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11 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Cuba

Condé Nast Traveler Logo By Alexandra Bousquet-Chavanne of Condé Nast Traveler | Slide 1 of 12: Havana Vieja district, Cuba

11 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Cuba

In the words of a local artist and friendly guide I met on a recent trip to Cuba, “The only way to understand Cuba is to be irrational.” The island nation is a place of paradoxes: one where you're at once in awe of Havana's history and beauty, and disheartened (possibly even resentful) that the Spanish colonial homes and mid-century facades are crumbling to the ground. Cuba is the rare country where you won’t find McDonald’s or Zara, or even a Coca-Cola; where Wi-Fi is inaccessible not by a minority of the population, but the majority. Yet its medicine and education surpass the Western standard, and are accessible to all. Cuba's people are its greatest asset: intellectual, cultured, and passionate, with no limits to their generosity and optimism despite the limitations imposed (like saving $2 of a $10 monthly salary for an hour of Internet). Where there is an ambient (unspoken) resentment toward the government, there is also gratitude. Cuba is a country of contradictions, and that’s why it’s so appealing. You won’t figure it out, and it will leave you dizzy. But at least you can head to Havana with a fair warning—and a few tips that will come in handy along the way.

© Michal Krakowiak/Photolibrary/Getty Images

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