadero had to put up a fence if you can believe it just to keep stupid foreigners off the property, handing out stuff to kids. Unbelievable!)

    On another note, here`s a few thoughts regarding a trip from Varadero into Havana:

    Have fun.

  • Hi Terry, great info! My family & I are headed to Gran Club Santa Lucia next week, and my kids have cleaned out their closets of all the clothes that they no longer wear/fit that are still in great shape,in hopes to pass them on to others that may need them. Any ideas where we can donate them locally, off the resort, where they are most needed? We faithfully donate&shop at our local Salvation Army thrift stores, but thought that if we could do a little good somewhere else this time, we would...
    Is this a good idea, or should we just swing by the Thrift shop on the way to the airport and drop it off?
  • Hi there! I am going back to Holguin is April. I am going into Banes this time, to visit some friends. If we take a taxi from the hotel to Banes, will the taxi driver wait for us while we spend the afternoon there? Or will we have to call another taxi? Also, if our friends do not own a car, are they allowed to travel in the taxi with us?
  • Also, I am planning on taking some old cell phones of mine. With the charger i provide, will that work in their plugs? And/or do they have access to the voltage converters?
  • Terryy, you are quite amazing and very knowledgable, thank you for all your posts! You are amazing!
  • Hey Terry...this comment is directed to you. As I started reading the comments from the beginning I started to think, wow the resort staff must have a HUGE supply of toothpaste and pens!!LOL Common sense would tell you that they obviously must sell these items for extra bucks. Also, if there is a shortage of toothpaste and toothbrushes, why would we want to give the kids chocolate and candy?!!! The easiest thing would be to give money. However, if certain items are not easily purchased, then specific items would be nice to receive. But the last thing I would want to feel like is some dumnb a** tourist just handing out cheap dollar store crap, because we read on the internet that we should!
    Your advice seemed to make the most sense to me. I don't mean to critisize anyone that has gone out and purchased items to give staff. It is truly awesome that people want to give...we need more of that. However the confusion seems to be "what" and "how" the most effective way to give, would be. Would you way or another these items will reach some of the locals. Therefore, for those that have purchased gifts, go ahead and give to the staff (even though they are not truly the most needy). I think the "giving" aspect is what really matters. If it makes ya feel good, do it!!

    Personally...I will tip generously. And won't forget about the often "forgotten" staff memebers. I will pack 3 or 4 good quality care pkgs...alot of thought put into the items, not typical. We tend to venture out from the resort whenever we travel, stopping and having chats with locals. I am sure we will find someone worthy/needy on our daily walks that we wish to give these pkgs to

    Terry you have helped me to determine how I would like to approach "what to give, and how to". No real rules...whatever makes sense to the person

    Thank you for your opinions and knowledge
    Much appreciated
  • Going to Cuba for the first time and been told by everyone that gifts are a must. Thanks to the discussion from Terry, I have sorted it out a bit. I, too, had purchased gifts of paper, pencils, etc. Now what to do! I will do as we did in Africa, tip all those that are involved in serving us in hotels, restaurants and on tours. I will just leave the small stuff at a charity near our resort if that is possible. I never really felt comfortable with this gift idea. When we visited Africa, there were very poor people but they are also very proud people and I feel that it is the same pride in Cuba. Sure they don't have the same "stuff" like most North Americans but do they really need all the junk that is not recyclable. They probably don't have the same garbage problem that we do!
  • Hi terry. Going to Guardalavaca in May. Was going to take some crayons for the wee children, but now I'm not so sure where to take them or even if to take them. Obviously we will be tipping for good service in CUC but I would not like to offend. Should I leave the crayons at home for my grand kiddies?
  • Hi all, especially CheersTerry, who I hope is still reading these posts. It's a very interesting thread and it's wonderful to read that people do want to be generous and culturally sensitive at the same time.

    I will be visiting Cuba in a week and I plan to stay almost entirely in Habana. I live in the Caribbean, work at a small NGO, don't earn a lot, and I speak Spanish fluently. I would like to have as authentic and non-touristy experience as possible. I understand the challenges as a foreigner but I was hoping for some tips as how best to navigate Habana.

    I've got the Casa particulare info, the lowdown on the CUC and CUP (I hope I can use CUP some of the time), and some idea how best to get around, which areas in the city, etc.

    I would really like to know what gifts I could bring that would be appreciated, whether they be razors, deodorant, chocolate, gum, soaps, stationary. My gift budget is not large, but I would like to be able to bring things that will be appreciated by people I come into contact with. I certainly don't plan on throwing things around in an irresponsible manner, but I would like to be able to show my goodwill in a way that's appreciated. If gifts are the thing, that's fine. If it's inviting someone to a baseball game, also great. Any comments from those in the know are most appreciated.
  • We are returning for a second visit and will be spending most of our time in an all inclusive. Last time we brought a few things and after talking with the guest relations lady about what to do with a big bottle of Tylenol she said to leave it with her and she would get it to the on-site-clinic. Of course we have no way of knowing where it ended up. I have a sealed bottle of Tylenol One which contains a little codeine that I would like to take. Am I putting myself at risk because codeine is a narcotic? Thanks for your advice.
  • We are going to Holguin for a second time next and plan on taking some of the following items as gifts - baseball hats, toiletries, jewelry, hair clips, nail polish, assorted makeup, socks, ty beanie babies, hot wheel cars,... Also, medicine is really appreciated and I am also taking some small jars of peanut butter as the lady who ran the resort daycare had heard of it but never tried it so thought this was a great thing to bring also.
  • Hi Terry,

    It seems you have had the most knowledgeable input in regards to this topic. My husband and I are leaving in 5 days to Cuba - Santa an all-inclusive resort. I, too, have purchased a few small toiletry items - from feedback I received from friends who have previously visited. We don't know how to go about tipping with these gifts/ or if just simply tipping with Canadian money is sufficient.
    I would love to bring these items - but how to go about ensuring they are given to someone who really needs them>? Some advice please....
  • This is all so fascinating to me. I was born in the Soviet Union- and while I was fairly young when it broke up and we moved to the US (9), I've always heard stories about what items were considered "hot commodities". A lot of this is so incredibly similar. We had almost no tourism though and the few tourists that came to Russia were closely watched and had very little local interaction, so in that sense Cuba is very different.

    The greatest items were:
    Cosmetics, jeans, glasses, magazines (my mom’s friend bought a US Spigel catalogue for a lot of money just to look at the fashion trends abroad). Anything that was cool- say shampoo in a very non standard bottle (the shampoo would be used up but the bottle would be kept for years).

    When my mom was little, a foreigner off of a tour bus came over her and gave her gum. She got so scared, ran to her mother and asked if it was poisoned.

    So stuff like that. While we had almost everything, things that were foreign made and out of the ordinary were the greatest- a lot of things could still be purchased but were VERY hard to come by if they were made outside the USSR- but no one went withouttoilet paper for example as Westerns tend to believe. No one ever needed anything nor would solicit anyone for handouts. But of course if you could get your hands on something then you’d really appreciate it.

    Anyway- we're going to Cuba in about 2 months so I'm doing some reasearch. A lot of posts here were very helpful, thank you.
  • Hi there! We are travelling to Cuba in 3 weeks! Cant´t wait!

    I´ve been giving a lot of thougts about "should we gift, what, how, to whom?". Great advice here, thanks a lot!

    I also found good advice on this web site .

    There is the addresses of all sorts of charity places : Orphanage Houses , stray dogs and cats, Old Folk Homes, Hospitals, Catholic Churches & Communities. Very helpfull!
    I have also found out about a guy in trinidad who works to save horses from being overworked. The web page of his project:

    Hope averyone manages to help in a responsible way!
  • Sorry I've been away so long from this forum, been travelling steady.

    Thanks to everyone for their kind comments. It's great to see people thinking about being a respectful guest in a foreign country and not simply running round like an out-of-control Santa Clause.

    All the best.

    Terry from Havana
  • This site has been helpful. I leave for Cuba for the first time in a few days. I hope to find private rooms(nice rooms) for rent in Havana any suggestions?
  • Hey going to Cuba in 4 days thanx guys for all the great tips ;)
  • Have a gas, Cubanear98.

  • So ballpoint pens are a good gift. Does it matter if they have American advertising on them?
  • Dear Jan,

    Thank for the chuckle.

  • I am not going to Cuba myself but my neighbors (originally from Cuba) are returning soon for a week with family & friends. They are delightful people and we feel we owe them for things they have done, but they will not accept $ from us. I was hoping I could get some things that they could gift to their families back home as a repayment to my dear neighbors. Tools were mentioned (Home Depot here I come) any other suggestions?
  • Matt, be very cautious about loading your neighbours up with items that are obviously not for personal use because that's a big red flag to Aduana (Cuban Customs) and they could start charging duty on the items.

    The second factor is that Cubans from abroad are HEAVILY targeted by Aduana for extra import duties.

    I would simply slip an envelope with some money into your friend's pocket with a note that says, "The pig roast and piss-up is on me! Have fun!"

  • Last time I was in Cuba we stayed at the Hotal Villa Cuba and had a wonderful time there. I took along a box of reading glasses which were very welcomed by the locals and I can get them on Ebay and delivered to my house very cheap but they will be welcomed there because they are hard to get.
  • Reading glasses are easily available and cost less than $2.00 in Cuba.

  • Hi there!
    I am going to Cuba in January 2013, I would like to take some stuff really hardly reachable. I found scissors, laces as new ideas here among many others well known. How about some penknives,cutlery etc.
    Thanks for your advices;
  • Who are you planning to give these gifts to?

  • I am going to travel as much as I can during my 2 week trip, staying in casas, so I thought maybe those families need that kind of stuff which can be used longer than a bar of soap.
  • Thank for sharing.
    I feel happy when are here.
  • Casa owners are among the most well off Cubans on the island. They do not need dollar store trinkets nor would they respect anyone leaving cheap junk as a tip/gift no matter how well your intentions were.

    The most important thing you can give is respect and good manners.

  • Fair enough. Althoug I am not gonna take "cheap junk". If we consider me - using this same toothpaste here and the same one I would like to take to Cuba in a case someone will need it, so maybe it is "junk" then.
    Anyway, I would like to leave some stuff (such as medicine ) before flying off home in Habana. Maybe some clothes or other things so any suggestion which organisation in the capital should I contact to ?
    And what medicine shall I bring that can be useful? Many people write about painkillers but what else ?

    "The most important thing you can give is respect and good manners." - that is obvious, never travel without it.
  • If you feel the need to bring humanitarian supplies then please distribute them through the proper channels (church, orphanage, clinic, etc.) so they reach the people in most need. That means no gifting to casa owners or random gifting to strangers.

  • We were thinking of bring gently used toys and hand me down clothes from our kids. To give to people that have children of the right age.
    As well as shampoo and the other things mentioned.

    We will be going end of jan.
    any other things we should bring?
  • "... To give to people that have children of the right age..."


    How are you going to find these people who can't afford toys and have kids the right age?

    Are you travelling independently or are you on a package tour?

    Shampoo is easily available, I buy a 1.5 litre jug for 2.25 CUC.

  • We were simply going to ask people if they knew anyone who had kids of the right age.
    So save the toys and give money?
    Are there places in varadro that we could drop it off at?
    What would you suggest?
  • If you don't have personal friends in Cuba then don't bother bringing toys to hand out to strangers. That makes no sense.

    In Varadero direct your generosity through St. Elvira’s Church on 1st Avenue - any taxi driver will know it. Father Jesús Marcoleta does good work. The best time to catch someone there is between 9:00am and Noon on weekdays.

  • Hi Terry,

    I have been reading through your comments, which have been very helpful. I am going to Cuba next week on a study abroad trip to the University of Havana, more specifically in Vedado.

    So, I am wondering what gifts are the best to take in that area and how to go about distributing them?

    Additionally, I want to experience the night life...any suggestions or advice on how to go about doing it?

    Thanks you for your attention in this matter.
  • 1.) "... So, I am wondering what gifts are the best to take in that area and how to go about distributing them?..."

    If you've read my comments my opinion is to take no gifts at all unless you're going to distribute them through the proper charitable channels and for a first time visitor - especially a long term stay where your inbound luggage weight will be maximized - then I don't see this as a viable option. There is also the issue of proper import paperwork for legitimate charitable donations, do you really want to deal with this when you're entering on a non-tourist visa?

    2.) "... Additionally, I want to experience the night life...any suggestions or advice on how to go about doing it?..."

    Start here:

    Have fun.

  • Hi Terry,

    Thank you so much for your comments and information. You've given me alot to think about and a different perspective to giving gifts while on holiday. We were in Dominican Republic two years ago and did leave gifts for the maid and other resort staff as well as tipping when appropriate.

    My husband and I are going to Cuba in February to a more secluded area, Club Amigo Farallon del Caribe. It's a two hour bus ride from the airport in Manzanillo. Do you know of any medical clinics or other suitable places in that area where we could take some medical supplies, ie tylenol, antibiotic cream, bandage, etc.

    My husband is an avid fisherman and is hoping to fish as much as possible while there. He would like to take some fishing supplies to give as gifts to local people he meets while fishing, as we have heard that fishing line, hooks, etc are hard to get. Good idea, or not so good idea???


  • That resort is literally in the middle of nowhere with the nearest town (Pilon) quite some distance away and I'm not aware of any proper humanitarian recipients there so I would suggest to stick to the usual rules for a first time visitor - tip in CUC for good service.

    Hooks/sinkers/line would be appreciated by any local fisherman who provides good guiding services.

  • Thank you Terry. I was referring to charitable organizations in that area that you may know as reliable. I'll be posting my experience upon my return.

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