Gifts for the cuban people, Cuban people street scene 

Gifts for the Cuban People

By globedrifters Uncategorized

Gifts for the Cuban People 

Want to know what gifts for the Cuban people you can bring on your trip to help them? In Cuba, most people lack access to a lot of the things that we would consider basic necessities. Most of you, including travelers on our 9-day trip, will visit Cuba under the OFAC category “Support for the Cuban People”. Your trip is a great opportunity to bring some small things that could make a big difference and help the Cuban people. Below is a list of some ideas for gifts for the Cuban people you can bring.


Why Bring Gifts for the Cuban People?

There is an embargo placed on Cuba by the U.S. and Cuba’s government tightly controls the distribution of goods to the people. A combination of these two things (as well as many other political, economic and social factors) makes getting items that most consider basic necessities very difficult in Cuba. For example, many of us wouldn’t think twice about running to the local pharmacy to pick up some Ibuprofen or Aspirin if we had a headache. This simple task isn’t so easy in Cuba because shortages of over-the-counter medicines as well as prescription medications are common, especially these days.

Due to shortages of everything from cooking oil to antihistamines and everything in between, we always recommend that travelers to Cuba who want to help bring gifts for the Cuban people to donate to those in need. You don’t have to pack your suitcase full of donations, but if you have some spare space in your luggage, basic items to help the people of Cuba are a great way to do some good while traveling. 

Cuba embargo billboard, Gifts for the Cuban People

The embargo is just one factor that makes getting basic goods very difficult in Cuba.


What Gifts to Bring for the Cuban People?

Any gift for the Cuban people you bring will usually be appreciated as there are shortages of pretty much everything you could imagine. However, there are three main things that are extremely hard to come by in Cuba: medicine, clothing and toiletries.

Medicine

Most over-the-counter medicines, ointments, vitamins, supplements, etc. are next to impossible to find in Cuba. These are probably the most necessary things that are hardest to come by for the Cuban people. Below is a list of ideas of medicines and medical supplies you could bring:

  • Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Paracetamol
  • Antihistamines
  • Antacids
  • Antibacterial ointment/cream
  • Vicks Vaporub 
  • Bandages
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Anti-itch creams for children

Toiletries

Anything related to personal hygiene is hard to obtain in Cuba. When you can find it, the supply is very low or it’s very expensive for the average Cuban person. Here is a list of things that don’t take up much space in your suitcase and would make great gifts for the Cuban people:

  • Bars of soap
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Sponges/Loofahs
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby powder
  • Disposable razors

PRO TIP: If you bring shampoo, conditioner and shower gel for your trip, you can just leave them behind for the cleaning lady at your casa and even if they’re just half full, they’ll make great gifts for the Cuban people. And as a bonus, your suitcase will be much lighter on the way back home!

Clothes

Clothing of any kind can also be difficult to find for many Cuban people. When you can find it, it’s expensive, very low-quality and often in poor condition. For this reason, we always suggest bringing clothes as gifts for the Cuban people. They don’t have to be brand new or high fashion; even lightly used, but in good condition is alright. 

PRO TIP: We recommend children’s clothing because these are often the most expensive and difficult to find in Cuba.

Miscellaneous

Pretty much everything under the sun in Cuba is hard to find so any little extras that you would like to bring will be great gifts for the Cuban people. If you bring bottles of any liquids or creams, even half-full bottles are OK! The items below are not essential, but are still hard to get. Here is a list of miscellaneous items that you can bring to help out the Cuban people:

  • Rechargeable batteries and lightbulbs (due to the recent power outages)
  • Perfumes/Colognes 
  • Lotions/Beauty creams
  • Makeup
  • Deflated soccer/basket-/kickballs
  • Small, handheld ball pump
  • Children’s backpacks
  • Hair accessories (i.e. brushes, combs, hair ties, bobby pins, etc.)
  • USB cables (for phone chargers)
  • AA or AAA batteries
  • Pens/markers
  • Small candies or lollipops
Cuban musicians, Gifts for the Cuban People

Any gifts, big or small, will be greatly appreciated by the Cuban people.


Who do I Give my Gifts for the Cuban People to?

Most travelers on our small group trips have told us that they weren’t sure who to give their gifts for the Cuban people to. It can be hard or awkward to decide who to offer them to. We understand that giving them to a random person on the street can be uncomfortable. We recommend giving your gifts to the cleaning ladies at your casa particular. They are often part-time hires by the casa owners and make less than the average Cuban so they are great recipients of these gifts. You can give them the gifts in person or leave them in your room with a little note at the end of your stay. 

PRO TIP: The casa particular owners are often in better economic situations than many other Cubans as they have family in the US or overseas that often help them with goods and money. They’ll be appreciative of any gifts you may have for them, but we recommend giving your gifts to the cleaning ladies as they typically earn less and have access to less.

Plaza de la Revolucion Havana, Gifts for the Cuban People

Traveling to Cuba is an experience of a lifetime so why not do some good while you’re there?


Pretty much any Cuban person you encounter on the island will usually be happy to receive a gift in any form as long as it is offered with a warm smile. Gifts for the Cuban people are not mandatory, but can make a big difference. Whatever you decide to bring and whoever you decide to give it to will be very much appreciated. Happy travels!

 

Exchanging Money in Cuba

By globedrifters Amazing trips around the world | Cuba

Exchanging Money in Cuba

Updated August 28, 2022.

Exchanging money in Cuba and the country’s currency system can be a complex matter and difficult to navigate. The Cuban government is notorious for making monetary and economic reforms at random and with little notice. This blog will introduce you to the basics of Cuba’s currency and of exchanging money plus tips to help you understand Cuba’s currency system.


What is the Currency in Cuba?

Before finding out how to exchange money in Cuba, it’s important to know a bit about Cuba’s currency system. Cuba’s official currency is the Cuban peso (CUP). The moneda libremente convertible (MLC*) is also in use in certain places. The Cuban peso is a closed currency so you can’t buy, sell or trade it outside of Cuba. This means that you won’t be able to legally exchange other currencies for pesos before your trip. You can only do so in Cuba.

Official exchange rates are determined by the Cuban government and are subject to change at any moment without notice. You can see the government’s recent exchange rates on CADECA’S WEBSITE. This website may not be updated regularly or have the most current rates.

The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is no longer in circulation in Cuba!

*MLC stands for moneda libremente convertible. It is a term created by the Cuban government for foreign currencies, usually US dollars and euros.

Exchange money in Cuba for Cuban pesos (CUP)

Cuban pesos (CUP)

Which Currency Should I Bring to Cuba?

Simply put, the best currency to bring for purchases and spending in Cuba is the US dollar (USD) or euro (EUR) for US travelers.

Cuba is experiencing one of its worst bouts of inflation so prices in CUP are extremely elevated, but USD and EUR and are accepted at many private food and beverage establishments. These are the only types of places we dine at on our 9-day trip.

At the official government exchange houses, 1 USD/EUR is approximately 110/117 CUP respectively.

When paying in US dollars or euros, you will often receive change in CUP. You can use this to tip your server, bartender, etc. Be sure to ask at every place you visit what their USD or EUR to CUP exchange rate is. 1 USD/EUR is valued at varying amounts of CUP at private restaurants, bars and cafes. For more information about what to tip, check out our blog about Tipping in Cuba!

PRO TIP: When bringing US dollars or euros, it’s best to bring smaller bills of 20s, 10s and 5s. Avoid bringing too many bills above 20.

Exchange money in Cuba to get a cool Cuban beer on a hot Havana day

A cold, refreshing Cuban beer on a hot day!


How can I Exchange Money in Cuba?

The most common place to exchange money in Cuba is the CADECA, the official government currency exchange office. You will see these offices at the Havana airport as well as in major cities and tourist destinations. The official exchange rates are set by the government and do not really vary too much from office to office. 

As of August 29, 2022, 1 USD = 110 CUP.  This includes the 8% conversion fee that CADECA charges. All other currencies have a 2% conversion fee.

Many hotels will often exchange money, but it is not recommended to exchange there because of the inflated exchange fees they charge.

There are many unofficial money exchangers on the street, but we do not advise our travelers on how to do this. If you choose to exchange money in Cuba in this way, it is at your discretion and own risk! 

At the end of your trip, you can exchange your remaining CUP back to an available foreign currency at the airport. CADECA in the city may exchange CUP back to foreign currency for you depending on availability. You can also try to spend the rest of your CUP. Keep in mind that CADECA in the city or at the airport may impose a $100 USD/EUR limit when exchanging back from CUP.

PRO TIP: As most taxis at the airport will accept USD or EUR, we recommend that all travelers on our 9 day trip wait to exchange money in Cuba until they meet with the guide on the evening of Day 1 of the trip. He will offer guidance on exchanging money at the first meet when you arrive.

Exchange money in Cuba legally at the CADECA

CADECA are legal Cuban government exchange houses where you can exchange currency


Can I use my Debit/Credit Card in Cuba?

In short, you cannot use a debit or credit card in Cuba as an US travelers and you should not rely on any card as a main method of payment. No US debit or credit card will work in Cuba so basically: No, you cannot use your debit/credit card in Cuba. 

Many cards issued from non-US banks may work in Cuba, but the common issues with cards are twofold: 1.) Card readers don’t always function properly because they’re outdated or they experience connectivity problems; 2.) ATMs are known to break down or run out of cash when withdrawing Cuban pesos.

It’s best to be prepared to deal in cash only during your travels to Cuba. We never recommend relying on a card as a main method of payment for the above-mentioned reasons.

PRO TIP: You may be advised to get an MLC debit card on arrival in Cuba. We do not recommend getting this card. It is offered by the Cuban government and works primarily at state-run businesses which we do not patronize on our trips. Most private restaurants, bars, casa particulares, etc. do not have card readers and will not accept payment by any type of card.


How Much Money Will I Need for my Cuba Trip?

For travelers on our 9-day trip, we recommend bringing 600 – 900 USD/EUR in cash for the few lunches & dinners that are not included as well as tips, souvenirs and any other optional activities that you wish to participate in based on past travelers’ feedback. This will vary depending on your spending habits and travel style. We strongly advise bringing more money than you expect to spend in case of an emergency!

Many travelers have told us that they found Cuba to be much more expensive than other developing countries. Be prepared to pay as much for food and beverages as you might in a ‘developed’ Western country.

Below are some approximate prices for food, drink, souvenirs, etc. to help you budget for your trip:

Meal at a nice, sit-down restaurant: 20 – 30+ USD/EUR
• Cocktail: 5 – 10 USD/EUR
• Can of beer: 2 – 3 USD/EUR
• Wifi (1 hour card): 1 USD/EUR

*These are only approximate prices and cost of items may vary depending on location and your personal preferences.

You can read up on tipping by checking out our Tipping in Cuba blog!

No need to exchange money in Cuba to eat at a paladar. Pay in EUR!

Cuban restaurants: Purchase food in EUR, tip in CUP!


Cuba’s currency exchange and monetary system are ever-changing and quite complex at times. By knowing what to expect beforehand, you’ll have a great trip that you’ll never forget. Remember that on our Globe Drifters 9-day trip, your guide will be there to help point you in the right direction. Happy travels!

cuba expect the unexpected 

Cuba – Expect the Unexpected

By globedrifters Cuba

What to Expect in Cuba

Cuba is trending big time these days – in the news, among travelers, on social media, etc. More and more tourists are flocking to the tiny island before it is “ruined”. (Don’t even get me started on that topic. I’ll save it for it for another blog post!) I encourage anyone and everyone to go to Cuba because it is a beautiful country with warm and extraordinarily resourceful people. HOWEVER… before going there, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, open up your mind and as the title recommends : expect the unexpected! Here are seven “unexpected” things to expect during your travels in Cuba!

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1.) Breakdowns

I don’t mean the emotional or mental kind! Cuba is a small and pretty much isolated island although it is only about 90 miles away from Florida. Because of the embargo still in effect, access to what we consider common tools and parts needed to fix cars, air conditioners, bathrooms, and so on can be very hard to come by. On top of this, appliances tend to be older models, so there is a strong likelihood that something will break down. So when the air conditioner in your accommodation is leaking water, don’t expect it to be fixed at the snap of a finger.

How to deal : Be patient! Kindly speak to a person working at your accommodation about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay.

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Broken down car on the side of the road

2.) Hablamos espanol

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, so naturally, you’ll hear it everywhere during your stay in Cuba. Furthermore, don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there will most likely be little to no English to be spoken. If it is spoken, it may be broken and limited in nature. When visiting a store or food/beverage establishment, interaction in English can be rare. Many non-Spanish speaking tourists rely on gestures as a means of communication.

How to deal : Learn some key Spanish phrases before going. I suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?”, and brushing up on food and numbers before you go. Most guide books will have useful phrases in them to help you out.

3.) Spend Those CUCs

While Cuba remains relatively cheap in comparison to other major tourist destinations, it is still more expensive than developing countries that you may have visited. You shouldn’t expect to be making it rain CUCs in the club simply because the cost of goods and services are not as cheap as you might expect. A meal at a restaurant including a drink and tip can come to $10 USD or more per person. Cuban cigars, while cheaper than in other countries, can still be pricey, especially the more well-known brands.

How to deal : For our 9 day trip, we recommend that travelers plan on spending around $400 – $600 USD. Additionally, we recommend that you bring a few hundred more in case of an emergency situation.

One Cuban peso convertible (CUC) approximately $0.87 USD

4.) Go Off the Grid

As an American, cell phone and Internet usage are very limited for the time being. Most American cell phones do not get service in Cuba. Even some of those who had purchased international plans and were told that they would work while in Cuba were disappointingly unable to use them. The Internet is also not always a given. In order to use the Internet, you can go to a major tourist hotel and purchase an Internet card. These days, there are newer establishments where you can go to purchase these cards as well. However, you can only use the wifi in designated public squares in various cities throughout Cuba. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, connection can be spotty at best.

How to deal : Be mentally prepared not to be able to use the Internet and phone while in Cuba. We always advise travelers not to tell their friends and family that they will be emailing/video chatting/texting/calling during their travels. Also, try not to let your need to be connected affect your trip. We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at your fingertips, but try to enjoy it! It’s not everyday that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet, or computer!

Cubans using wifi in a public square

5.) Toilet Toils

I have seen threads on forums and blogs on this pretty frequently. Toilets in Cuba, especially public ones, often do not have toilet seats. Ladies : now is as good of time as any to learn the art of hovering! Your accommodations will have a toilet seat and/or lid. Also, toilet paper is not usually freely offered in public restrooms. There is almost always a bathroom attendant to whom you give some small change and in return, you will normally receive a small amount of tissue for your use. Finally, don’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet in public and private bathrooms! If you have traveled to parts of Asia, you probably have had some experience with this. Plumbing in Cuba is kind of weak sauce, so wads of tissue down the toilet does not usually end well for the toilet and pipes. There is usually a small waste basket next to the toilet in which you can dispose of your used tissue.

How to deal : Bring your own toilet paper. It’ll come in handy when you feel that the amount of tissue you receive from the restroom attendant is too small. Plus, you can use it to wipe off the toilet bowl rim prior to using it.

Cuban toilet without lid or seat

6.) Water Woes

These days, there has been a big influx of travelers to Cuba and that has put a strain on the infrastructure. The housing and plumbing are just not ready to handle all the tourists flooding the island. This will most likely have an affect on your showering habits. Be prepared for lukewarm or possibly even cold showers and low water pressure. In all of our travels to Cuba, we can count the number of times we have had a hot, high-pressured shower on one hand!

How to deal : The showers may be cold, but on the plus side, the weather will be hot! Shower fast and perhaps split the shower up into two parts. At night, very quickly wash your body. Then in the morning, wash your hair over the sink or tub if it has a detachable shower head. The water will be cold, but it will break up the showering process and hopefully you won’t feel too chilly after getting clean!

7.) Eat Your Veggies

Some find Cuban food to be delicious; others not so much. Cuban cuisine tends to be pretty simple in nature. You will almost always have a protein consisting of pork, chicken, beef, or fish that will be generally pan fried or grilled and lightly seasoned. Your meal will also come with some fresh vegetables that are in season. You may be offered some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers with shredded cabbage and a simple dressing of olive oil with salt and pepper. Also, for the starch, there is almost always rice and beans or just rice served. Occasionally you will get some boiled potatoes. A lot of people have told me that they have found the food in Cuba to be quite bland or very monotonous.

How to deal : Bring your own hot sauce! No joke! I always have my favorite one constantly on hand at the dinner table whenever I’m dining in Cuba.

Cuban meal : Ropa Vieja (spiced shredded beef w/ veggies), plantains, assorted veggies, black beans & rice!

All of these things seem pretty basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people gripe and complain about these things. I’m going to keep it real and let you know that the best advice I can give you is to remember that while it is tough to take a cold shower, have a boring meal, hover over a toilet, the Cuban people have had to live with this on a daily basis and they have survived. If they can do it for most of their lives, you can do it for a little over a week! Finally, don’t let this little stuff – because let’s face it, it really is little stuff – affect your trip too much. There are too many awesome things to see and lovely people to meet in Cuba to sweat the little things.  So with these things in your open mind, definitely DO go to Cuba and have tons of fun!