Cuba, gifts for the locals



  • edited 10:22AM
    All the best to you T8, I wish more tourists were as rational, level headed and respectful.

  • I CANNOT understand, for the life of me, why everyone is taking what Terry says as "Gospel" He sure spends a heck of alot of time on this board. While I know it may sound paraniod or "conspiracy-theorist-ish" I have to wonder what he has invested in this discussion. He is totally mocking everyone on this board. And for the most part, hardly anyone said to give these gifts to the maid. It was very clear to me by the 2nd page that these gifts are to be given to people whom you have formed a type of relationship. I do not care how ungrateful or conniving he is making these resort workers out to be, unless they are sociopaths, there is NO mistaking the human emotion and connection when you have provided someone with something they truly need and could not get otherwise. Unless you are emotionally handicapped, you know when someone has been touched.  And to call items from the dollar store "junk" im sorry, but I use these items in my home for my family, where our standard of living is much greater (Canada) so Im sure the locals of Cuba will like them. Not sure what dollar stores you shop at, but the ones in Canada have items that are usually found in department stores that have gone out of business. As well, my husband has been to Cayo Coca 5 times and each time he goes off the resort (Cayo Coco Melia) across the lagoon to the village that isn't anymore than a 30 minute wade through the water, (although when he came back too late one night he was met with the military, who reminded him to come back before night fall next time) He supplied many, many dollar store items to thirty or more children that were kicking a "soccer ball" made of dozens of tied up and woven groceries bags, around on the ground. So who where these children that he came across? Just more con artists that were set up to look like they were underprivileged? Also, the father of one of the children was rebuilding the school that was destroyed (cant remember how) and was greatly appreciative of the infamous pens, pencils and paper. He was so ungrateful that he invited my spouse to a local wedding and celebration. The locals there are sooooooooooo PROTECTIVE of tourists and are nothing like the way you are leading people to believe. Shame on you for deterring many people (who just want to help out the only way they know how) from bringing these gifts!!!!!!!!!
  • The ONLY point I've tried to make in this thread is to gift responsibly. That's all.

    If you have a problem with being a respectful guest in a foreign country
    then I'm glad you keep yourself safely sequestered in a tourist enclave
    like Cayo Coco and not in the real Cuba.

    Carry on.


  • Guest is correct; Cubans appreciate toiletries and school supplies.   Also, I bring one suitcase full of my used clothes which they greatly appreciate, because clothes cost is expensive in Cuba.  

    I also bring candies and snacks that I prepackage myself from big variety bags.   

    The irony of giving toiletries to maids in the hotel is that they earn more money than most professionals in Cuba from tips.   We usually don't give extras to maids, because their earnings is much better than the average income in Cuba.  The average income in Cuba is $20/month.  

  • I want to bring fishing gear to Cuba.
    What strength of fishing line and what size hooks should I bring?
  • Requirements vary wildly. It depends entirely on what kind of fishing you are planning on doing.

  • I apologize if this posts appears twice - I think I accidentally posted it in a different thread.  My in-laws are traveling to Cuba and will be visiting an orphanage.  They wanted to know if I had any old DVDs to donate (I am a Spanish teacher in the US).  I was concerned the orphanage might not have a TV or DVD player and that something else might be more appropriate.  Any advice?
    Thank you!

  • Since you don't know the orphanage, where it's located and no one has ever had any contact with them then it's impossible to say what their situation is. DVDs might be very well received, who knows...

  • Well, i understand the need for gifting, and so tip generously, however - take this into account:
  • That's an excellent article written by a long time Cuban veteran.

  • 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.

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