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Cuba, gifts for the locals



  • I am planning a trip Jan 9 for two weeks to Cuba staying in casas from Varadero through Havana to Vaniles. I have access to individually packaged and portioned Advil and children Motrin as well as dental supplies that I would like to donate to charitable organizations. WONDERING.... How I should claim above items if asked when checking in at airport?? Personal, gifts or donations? Terry perhaps you could inform me of the best explanation for these extra items.
    Thanks in advance
  • We're heading back to Cuba in a few weeks, will be my 5th trip there.  We have made friends with a Cuban family that live a few miles from the resort.  We have taken them various items over the years, most popular was a hack saw with extra blades.  This year we are taking them a bike, used but tuned up and in good condition.  I totally agree with Terry about indiscriminate gift giving and recall on our first trip how my heart dropped as people threw bags of goodies off the tourist train we were on taking us to a local fishing village.  There was no dignity for the children as they scrambled to be the one to grab the handouts.  As we have gotten to know our friends it is evident they have no shortage of pride and nor should they.  Their ingenious resourceful way of living has many lessons for us.  They have returned the favour of what we share with them through meals, guided tours through the countryside around their home and teaching us the fine art of a good domino game. 
    So please do as Terry suggests and remember to be mindful of how you tip and gift. 
  • edited February 2014
    Common Sense
  • Ditto.

    Pretty amazing though how uncommon common sense is...

  • Wow !

    Tipping thread has gone on for ages ! Still i have now read it all !

    I guess i understand now that it can be a problem, and there has been some really good advice on here !

    I'm not really sure what to do now, so i think i will take some stuff with me and play it by ear !

    Thank you everyone that has posted, it has been a real eye opener !


  • Have fun, Tony.

  • Fine.  Tell people that the maids are getting so many 'goods' that they can't use them all.  Tell people that their donations are better served at charitable organisations.  But telling people that service staff mock them behind their backs when they give them gifts doesn't encourage them to give CUCs instead.  It encourages them to give nothing.  The type of person who responds to the kindness of strangers with derision, regardless of how misguided that kindness is, frankly doesn't deserve anything.

    Anyway, we typically give our 'gifts' to local hospitals and schools.  We also tend to ask hotel staff that we talk to on a regular basis (the woman who serves me breakfast every morning) what they would like us to bring them the next time we visit.

  • "... But telling people that service staff mock them behind their backs when
    they give them gifts doesn't encourage them to give CUCs instead.  It
    encourages them to give nothing..."

    That makes zero sense.

    Are you honestly trying to compare receiving the zillionth toothbrush to receiving a CUC which can actually purchase something useful?!

  • Hi all,
           Well, there has been a lot of posts on here and the advice from Terry is right to a degree !
    Let me take a moment to tell you of my experience and then you can decide for yourselves.
    I went to Cuba this year in July for 2 weeks, It was amazing ! we stayed in the sol rio de  Luna and mares resort Guardalavaca, they have a beach only 50 yds from the hotel, at the weekends there are a lot of Cubans that come to the beach but are restricted to where they can sit ! I felt bad for them and with my little spoken Spanish I went to speak with them. It was difficult to find an English speaking Cuban but with my little Spanish and their 50/50 English I discovered that they accept gifts from visitors without feeling bad.
     I had packed my case with loads of new stuff for the holiday and so had my wife ! we didn't wear or use most of it to be honest so we took it to the beach in bags, It was un-worn T-shirts sand shoes towels , razors shaving foam, deodorant sun tan lotion, and a travel first aid kit ! Just stuff that we didn't have to take back with us 5000 miles to the UK. The response from the locals was amazing ! I remember 1 lady running down the beach wearing a sarong ( just a wraparound for beach ) that my wife put in, and the smile on her face as she shouted to her mum what she had got ! or the kids playing with the frizbie  and boomerang we bought and never used as it was too hot for us to run around on the beach with, of course they are used to it ! I wish now that I had packed some sweets ? like, marshmallows or any sweets that wouldn't go tacky in the heat, Perhaps a couple of boxes of pringles for the youngsters ? We also bought some small drinks in boxes and put them in the freezer  to get really cold and took them with us for the kids ! 
    I don't feel bad for what I did, on the contrary ! I will do it again with more thought next time.
  • Thanks for your continued help in turning locals into beggars, Tony.

    Gifting willy nilly to complete strangers is a really positive thing to do to in a foreign country with a culture which you know NOTHING about.

    You're the reason why the school in Varadero has a big fence around it now and why the police are giving out warnings to tourists giving crap to kids in my Havana neighbourhood.

  • Hi Terry, going to Cuba again for the second time and plan on hanging out with entertainers that we've stayed in touch with. So they're planning a pig roast for about 15 people and I'm sure this is expensive even for resort workers (around 70CUCs, they said). Would you suggest I provide gifts as a thank you or just straight-up give them the money?
  • If they're pals then it's absolutely acceptable to offer to "chip in your share" same as you would anywhere. If they insist on no money because you're their fren then bring a couple of bottles of cheap rum and a big bag of beers.

    Have a gas, a pig roast is just about my favourite party...

  • Just back from a small hotel in Chivirico (near Santiago de Cuba) and feel obliged to add my two cents. Met an amazing couple who stay for several months at the same resort every winter and have mastered the art of tipping at the all-inclusive resort. They get a complete staff list from the manager - from gardeners and pool attendants to dishwashers, maids and wait staff - write each name on an envelope, enclose the same amount of money (CUCs) in each with a thank you, and pass them out individually (and discreetly.) They do this once for the duration of their stay. Obviously they have come to know all the staff on a first name basis as it is a small hotel. No guests could be loved more than this couple, not because of the money (they do not over tip but tip fairly), but because of their fairness, thoughtfulness, and personal recognition for each person. Over the years they have made great Cuban friends, and they bring those friends personal "gifts" they know for a fact they need and cannot find/buy in Cuba. Could be shoes, salt water fishing line and hooks, duck tape, quality fish fillet knife, screwdriver set, crochet needles and yarn - nothing random - all specific for specific people with specific needs. 
    For one- or two-weekers, as most vacationers are, and at large resorts, the envelope system doesn't work or make sense. Tipping does. We happened to make friends with a couple of members of staff, and some people in Chivirico. We were not asked for anything, we got to practice our Spanish and they, their English, we were invited to homes for coffee, to local music concerts, ball games etc. Yes, we would spring for the beers/soda if the occasion presented itself - big deal at 1 buck a beer in town. We never handed out money or random gifts. We did spring for a suckling pig and the accompaniments (rice, salad, cooking oil, rum, beer). My husband helped prepare the pig for a roast (wow, a half day of work), helped dig the fire pit, chopped branches into poles to make a home-made rotisserie, took his turns at rotating the pig over the open fire etc. For about $80 we had a party, fed our friends and their families and neighbours and had a most amazing time. Our new friends gave us an opportunity to experience something we would never do at home, and we were grateful to them for that. Best money we every spent on a holiday. We will see them again on our next trip and bring some items we know they need - we know because we asked.  
  • Common sense and respect. It's a shame so many tourists can't grasp these simple aspects of travel to a foreign country. Kudos to you.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip!

  • Terry, I'm backpacking to Cuba on a shoe string in a couple of weeks. Renting a room from a family in a neighborhood of Havana. Is it worth bringing school supplies? Medical supplies? Can I find a school or clinic that I could visit and give them the supplies? I don't give candy, I've seen this turn ugly in countries like India. The kids just get overwhelmed when there's not enough for everyone. I've worked/lived in orphanages, curious if there's a place I could donate my time for a day and give school supplies. I'm there for only six days but thought I could be of use to some organizations. Do you know of a website that may need a traveler for a day? OR is that completely over romanticizing the need. Thanks much.
  • Your heart is in the right place Katie, but you're not going to be able to volunteer anywhere with kids.

    Not only would it be not allowed for political reasons, but it wouldn't be accepted for the very same reasons it couldn't happen in your own country - a complete stranger can't simply walk off the street and into a place with kids and expect to be allowed access to those children.

    Enjoy your stay but don't worry about helping to "save" Cuba in some way, that's not going to happen. Cuba is NOT a typical third world country.

    Have a great trip.

  • Although this thread is a couple years old I would like to add a few opinions.
    I will agree that irresponsible gifting such as throwing candy to children, like bread to ducks is just outrageous and should not have to be told to anybody with any common sense.

    But lots of what "cheers terry" says sounds to be typical communist propaganda
    The fact that he refers you to the tripadvisor link "Cuba think before you gift" a thread I'm convinced has been written by Fidel Castro himself. (read the comments)

    Should show that he supports local propaganda and his opinion should not be taken as the gospel as jenny_1985 refers to Terry's comments.
    Educate yourself on communism and as much as possible on any country you travel too.

    This being said even if your gifts ARE in fact going onto the Cuban black market.... This alone should tell you those goods ARE hard to come by/purchase in Cuba or there would be no demand for them on the "black market"
    Furthermore even if said goods are being introduced into the black market... They will still be distributed to the people who need them at a price lower than what they are claimed to be sold at government shops for.

    The fact that there are two currency's for the country should be enough proof there is corruption to the highest degree in Cuba.
    Tourist stores that accept the convertable peso may be fully stocked with all the Americanized items we are all looking to buy.
    These stores are present for two reasons.
    First being the obvious, purchasing of goods for tourists. The second may not be so obvious to the uneducated tourist. These stores give the outside world the illusion that there is no shortage of necessities of life in Cuba!
    However this has been proven very much false for those who have brave enough to venture into the "real" Cuba, the truth emerges... Bodegas with empty shelves and long line ups for minimal goods if any.

    Shame on you Terry for misinforming so many people who are attempting to help people in such need!

  • WOW carguy, and what makes you such an expert on the writings of Fidel Castro and the economy of Cuba ?
  • carguy, do you hear that loud whooooooshing noise? That's the sound of everything going over your head. The fact that you don't even understand the basics of the CUC/CUP economy or even how the stores operate demonstrates your ignorance.

    If you want to see how the so-called "real Cuba" really works drop me a line when you're visiting next and I'll take you for a tour and bring you up to speed.

    Terry from Havana
  • I don't see why there's a need to berate people for taking toiletries and gifting them to hotel employees. Even if they are highly paid: in Cuba feminine hygiene items are in short supply. Dental floss is generally unknown as a dedicated product. Resort workers work under the sun and everyone appreciates a fresh-looking employee, who is not dying of skin cancer, heatstroke, or can apply a salve on a cut, or their children's mosquito bites. Hotel employees are not greedy. They have close friends, neighbours and extended family that will appreciate these items as gifts or will help them heal an illness, protect themselves. Family ties in Cuba are not as weakened as in other developed countries. If my mom's second cousin's daughter had a burn, I hear about it the moment it happens and we do everything we can to help, and this was long before we moved out of the country.

    In areas removed from Havana, even if you have the money it is hard to access quality first aid supplies, sunscreen, moisturizer, laundry detergent (that doesn't burn your hands), perfume, shaving cream and razors, bottle nipples, baby oil, diaper rash cream, joint supplements, Omega 3 fish oils, multivitamin, sun/reading glasses, makeup, socks, underwear, children shoes and sandals, hosiery, compression stockings, shoe insoles, coffee that hasn't been tampered with and mixed with soy, canned tuna and evaporated milk, powdered milk.

    In addition, the older generations of Cubans that lived through the 'special period' had their diets severely impacted for years, which contributed to joint and muscular deficiencies/illnesses. While milk is SOLD to families with kids under 7 years of age and old people, it's rationed at 1litre every 4 days; soy Yogurt is provided to kids 7-14 at the same rate. after that I guess the body doesn't need calcium. No wonder the majority or Cubans (me included) are short.

    I have worn recycled clothing that had been donated to the government. The same supply chain for donations is always in effect. The best things are kept at ports of entry / gatekeepers. By the time the items reach the parts of the island where things are really needed, there are only the worst items left.
    I'm not impressed by Terry's assessment of Cubans turning into beggars. If these items were available at stores and Cubans only needed the cash to buy them, hotels would too. But how often people complain that hotel didn't have ketchup or mustard? That they didn't offer peanut butter or fresh fruit? 60 years of economic screw ups are not going to be eradicated by tourism alone.

    As far as donating through churches, don't make me laugh. I guess the congregation in Varadero is the only one that deserves anything. Not all Cubans go to church. The majority of Cubans are mostly agnostics or non-practicing. My family is straight up atheist. I guess the grace of the Lord is literally materialized in Cuba out of all places.

    Go to a Consultorio medico de la familia And Offer whatever you have to the nurses that spend hours on foot or bike making house calls. I think they have earned a Santa Claus visit. Go and get a wisdom tooth removed with the crappy anesthesia that is available in Cuba and then come talk to me about their Healthcare system. Inquire about all the people that die of infections acquired at hospitals (various in my own family) and don't forget to tell them that at least they didn't have a bill (which is only a thing in the USA).

    Cubans don't need another CUC for good behavior, they need thermometers and pepto, band aids and hydrocortisone, quality birth control devices, home pregnancy tests, usb cables for charging their devices, external battery packs, language learning courses on mp3 formats, rechargeable radios and lamps for when there are hurricanes, water filters, batteries, headphones. Ask them if they would like you to mail any letters from outside Cuba to family and friends.

    There is so much more needed in Cuba that I would go on and on. And children are not the only ones who like candy. Give candy to you maid and bartender, if they don't have a child or sweet tooth (which I doubt they lack eiyher), they have nieces and nephews neighbours or a destitute child with an alcoholic/neglectful parent. Parents know what kids need, but all children want cute new things, and they like candy. that's why there still is Halloween in North America.

    I've never been to this forum before, and doubt I ever will again. Check out cubaamor if you want the good, the bad and the ugly about resort employees and Cubans. There are a few Cubans that comment on the site and will give you advice on what is needed in any specific town at any point in time, or what is in short supply on the island at the moment.
  • edited April 2016
    SafeAtHome, your reading comprehension sucks.

    Almost all your beefs are actually in total agreement with me, it appears our biggest difference is that you're fine with willy nilly gift giving to strangers and/or rich Cubans, and I always support directing your much needed generosity directly to friends, family or through channels that ensure it will be given to the people in most need.

    Since you're a CubaAmour fan though I understand your confusion regarding rational, common sense discussion.

  • I have been many times to Cuba and have learnt that it is all ok taking and giving Gifts to the Staff. I am a Guy But i take with me Shaving gel, Deodorant, ([email protected]) Toothpaste and Brushes, Shower Gel. Paracetamol, And for extra for the female staff Tampax as they are so costly to them. for there kids i take Pens and Pencils and exercise books for them to take to School. They in My Opinion and for what i know Are so very grateful for these Items. Can't wait to be going again this December 2016, Second time this year. So peeps don't be put off by people saying its Not exceptable to do this. I can honestly say IT IS.
  • I just came back from a Cuba tour. The best way to give gifts is to the tour guide. He/she knows who do give it to better than any random tourist. Also, when staying at the casas, the casa owner is not necessary to be giving gifts to. Casa owners are the better off families in Cuba. Often times, casa owners hire maids to work, clean, and fix their casas, and they are the more deserving of gifts.

    Best to bring clothes, hats, stuff like that you don't need at home. Soap, shampoo, perfume, lotions, stuff like that, are actually sold in Cuba, so you don't have to pack them in your luggage.
  • I'm heading to Holguin in March. I'm getting a medical supplies suitcase from Not Just Tourists, and will deliver it to the local clinic. I want to bring my son's baby clothes and shoes. Can anyone tell me if there is a local orphanage to deliver those items to? Thanks for your input. And thanks, Terry, for educating us on being a responsible tourist in Cuba.
  • Check out these two when you arrive:

    1.) Hogar Materno de Día
    Carretera Mirador de Mayabe No. 12

    2.) Hogar Materno
    Roosevelt No. 16 esquina Peralejo
    Tel: (53)24-425797

    Have fun.

  • Thanks, Terry!
  • Hi Terry (and others)
    I've read through this whole thread, and I'm also in the Facebook group Brisas, which is brilliant but (now I've read this) a little misguided.
    We are going in May for the first time, to Brisas.
    Initially I was swept away with all the 'you need to take such and such' comments but was confused as to how / where to distribute.
    My thoughts about it now are that we will tip like we would in any other country, and leave behind any toiletries etc which we don't finish up, again as we would in any other country?
    Excellent advice on here, particularly about the school's (I work in education and why anyone would think it a good idea to just wander up to a school I don't know!!) If there are any churches or charities in Brisas I will leave any unwanted or outgrown clothes with them. Would this be something you'd advise and which would be common sense?
  • Dear Mrs. Wilson,

    Kudos to you for wanting to spread some generosity around, but the resort staff in Guardalavaca are absolutely swamped with gifts from the resort tourists. The black market there is huge, you're not helping anyone in need.

    If you plan on getting off the resort and travelling into Holguin or even Gibara then there are organizations there that are happy to distribute your gifts appropriately. Otherwise, just enjoy your vacation.

    All the best to you.

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