Critical Items to Gift or Donate to Cubans

This blog post will help you know what you can donate to Cubans, how you can donate, and who you should donate to.

Updated: July 2019

First and foremost, THANK YOU.

When it comes to tourists coming to on holiday to Cuba, a question I often get is “Can I bring anything?” “How can I help the Cuban people?”

There’s probably no better question I love answering than that one.

There’s several reasons why the economic situation in Cuba is the way it is. The combination of the economic embargo alongside the internal situation has stifled the country at low monthly wages at high cost of living.

Unfortunately, many items that are easy to find in other countries become extremely hard to find in Cuba even if you have all the money in the world to buy it.

But as I sit here trying to google “donations to Cubans” that search becomes just as hard to find as the items Cuba needs.

I’m shocked there isn’t more out there in form of blog posts given the almost 2 million Cubans living in the United States alone.

So that’s why I’m here.

Here is a list of essential items you can donate to Cubans –

Many of them you’ll likely be packing for your vacation anyways.

  1. Medicine

There is nothing more necessary in Cuba than medicine. Sure, there’s free health care but care is limited when vital medicine is in low quantity. And, its really no secret.

Over the counter medication is in high demand. Some of these include:

  • Tylenol
  • NSAIDs
  • Anti-inflammatory cream (Cubans love Bengay)
  • Cough syrup for children
  • Tums
  • Bayer
  • Eyedrops
  • Cough drops (!!!!!)
  • Sudafed
  • Other over-the-counter

And Cuban Liquid Gold is always, always: BENGAY

As of 2019, pre-natal pills are in need. 

  1. Bandaids

Bandaids, gauze, and medicine tape are very expensive. A roll of medicine tape costs around $2CUC (a huge expense if you’re making $20 a month).

Bandaids are extremely light and small to pack and probably the most important item to gift a Cuban household.

  1. Toilet paper

Outside your Cuban resort and/or Cuban casa particular, toilet paper is a huge luxury for a lot of Cuban families. Its 90 cents a roll an trust me, its no Charmin.   A few rolls goes a long way.

  1. Deodorant

If deodorant was a drug, it could kill. Sweat and Smell go hand in hand on that island. That $1 bar from the 99 cent store costs nearly quadruple.

  1. Soap/ Shampoo/ Conditioner

See above for explanation

  1. Shoes

Good quality shoes are essential, especially for kids. It’s not rare to see people outside in the countryside especially barefoot or children running barefoot. Shoes are extremely expensive and very low quality.

Shoes break in 2 weeks if they aren’t an American recognizable brand. No joke. One time my shoes broke in the middle of the Olga Tanon concert in La Habana just by walking. No bueno.

Mari Pro Tip: If you want to bring shoes, working shoes in the countryside and boots are always needed. Many people in our little rural town of Pilotos have shoes with holes in them because of their long hours in the field.

  1. Brushes – Hair, Tooth

Here’s a story: It took me 3 days to find a hairbrush in Pinar. 3 days. Then it broke… 2 brushes later. #noesfacil

Toothbrushes and toothpaste are in huge demand as well. Children go nuts for the themed ones they sell outside the island.

  1. Sheet and Towels

Another two items that are in huge demand. You’ll likely see the same sheets in a Cuban home used for years.

  1. Other toiletries

Some items you’re likely already carrying are:

  • sun block
  • lotion
  • Wipes
  • Hair gel
  • Hairspray
  • Hair ties for the ladies!!!
  1. Feminine Products

Outside of high tourist areas like La Habana or Cienfuegos, many women have little to no access to choice within feminine products. Meaning, theres no tampons.

Tampons are light and small as well and will go a long way to helping any lady out.

  1. Toys

Children love toys and unfortunately toys are expensive in Cuba. The #1 item you can gift a girl of course is a Barbie. A boy? A soccer ball.   Move over baseball, soccer is HUGE in Cuba.

But most importantly are basic school supplies for Children: coloring books, pens, crayons, pencils, erasers.

13.  Diapers – Baby and Adult

Diapers are extremely expensive in Cuba. A package of 8 can cost $10! For an American salary, thats A LOT so imagine for a Cuban one.  Many older citizens, like our grandma, are bed stricken due to illnesses such as  arthritis.  Getting them cleaned is a LOT of work and causes bed sores. Diapers would really help.

Same thing for babys. While its common to use clothe diapers, many babies are sensitive and can only use diapers. Please bring if willing, a variety of sizes.

How to Donate to Cubans?


The biggest help you can give is is tourism.  Tourism helps the economy in so many different ways: From helping the taxi man earn more money, the the dancer on the street getting tips.  Its funnels through the economy.

There’s no better way to spend your time in Cuba than actually SEEING THE COUNTRY. Forget the cheap resorts you can find anywhere else in the Caribbean. This is a unique island with unique culture and we’d love for you to see it as authentic as possible.

Donations can be done multiple ways, but one thing is for certain. DO NOT DONATE PUBLICALLY ON THE STREETS. The Cuban government is concerned not only for saftey but its public image. No one wants to be seen as the country who needs American saviors for basic items, especially when there is already so much political tension.

Cuba is tricky when it comes to donations. If you are bringing large quantities of 1 thing, Cuban government officials might get a bit suspicious you’re trying to supply black markets than donating.

Mari tip: If you are so kind enough to donate, please bring a variety of things. Do not bring 50 USB sticks or a luggage full of shoes.  

To get customized tours email me here. For small-group tours, you can see our itinerary. 

Who to Donate To?

Cubans are inventors, but you might not know there are different economic classes on the island like any other country. Most casa particulares owners are living very well off tourism and same goes with any tourist driven employee (that’s why its so hard to get a tourist license).

We suggest going to places that are off-the-grid. In Havana alone there are several marginalized communities who would love donations. We can help in arranging that.

I also suggest thati f you don’t have time to go outside of Havana to leave donations at Cuba Libro.  Cuba Libro is a local coffee shop run by an American. They always take in donation and do their best to distribute.

Mari Tip: I suggest if you want to give to please donate items to a community project or any family living in the countryside (not Vinales because, again, very touristy). Many Cubans are not as fortunate to have family on the outside that can send them remittances. Plus, you’ll get a very local and cultural experience doing it that way!

If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 


32 replies
  1. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Love this! The last three trips I’ve taken to Cuba have been specifically to donate all of these above items.
    I have so many donations from people that I’ve already collected – I’d love to be able to connect so we can figure out the best way to get them over !

  2. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    We left almost every single item you mention above when we travelled to Cuba last May. We can’t wait to come back and help them in every way possible again. Thanks for sharing this! This blog is amazing

  3. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I plan to visit Havana in December. I am not sure she we hold off until next year because of Irma. I am getting confliting reports about the damage there. I also plan to donate goods.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Go! Havana, and the tourist zones in particular, has been largely repaired. You going will help provide economic support for those affected by the hurricane, plus you can bring some of the supplies listed here!

  4. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    This is wonderful!! Love it will definitely be bringing a extra suitcase filled with all of these. Thank you so much, was never really sure what to bring

  5. Susan
    Susan says:

    I bring Prescription eyeglasses and reading glasses too. Ask your optician to collect the old glasses when customers get new ones. Add the actual prescription when you can

  6. Mike R
    Mike R says:

    Hi Marissa,
    We usually leave items with the housekeeper at our hotel . Is this effective? Or should we go off resort to the local churches?

  7. Ninoskync
    Ninoskync says:

    В сети целый ряд полезных статей о беременности и роддомах, но они какие-то бестолковые. Недостает наименований перинатальных центров, адресов, рекомендаций настоящих докторов. А желательно бы увидеть последнюю речь, жизненную в данном году – с новейшими технологиями, тарифами и новинками.
    Идеально, чтобы еще и нужная информация для будущих и реальных мам. Все это обнаружила собственно здесь. Четко, определенно, с образцами из реалистичной жизни, консультациями специалистов. Зачастую захожу на сайт, когда чадо хворает.
    стоцкая после родов

  8. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I am visiting Havana through a cruise line. My friend said that toiletries are a huge necessity, and people appreciate items that smell nice. I am not bringing much, but I don’t know what to do once I arrive, and I don’t want to offend someone. I have perfume, scented soaps and lotions, and razors. My friend said if someone approaches you asking for money to give them an item instead. Is that the best thing to do?

  9. Lilian
    Lilian says:

    Hola Mari!
    I read on other blogs that even some churches and schools can be corrupt and not entirely hand out all donations to the people in need. How can a tourist know its legit? I will be traveling to Varadero in 2 days and spending 3 days in Havana during my week stay. Thank you for this article, very helpful.

  10. NanButler
    NanButler says:

    As above, can you recommend reputable churches or charities in Havana that would be easy to find. We’re on a ship and have two days but have tours scheduled, too. Also, I read that fishermen need fishing line?? Anything else for them? Would those guys out fishing be insulted if we gave them items directly? Thanks ….headed down in 2 weeks!

  11. Mary Nieves
    Mary Nieves says:

    Thank You for your blog . I have been searching extensively and yours is by far the best . Thanks for the great information, Was so happy to see so many people helping !! 🙂 . Do you know any specific cites we can visit in Cuba where they are in greater need ? You mentioned country side but we have never been to Cuba . Thanks Mary

  12. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Wow this is amazing to know! Definitely will do! I wonder if we could ship a box of things to Cuba? How would that work? Is that legal! Expensive? I’m from San Jose, California US

  13. Morris E Gary III
    Morris E Gary III says:

    Going on May 21,2019 found a church that focuses on the elderly and downes syndrome. Taking many of the items you suggested above. Thanks for posting .

  14. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    ¡¡Hola!! Voy a hacer un roadtrip por toda Cuba el 22 de noviembre. Llevo medicamentos, ropa, ropa infantil, zapatos, jabón, juquetes, material escolar, maquillaje, bisutería y por supuesto mi maleta y mochila que voy a dejar allí. ¿Me recomendáis sitios dónde poder dejar estas cosas?

  15. Paule
    Paule says:

    Hi! Another article that I find to be really popular and needed in Cuba are knives for the kitchen…. good quality chefs’ knives and others are so welcomed! And anything else for the kitchen… pots, towels, tablecloths etc…


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] you’re visiting Cuba and would like to bring something to counteract the US Embargo, click here for Mari’s […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *