When you’re on vacation and are staying with friends or family (or even simply visiting them), it’s pretty standard to bring a small gift as a way of saying thanks. It doesn’t have to be much, and it’s generally something that exemplifies the idea of the thought being the thing that counts. There are some instances when it can also be appropriate to bring a gift to strangers as a form of courtesy, even if you happen to already paying these strangers in exchange for goods or services. It’s a cultural nuance that exists in some countries, and while it’s not mandatory, in some places it’s seen as a type of gratuity, much like tipping. If you’re about to make the journey to Cuba to start your vacation, you might have heard that gifts can sometimes be appropriate.

So… Do you need to go shopping for a gift that the guy who runs the hotel in Havana you’ll be staying at will cherish forever? Not exactly. Let’s look at the art and appropriateness of giving gifts in Cuba.

Easy and Appreciated

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is something that you might inadvertently (or purposefully) leave behind when you’re staying somewhere. Your left behind toiletries will generally be thrown away at most destinations, but these unused items can make an easy and appreciated gift in Cuba. It’s not as though such items are impossible to find in Cuba, and yet some of them can be in short supply and of negligible quality. This can include things such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hair styling products, face cream, lotions and other beauty products, contraceptives, feminine hygiene products, and even insect repellent. If you were planning to leave these behind to make your suitcase a little lighter, then you can just as easily give them away.

If you happen to have befriended any locals during your stay, then they will probably be able to make use of them. You could also just leave them with the proprietor of your casa particular (Cuban bed and breakfast) if you stayed at one. It’s not essential, it’s not mandatory, and nobody will give you dirty looks if you slip your bottle of saffron-infused body lotion back into your luggage, but it’s an incredibly easy gift to give. You don’t need to bring extra amounts of these things either, it’s really only about giving away what you don’t use.

Above and Beyond

You don’t necessarily need to give any gift to your hosts when staying at a casa particular. You might feel obliged to do so when the owners go above and beyond in their service, but it’s still optional, and it’s not as though you will always have a thoughtful gift in your suitcase in case of this eventuality. Remember that a casa particular is generally a section of a family home that has been converted into guest accommodation, and so if the family in question has children, you might want to give them a small gift. Something like a small toy or sweet treat is appropriate, and if you feel compelled to reward the proprietors as well, then a cash tip is always going to be appreciated.

Recommended gifting ideas:

  1. Toys
  2. School stationary
  3. Sporting equipment
  4. Hygiene products
  5. Old clothing/ Kids clothing
  6. Bed sheets
  7. Towels
  8. Old cell phones
  9. Things for the kitchen such as forks and spoons


It’s not as though you need to go to Cuba with luggage brimming with small gifts to give to people who you might encounter. You don’t know how the trip is going to pan out. For sure, you might end up with a bunch of new Cuban friends, or you might only have short, though pleasant encounters with servicepeople, or with locals who you have a chat with when out and about.

A tip is always the most appropriate gift when it comes to servicepeople. Remember that the average salary in Cuba is just under USD $30 per month, so your disposable income is always going to be greater than the Cubans you encounter on your travels. Many servicepeople in Cuba bolster their income through tips, and it’s a type of gift that will always be warmly received.

Gifts for Just in Case

If the nature of your trip means that your planned itinerary will bring you into contact with a fair number of people, you can always have a contingency plan. If you’re worried about not being able to leave a gift when it would be appropriate to do so, there are some items you might want to pack just in case.

Something practical is more appropriate than some random keepsake, so think of things such as rechargeable batteries (and a small charger), or clothes (such as a multipack of cotton tee-shirts), or even pens and pencils. If you don’t find yourself in circumstances where you need to give a gift, you can simply bring these easy-to-transport items home with you and make use of them yourself.

Do you have any questions? Just leave a comment below.

One Comment

  1. Valerie

    Are candles okay to take to Cuba. I have a very large assortment of them

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