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Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in Get Inspired: Tips & How To

Things to Bring to Cuba to Give Away as Gifts

Things to Bring to Cuba to Give Away as Gifts

Until last month, I had yet to visit Cuba — ever. I’d done the all-inclusive vacation package type trip before, but Cuba was a new destination for me. The moment I began to ask around about where to stay, what to do, and so on, I was quickly flooded with the following tidbit of advice, “Bring lots of dollar store stuff to give the staff.”

That turned out to be a solid piece of advice, but in the weeks leading up to my departure, it wasn’t nearly specific enough. So I started looking online to see if I could find any more information about what kind of things to bring to Cuba, who I should be giving it to when I get there, how often, how much, etc.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find very much info on the subject at all. A few bits and pieces here and there after hours of research didn’t really give me what I was looking for — a quick ‘n dirty list of what to bring to Cuba. So here it is, look no further, your “things to bring to Cuba” list:

  • Kids tooth brushes (fun stuff like Superman or Dora)
  • Tooth paste, mouthwash, floss
  • Deodorant, antiperspirants
  • Hair scrunchies — a lot of them. I took a bag of scrunchies and gave them to our housekeeper on day one, along with the Spiderman tooth-brush and tooth paste. She was so happy she was nearly in tears, as if she’d hit the jackpot. That’s when I realized I probably could have shared the wealth of those scrunchies around a bit more!
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Vitamins — both adult and for kids
  • Reading glasses, sunglasses
  • Toys for kids (crayons, colouring books, yo-yos, anything really!)
  • Flip flops or Crocs — bring down some shoes you’ll use while you’re down there, but leave them behind when you go.
  • Bubba mugs! This is a fun one I didn’t realize until I arrived. All the Canadians at the pool had Bubba mugs — which they used for the entire week then left behind for staff.  What a great idea!
  • Soap, shampoo, conditioner — again, bring down small bottles you can give away, but also bring down larger bottles you’ll use while you’re there, then leave it all behind.
  • Gardening/utility gloves. The landscaping staff is often forgotten, and they were oh so grateful when we gave them all clean, heavy-duty gloves to work with. We saw them all week with bright (maybe not so bright by the end of the week) white new gloves.

These seems like everyday little items to us, but to most of the locals in Cuba, these are highly coveted items. In the greater scope of our wallets, it’s really nothing for us to spend $50 to $100 at a dollar store buying things to bring to Cuba. But it can really mean the world to hard-working Cubans, who just don’t have access to the things you and I take for granted.

Whether you’re visiting Varadero, Cayo Coco, Havana, or any other Cuban city, there is someone who will appreciate your gift. We can help you choose cheaps flights to Cuba and beautiful hotels like Hotel Colonial Cayo Coco, Melia Las Dunas, and Memories Varadero.

Now it’s your turn — what have I forgotten? Please feel free to share your thoughts and add to the list of things to bring to Cuba!

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58 Comments

  1. School supplies are great, too. Pens, pencils, pads of paper, etc. are greatly appreciated, too.

    • Going to santa clara..gonna bring baseball glove n balls,not sure where to go or who to give to. Want it to go to any kid who will appreciate.any advice.

    • I’ve been visiting Cuba for a number of years… after really getting to know a few Cuban
      folks.. I soon found out that they love denim… Please be careful if you hand them out in
      the towns or cities as kids get fairly aggressive.

      DL

    • Hi. I am going to Cuba in jan 2015 and would love to take some school supplies to local schools. Can anybody tellme how I would go about organising this?

      Many thanks
      Finnoula
      Finnoula_k@hotmail.com

  2. When traveling to countries such as Cuba – not only are the little items of great need, but bigger things like medical supplies are as well. A fabulous group – Not Just For Tourists – shows you how and what you can do to help. Here is their website: http://njt-pqt.org/english/view.asp?x=1

    • Hi Lee-Ann,

      Thanks for the plug. Not Just Tourists has several locations across Canada with volunteers ready to deliver medical supplies to travellers. If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, and would like to deliver some much needed medical aid, please check our website for a Not Just Tourists group near you. http://www.njt-pqt.org

  3. TARPS TARPS TARPS… with the hurricane again devastating so much of Cuba, and hotel staff generally having family all over Cuba, we will again bring simple lightweight tarps. The last time Ike hit we were there about 3 months after; we brought 6 tarps and should have brought about 60. We went through the hotel manager to give them away to needed staff and were flooded afterwards with requests for more. When a family only has a shell of a building 3 months after, a tarp can be a life saver.

    Great post and looking forward to more!!

  4. i hope some day i will be lucky and win a trip to cuba i have been playing trip trivia for some time . GOD BLESS bye for now love faye brawn

  5. Rural doctors often have to send people all the way to a hospital for routine tests, which can be a days travel each way for a farmer. We take blood glucose meters and test strips as well as other medical supplies for the doctors.

    School supplies such as coloured pencils, paper, rulers, etc. are also needed in rural schools.

  6. Maternity clothes were very appreciated as well as baby items . Disposable diapers were a big hit. Also, dish clothes and tea towels.

  7. bicycle repair kits are also good idea

  8. Great ideas, G H & Mary Lynne! Thanks for sharing :)

  9. I go to Cuba ( playa Del Ore) every year and bring base balls, hygine for women, pain pills, baby clothes,nail polish and lip stick,tooth paste and tooth brushes,Fishing tackel even fishing poles and reels with line, assortment of toys,guitar strings, school supplies,panty hose,beach towels, I wish I could find some place to buy soccer ball that are not inflated so I could bring them,wrist watches, These are some of the gifts I have brought to Cuba to give away and the Cubans are very very happy to recieve them. Other things you can bring are tools like tape measures, screw divers, pliers,etc…

    • I want to do this as well but tell me how are airline dealing with the extra weight? As i’m certain they don’t care if it’s for charity or not…

      I’M afraid of having to pay a lot for overweight luggage.

      Can you share your thoughts on this?

      Thanks

      • Hi Ronald,

        Airlines do charge for extra weight. The restrictions depend on the airline itself and your specific flight.

        I suggest researching the checked baggage allowance online, packing accordingly, and weighing in to see if you could add gifts fee-free. It would be ideal if the gifts could be stored within the weight requirements (or as additional baggage at a low charge). Anything you could fit would be appreciated. On a positive note- you would only have to pay a fee on the way there!

      • Two years ago I went to Cuba with my kids, ages 6 months and 4 years. Brought all the dollar store stuff you could think of. Some light weight items are band aids, small books, party pack toys (multiple toys in a bag for birthday parties). Honestly it was the stuff that I didn’t even think about that a person in Cuba was willing barter art with me for. The quarter used shampoo, conditioners, soaps from our vacation. My kids clothing, bathing suits and shoes that we had packed multiple pairs of. The reality is even the brand new pair of socks that you didn’t get around to wearing is much appreciated as a gift. If you have kids…pack the clothes from last summer…give them one last wear and then give them away! If you are a single man…pack stuff that you won’t mind giving away the last day of vacation. It is amazing what the people in Cuba appreciate, and teach you to appreciate! Happy Vacationing!

      • Hi Ronald,

        If you happen to be flying with Westjet, they have told us at Not Just Tourists, that if your extra bag is clearly marked “For Humanitarian Aid” they will waive the excess baggage fee. However, we will provide carry-on bags, backpacks, or even just a ziplock bag to go into your own luggage if you wish to bring much needed medicines/medical supplies. Other airlines have different policies and you would have to check with your specific airline. Check our website for a location near you. http://www.njt-pqt.org

      • Take Cubana Air they allow You to take 2×23 kg plus 10 kg hand luggage from Toronto.

  10. I think the little thing that they don’t need but liked to have is chocolate,gummy Baers and gum stuff we get but they don’t get is nice

    • Hi Chad,

      Forget about chocolate. It will melt and not be nice by the time you get it there. Hard candies and gum are a better choice. Cash is always best, so make sure and tip your servers about 1 CUC peso per meal or every 2-3 drinks. They only earn an average of 20 CUC pesos/month, so be careful not to over-tip, but you will get much better service if you’re consistently tipping each meal. Remember to also leave maybe a peso a day on the bed for the room maid.

  11. Hi,
    we went last April and are going again next week. Last year we took a ton of clothes, toiletries including toothbrushes, shampoos, soap and razors. We also took a load of crayons, pencil crayons, colouring books, ruled note books, candy, gum, hair items (the glittery the better) and special “blinged out” hair combs for our maid and some of the female entertainers.
    This year I am taking clothes, clothes and more clothes. My full checked bag allowance is clothes which my kids have grown out of, but mostly gently used items from Salvation Army. I go to the “fill a bag” section – $5 for a full bag of clothes – this time I got 3. I have them all in 2 vacuum sealed bags and along with a few school supplies (ruled books and pencil crayons), this makes up my 40+ lbs. Other than a towel, my personal toiletries and 2 changes of clothes in my suitcase, all my personal items are in my carry on so I can take as much as possible. I will also load my daughter up to her weight limit (after she finishes packing) with toiletries again as they were so appreciated.

  12. I once was told if you are taking items for the people you are allowed an extra bag but must be for them. Does anyone know about this?

    • Interesting question, Beth. Has anyone else heard of this? I would think each airline has their own policy on this sort of thing, but I’m not aware of any specifics around this type of situation. Curious to hear what others have to say, though!

      • from westjet:

        Humanitarian aid
        One piece of baggage may be permitted at no charge on flights departing from Canada only (on a space-available basis). Humanitarian aid supplies will not be permitted on flights to Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago where a baggage restriction is in place.
        Some countries have restrictions on the types of aid permitted. If you plan to bring humanitarian aid, you must contact the country’s consulate or embassy to verify which items are permitted, as well as the guidelines and procedures for importing the item(s).
        Baggage must not exceed the standard size and weight allowances and must be packed separately from your belongings.
        Additional fees may apply for excess size and/or weight.

    • I just booked my trip to Cuba and asked my agent about this. She had never heard of it, but contacted the airline to request it for me. My airline is allowing an extra bag (20kgs/40lbs) free of charge for “humanitarian reasons”. They warn, however, that there may possibly be a fee at Customs, even though transportation of these goods is free. :-)

  13. We are leaving for Cuba on Saturday and I’m planning to pack things to give to the staff. All of these suggestions are GREAT, but can anyone give out any thoughts on how/when it’s appropriate? Should I be leaving these things in the room on my pillow, passing them out at the bars and leaving them on the table at the restaurants?? Help!

    • I’d say do what you’re comfortable with… I left some things for our housekeeper every day, gave away the bubba mugs to the bar tenders, left flip-flops at the pool, etc.

    • Hi Christy,

      Last year I left bag loads of items for our maid, just because I did not know when to give them out otherwise.
      I did end up giving one of the entertainers (female) a bag of items on the last night, as she had been so good with my daughter….I really did not have a lot for the men, which I have remedied this year.
      My suggestion is to always have a few items with you in your beach bag, handbag, wherever. This way, you can give them away as and when you see people you want to give them to. Gloves for the gardener that is always sweeping up / tending the beds of your area, hair stuff or “girly” things for the receptionists, baseball hats to the bar staff or entertainers, sunglasses to people on the beach, beads and craft supplies to the people selling their creations, etc. I also took a load of school supplies and Children’s Tylenol to the local nursery school. The teacher that toured us through was almost crying with gratitude. As was the tour guide on our bus when I gave her Children’s Tylenol, gum and other child items for her little boy.
      Strike up conversations, find out a bit about your hosts, as give out accordingly.
      This time (we leave tomorrow at 7am) I want to ensure I give a little, to more, than just leaving the motherload for our maid who already gets a lot. Think of people other than the maids, bartenders and servers who are likely to get tips. Locals you see on the beach or who you go to for that amazing lobster dinner, entertainment crew, gardeners, general cleaners, receptionists, the shop assistants, bus drivers, taxi drivers, horse and cart drivers. All of these people also appreciate the generosity of tourists. Have a great trip!

  14. Don’t forget about all the people in town that would reallllly appreciate any gift. So take that tour and buy their merchandise at the small markets and leave a gift as well! :)

    • Excellent point, Tammy!

  15. To pick up on Tammy’s point – I can imagine that hotel staff get a ton of stuff compared to other locals not in close contact with tourists. From my work in Sierra Leone, I saw that often donated gifts were sometimes horded and then sold on the side to other locals. Cuba may be different, but I would like to avoid this all the same. I’ve been searching the internet for local NGOs in Havana or near Varadero that know what people are in need of – I’ve had no success.
    Can anyone shed some light on a) if there are NGO groups we could coordinate with; and b) whether there are central locations to bring supplies in non-tourist areas?
    There are 15 of us so we could potentially bring a lot of supplies.
    (PS: The NJT link in the thread above won’t be an option for my group as we leave in a week’s time)
    Thanks everyone!

    • Me and my family and friends have been Helping out Families in Cuba going on two years .
      We have been helping them by bringing them money ,clothing and other things they may need .
      Average person makes 20 Dollars a month that equals 12 cents per hour this is based on a 160 hour month.This is crazy
      I will be holding a fundraiser in support of the cuban families for a better life in the next while.
      I am looking for some donations for a flea market and other fundraisers. If interested in helping out please contact me though Facebook.
      I have a meeting with the Festival Director of Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council august 14 Thank you very much
      is there anyone interested in donating anything help with a fundraiser .please let me know

  16. Please do not use abbreviations – some of us do not know what they stand for! NJT? Not helpful!

    • Dianne: I understand your frustration. The reference to NJT comes from an earlier comment in the thread by Lee-Ann, who shares a link to Not Just For Tourists (NJT).

  17. I am going to Havana this Thursday and was wondering where I could take baseballs, baseball pants, socks and maybe a glove or two? Also a bit of topic but where do I go for that fabulous lobster dinner. Looking for a paladares.

  18. I brought folding hand fans one year and they were a great hit amonst the ladies. Apparently they are very much appreciated during the hot summers. Locally they are very expensive (about 10 covertable pesos). I picked them up at the Dollar Store or in a China town store for about $1 to $2.

  19. I’m going to Cuba (Habana city) in two months from now, I visiting the small town where I grew up called La Fortuna, in municipio Boyeros. All the tips given were very good.. But I personally bring all the stuff to the small town people who I know are in great need, something that they also appreciate a lot is underwear(females & men), socks.

  20. I have always brought down all the things people mention in the way of toiletries, colouring book etc. The best reaction I ever got was when I brought down a couple of good quality baseball gloves my kids had outgrown. Even bartenders who are used to the daily tips were emotional when they received this. Just a thought.

  21. Last time I went to Cuba I have rented scooter from my hotel, put on my big and full backpack of “goodies” and went for one day on a “cruise” on the scooter towards interior of the island. I stopped any time I saw people walking and distributed gifts for them. At some point I stopped in the village and gave some items (i.e. Barby dolls, calculators) to people sitting in the center square. And there I was invited to their house for lunch! After that I stopped at the rural school, and gave plenty of school supplies to the teacher. They called all kids to the school yard, and distributed this stuff equally…and I was treated as a celebrity in a very nice and humble way…My advice is to bring the bulk of your gifts to the people outside of the resort, they need them much more than maids or bartenders…btw. these two professions are considered the best to become very rich in Cuba(!?).
    And enjoy Cuban culture, music, and people, they re all great.

  22. We have found even dollar store Sippy cups were a big hit with the moms, fishing gear, bicycle repair kits, flashlights and batteries, Dora books from the dollar store because they contain spanish, number flash cards, decks of cards, I also took toilet paper and paper towel, ketchup, tylenol, bandaids and left behind any left over pepto or imodium, pain meds shampoos and stuff that I didn’t use. The children were thrilled when I took out bubbles, and dont forget the cats and dogs they are around and could use a treat. At the end of one excursion I had given everything away and at the end gave one lady the carry bag I had used to carry the gifts into the community. Fishing gear was a big hit as well as knee pads for working in gardens. It was so much fun and they are so appreciative.

    • That is so awesome Kathy! I’m sure your gifts were greatly appreciated. Great ideas for others to bring too.

  23. Thanks for all the great ideas guys. I’m leaving for Cayo Coco in a month with my family and some friends and was very interested in taking some items with us for the locals. I have always loved striking up conversations with the local people wherever we travel and find it the most rewarding part of every one of my trips. One comment I’ve heard a few times is that Cayo Coco is an island that is strictly inhabited by resorts; no local towns, etc. If this is so, is it easy to get to a neighboring island where I could explore some of the smaller towns and make contact with the locals that I’m reading could use the supplies a little more than the on resort staff? Any comments would be very helpful. Thanks.

  24. WOW! we’re just planning a trip to Cuba in a few weeks and we were planning on travelling light!……. not anymore! going to be full bags and more! Thanks for the advice guys!

  25. Great advice here – with regards to Not Just Tourists – they can often get a suitcase or backpack ready on very short notice (at least here in Edmonton.) Taking our suitcases to the hospital in Cardena (about 45 from our hotel in Varadero) was one of the highlights of our Vacation. We will definitely do this again. The director of the hospital hardly spoke any English but he did say “It feels like Christmas today” when he open our bulging suitcases stuffed full of medical supplies. NJT gives you a letter for the airlines explaining your mission and also translated into Spanish for the hospital.

    • Speaking of Spanish, if you’re thinking of leaving Tylenol or anything like that you can usually go online and get the directions in Spanish. If you print them off it would be useful for them. Tylenol is probably common but something like Imodium or Pepto might be new to them so knowing how to use it could be helpful. Also, some kids vitamins look like candy so having instructions might encourage parents to put them up high so kids can’t eat too many thinking they are candy.

  26. Thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions regarding what to bring as gifts on my first vacation to Cuba. I remembered a Spanish teacher years ago advising us to bring gifts with us if we went traveling in countries like Cuba, and her advice has stuck with me all of these years; I fell on this forum while doing a search on what type of items to bring. I have already been going through my closet and setting aside gently used items, so now I will make sure I get a bunch of gifts for kids, as well as some feminine items,medication, etc, and pack mine and my boyfriend’s suitcase with these necessities. Thanks again for all of the suggestions, I wouldn’t have thought of most of these necessities otherwise.

  27. I make cloth diapers as it is useless to bring the.disposables as they try to reuse them by drying them out…I supply diaper pins and waterproof wraps…plus I supply onesies, baby clothes,….I make diapers for Canadian mothers also…so have seen the need for…I try to think beyond the lipstick and mascara and supply items that are useful beyond making one look pretty…I wish there was an organization that I could deliver this stuff to so that it would be evenly distributed.

  28. I am going to Jamaica next month. A friend of mine told me to bring little dollar store stuff with me to leave for the maid. Dose anyone do that in Jamaica, or just Cuba?

  29. Going to santa clara, not sure where to go with baseballs n glove or who to give to.

  30. that is a good idea.

    • I read this, too. THANKYOU for posting it again and again and again. We are not seeing the world the way it is. We see it through our throw-away sunglasses and assume having one of each color flip flops is desirable. Let’s look at what made these people happy BEFORE WE EVER SHOWED UP and realize that WE ARE CHANGING THEM. EEEKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!! All you well-meaning people: STOP! Let’s instead try to figure out how to use FEWER “Western” products and UNbuild some plastic islands that are polluting our oceans. I am on my way to Cuba in a few weeks, and it would be WONDERFUL to find out that the reason tourists are re-using cups is because there are NO plastic water bottles for sale. Ye Haw! Hopefully my grandkids can get TRULY educated by some real Cubans.

  31. If you choose to read the article listed by Shoo on March 18, 2014, please read the comments that go along with it as well. There are as many opinions on this issue as there are tourists. Personally, as a regular tourist to Cuba, I do tip and I do give gifts, and I have always been met with noting but sincere gratitude. To say that gifting encourages expectations can be true of ANY country. I generally always tip in Canada, even when the service is not that great, and I have seen far less gratitude for a tip here (not always, but some wait staff are very unappreciative) than I have ever seen in Cuba. My bottom line is that I treat others how I would like to be treated – with kindness, respect, and appreciation. Give whatever makes you feel you have met that.

  32. I do not want to sound mean because they are all in need kinda but… when I go I ask a local driver to take us far from resort, somewhere the tourists don’t go. we drove for an hour or so and turned up this cow path to a small farming village and went to a very very small school. when we left we were told that not one tourist has ever gone there and probably wont again. the paper they wrote on was so grey from being erased that you could hardly see the pencil on it. I know it sounds strange but bring screws and tools they are very hard to come across, flashlights are a hit and sewing kits, buttons, modeling clay, pencil crayons (markers dry out fast and crayons melt) remember when you go how little clothing you actually use and bring as much as you can! oh and toy tractors and dollies are big hits!!! it is very safe in cuba venture out there see it all! peace and love

  33. Please remember that the people who work in the hotels are the rich people. The real people are the ones who do without. Taking supplies to a school or a clinic makes much more sense if you want to spread it around.

  34. Please take a good long think on what you are doing. I just read the most incredible article here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c129786/Cuba:Caribbean:Think.Before.You.Gift.html
    We are looking at this country as if they are a part of OURS which is somehow LACKING. THIS IS TRUE! They are NOT like us in their culture, which is WHY we find them SO REFRESHING! Stop and think about the people from other cultures who come to Canada and bring their own cultures with them. We are slowly changing to become more like the culture they chose to flee from, and less the desirable place we were that they chose to run to in their escape. Giving too much garbage to a small island like Cuba is inviting larger plastic islands to form. Stop spreading the poisons from our culture and remember why you enjoy the idea of pristine beaches. They are there because there are not extra flip flops everywhere. Toothbrushes that are expensive because they will last for many years are to be desired. Do you really think ANYONE is suffering lack if they do not own sponge bob square pants? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE read the article http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c129786/Cuba:Caribbean:Think.Before.You.Gift.html written by a very realistic perspective. Give all your tourist treasure allotment to Haiti et al.. AND STOP BRINGING STUFF!!!! GIVE THEM MONEY and trust the people who administer to the needy. Go through your church or find a charity that works in your country of choice. You have NO IDEA how exasperating it is for them to deal with sell-meaning givers who WASTE so much in resources simply through ignorance and not taking time to find out. STOP LISTENING to what other tourists THINK they found. If you don’t know a charity, let me know. I am acquainted with several people who have worked with the poor in Guatemala for many years, and come home to Canada for 6 months to work for our big bucks, then go back with whatever the churches can round up for them. One of their efforts has been bringing water reservoirs to within a few hundred feet of every locals’ hut so they have more time to spend making their living.

  35. ve7dxi@gmail.com
    Thanks for the link to Cuba/Caribbean Think Before You Go. Some very helpful information there. A maid may make as much as 600 CUC a month working at a resort. I am going to Cuba for the first time this December and my friends said to bring “gifts” for the staff and locals. Now I am thinking twice about it. I may follow what “sarah” wrote about taking a long trip far from the resort and bringing school supplies and gifts to those people. Thanks for the advice.

  36. I have been to Cuba many times and I always bring additional things to give. But you are right I don’t give out all the gifts at the hotel. We go out into the village and give out things. We found the school in town and brought pens and pencils they asked us to bring erasers, calculators, English dictionaries the next time we came as they are hard to get there. We actually paid extra this year to bring the additional weight as we have so much here and its so nice to see a smile on someone’s face when you give them a tshirt etc. These are some of the things I bring: reader glasses for all different distances, (a friend of mine owns a eyeglass store) clothing for kids and adults, tennis balls, tools, reusable grocery bags (they are a hit), tylenol (I go on the internet and translate into Spanish and put on the container, make up, pantyhose, socks. A lot of the stuff I like to buy new to give out.
    We also found a small doctors office off the beaten track and gave her band aids, antiseptic cream, gauze, elastic bandages etc. They are very appreciate of anything you give them.
    Hope this helps – Sarah Jane

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