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Tipping? Gifts or $? How much?

After a 5 year hiatus we will finally be heading back to the beautiful island of Cuba.
On our last trip, we tipped about as followed:

Maids: 1-2 CUC + occasional small gift
Breakfast: 1-2 CUC
Lunch: 1-2 CUC
Supper:1-5 CUC
Drinks/Bars: 1 CUC every couple of drinks.
Bellboy: 1-2 CUC

We also would bring various small “gifts” (crayons/small toys for children, nail polish/other make-up, pantyhose, sunglasses, etc…) to hand out to the maids, gardeners or other employees at the resort. We would also tip 1CUC for beach service or other instances of personalized service.

So my question is, is this still appropriate?
Would Cubans prefer $ or gifts?
Are these “gifts” overdone? Insulting? Other suggestions for gifts?
What would be considered an appropriate amount of $ to tip per meal, the maid,etc, in 2013?


Forget the gifts and just tip when you get good service. The amounts you’ve mentioned are in-line with what others tip.

Hi celia. Tips and Gifts can be an explosive subject but I think you are more than generous and thoughtful with your list. Current thinking is to tip for great service in cash and your list is in line with what others do.
IMHO, gifting is for friends, tips are for great service and donations go to churches etc.
If we knew where you are going, a member may have just come back with information about local shortages to help you decide.
We are about to leave and have some guitar strings, valve oil for brass instruments, sax reeds, chocolate and candies for our friends and cash for everything else.
edit: from another post I see you are going to Cayo Ensenachos

My wife cleaned out her closet and drawers ( a little )
and put together 8 purses with various kids/women things and gave them to those people that usually do not get stuff like the girl at the souvenir shop ,front desk people etc. This was very happily received. The cash tipping is in line as others have said , but tip as how you want. We tip a bit more than you stated and I feel that get in kind service. I always get my eggs in the morning the way I like and drinks throughout the day are always prompt and perfect. I am not saying to try to be a big wheel, just that we give gifts that are things that we would take to Value Village or the S. A. boutique and gather stuff from friends that have no use to them anymore and lets face it, who wants to do a yard sale anyways. To argue for 25 cents for a thing that is worth a huge smile in Cuba sounds silly to us.

It’s always your choice for tipping. Keep in mind that in some cases, people who overtip can cause a lot more problem for abuse of the system. I’ve seen many people give 5 cuc for each drink!

I agree though that we tip ONLY when we receive good to great service, zero otherwise and zero is becoming more than less in the last few years. The buffets seem to be particularly the worst these days in our experience with a lot of truly awful servers.

Our list is similar:
Maids: 1-2 CUC + occasional small gift upon departure
Breakfast: 1 CUC
Lunch: 1
Supper:1-3 CUC
Drinks/Bars: 1 CUC every couple of drinks.
Bellboy: 1-2 CUC if we use one

Who is to say what is good and great service,(of course it’s the tipper) the worker should be doing a good job to start with, and if for example the restaurant is slow, then a great job with great service. We and finding now that many of hotels have cut back staff which does cause a delay in service, not the fault of the worker, so if he/she is trying their best and food is not coming out of the kitchen fast enough I still will leave tip.
A gift and tip are two separate subjects; we would never give someone an item and then no tip. For most people who do not visit Cuba often who have no friends, you are better off to leave most if not all your gifts at home, (except chocolate…lol ) and tip…we tip anywhere from 12/15 per day for some that may be too much and for others too little…

I don’t fault the server if the buffet is not re-stocked properly. However, keep in mind that in some resorts, the tip you give to the server is shared with the staff at the back.

Last time we had to set our own table at the buffet for lunch a few times. The staff were busy clearing tables (super slowly) but not resetting them and the mgr. was refilling the toothpick holders on the tables. It was at least an hour prior to the closing time for lunch with zero tables set. Hard to tip when you have not been served at all.

dax is correct… over-tipping and gifting has caused a huge erosion of the Cuban culture. I wish they had adopted the drop off area at the resorts. That way the whole group would benefit not just the few front line people for those wanting to bring items down.

Tip for service received …not to get service
Gifts are for friends

The lines I hear people tell me they are told are shameful at times. One fellow raking the beach said he received only a dollar a day… and was suffering because of that… Humm that is more, or the same as the resort workers. …and his job typically is not an all day job. So he was, in a way begging as this he told over and over to every person that was polite enough to chat with him… and often he was given $.

Maids: 1-2 CUC
Breakfast: 1-2 CUC
Lunch: 1-2 CUC
Supper:1-3 CUC depending if buffet or al la carte
Bars: 1 CUC every couple of drinks.
Bellboy and fellows that fill your fridge: 1-2 CUC

And if you are going to tip don’t forget the front desk and customer service people also as they do a lot of work and often do not receive any thank you’s only complaints.

I first visited Cuba in 2003 (Cayo Guillermo) & my last visit was in 2008 (Varadero). I definitely noticed a big difference with regards to tipping practices & expectations.

When I was at the Sol Cayo Largo in 2006, one had to tip for service at the buffet. Two servers were working as a team, & would shoo “non-tippers” from their section. One day, the pool bartender (who was sarcastic) actually pretty much insulted a customer, and the woman still gave him a tip! The bartender was actually speechless and just shook his head. He couldn’t even believe that the lady left him a tip after the way he spoke to her!

So I definitely agree that over tipping can lead to problems and a decrease in the quality of overall service.

However, I also like to tip to say thank you for good service whether in Canada or in Cuba.

As for “gifts”, they were never given in lieu of money, but in addition to money. I don’t always feel comfortable giving out “gifts” (even though you read (or used to) on many boards/reviews that some Cubans would prefer “gifts” to $).

Thank you for your replies. They have given me a very good idea as to what a fair tip would be for good service in 2013.

Also, back in the day, I remember that BC smoked salmon was a popular suggestion as a gift to give to Cubans, a suggestion from this very forum!

I’m just teasing, no drama intended, I promise! :slight_smile:

Everywhere in the world Est to Ouest tips first and service will follow. Like Dax said do not over tip. Tips will be shared with other staff that do not have contact with tourists to balance the system.

Couldn’t agree more with Canuks regarding tips and/or gifts for the guest service and reception staff. I’ve been in their shoes and it ain’t fun hearing complaints and I wannas all day long.

Roomladies and bartenders make the most money, so spread your love around to the maintenance gents, gardeners, those poor guards standing around all day, and the ladies cleaning OUR toilets around the site. A small gift and a smile go such a long way ;D

Hey Spunkypoo, bonnes vacances, you lucky sunnanabeach, hope you get the same weather I did (NOT) :sunglasses:

gather stuff from friends that have no use to them anymore and lets face it, who wants to do a yard sale anyways.

I have never understood why people think that junk they wouldn’t put in or buy from a yard sale, is acceptable to take as gifts for strangers in Cuba.

I find brand new stuff at yard and garage sales. I’ve brought down brandnew baseballs, crocs (with the tags), children’s shoes still in the box. Even if something is gently used, I have a litmus test: Would I give this to my own sister? If the answer is no, I don’t buy it for Cuba.

I did take down used flippers I’d bought for five bucks at a garage sale and they were very gratefully received. Then again I mostly go to Santiago which is less touristy than Varadero so they don’t get as much stuff. I prefer to donate to a local doctor who knows the patients and their needs.

Thanks VCC for remind me about the girls at the gift, cigar shops.

No problem nhathanh.
I agree with what a few posters have said about getting things from inexpensive sources and giving them. This year, in addition of the maid and the meal tipping , we went out and searched for the people that we all depend on for the little things that we all enjoy in the out-of-the-way places.
All of the purses ( easy way to portion it ) were received with thank yous that made me feel very grateful and fortunate.
Other things that go well,
mini 4 paks of super glue ( dollar store $ 1 )
twin paks of utility knives ( breakoff tips ) dollar store $ 1
virtually any creams, ointments , etc.
All are cheap and cost-effective in that a tip of one of these things , in lieu of CUC’s at the bar or buffet may cost us 2 or 3 bucks but cost a Cuban 10 or 15 cuc’s worth of tips to buy them on the underground market.

If you live near a Shopper’s Drug Mart, collect their points and redeem them for things like Band-Aids™, Polysporin™, children’s/adult/maternity vitamins. You can buy the Shoppers brand version. I took down Folic acid to the doctor because it is great for women hoping to conceive - prevents neural tube defects. Shoppers often have toothpaste and soap on sale as well.

No, I don’t work for Shoppers but I do like their programme and recommend it as a way to get free stuff when you are going to buy toilet paper anyway. My friend has the Polysporin on the mantelpiece because that stuff is gold in a tropic country.

I remember one time my friend Arturo told me how to cure diarrhea; boil a pomegranate skin and let it cool, then drink the water. I said, “Are you a doctor?” He deadpanned, “No… I am a Cuban!”

Eloisegirl, that’s my favourite way of picking up drugstore items, pain free, so to speak ;), by using my Shopper’s points.

We have found that money works best simply because the staff can then decide what they need as opposed to us forcing something on them.

A few years ago, we found our maid doubled over in pain in the linen room, she was laying on the floor with her feet up, she tried to get up when she saw us but we told her to stay… she said her back was playing up big time so we gave her some paracetamol… this could be classed as a ‘gift’ I suppose but it was something that she said she needed and we felt was appropriate to give.

We’re still in touch with this lady and we make sure we bring ibuprofen gel for her whenever we visit Cuba :slight_smile:

After arriving at the resort, I found one of my fave receptionists to be battling the head cold so I gave her some of the Advil Cold and Sinus day/night meds I had taken down. As we all know, that stuffy nose/sinus headache can really be debilitating. Next day she was feeling much better having been able to, finally, get a decent night’s sleep. So many of the OTC meds we take for granted are difficult to get in Cuba and that’s why I stock up with items like pain killers, cold meds, muscle aches, etc and use my Shoppers points to buy them. Another thing I give to the receptionists is bottles of sanitized hand gel to use through the day as they are constantly handling papers that may have been contaminated by sickly guests.