What you may have heard about Internet in Cuba is true. Cuba is probably one of the few countries in the world that does not have free internet access…ANYWHERE in the country!
For most people traveling to Cuba for a week long vacation, the news may be somewhat freeing. A week long internet detox? Yes, please!
But those planning to explore the country for 3-4 weeks or even longer may become weary of the idea of being disconnected from the world for that long. It especially hurts long term travelers like us, those that live a digital nomad lifestyle, and whose only connection to income requires access to the (evil) World Wide Web.
We couldn’t find much information about Internet access in Cuba while researching for our trip. So we prepared for the worst and luckily were pleasantly surprised upon arrival. To help others in their search for information on Internet in Cuba, we’ve put together this post to debunk the myths and provide up to date information on the state of Wifi and Internet connection in Cuba.
The Bottom Line: There is Internet in Cuba
…and it’s not as hard to find as your travel agent and trip advisor comments will tell you.
As of August 2016, there were 3 ways to access Internet in Cuba.
1. Connect to the internet via ETECSA Hotspot
Prior to 2015, Internet in Cuba was practically non-existent, but much has changed over the last year. In early 2015, the nation’s telecommunication provider, ETECSA, opened up Wifi Hotspots all over the country. They started off with just a couple spots in Havana, Santiago, and other major cities but eventually extended the hotspots to cover almost every city on the backpacker trail in Cuba.
While widely available across the country, ETECSA Hotspots do not give you free access to the web.
To access the Internet via the ETECSA Hotspot you will need an ETECSA prepaid Internet card. The cards come in 1 hour and 5-hour denominations and cost $2/hour (so that’s $2 for 1-hour card and $10 for a 5-hour card) and are sold at ETECSA offices across the country. The line up at these offices is always long, so be prepared to wait. Our best advice is to estimate the number of hours you will need to spend online during your time in Cuba and purchase cards in bulk to last you the duration of your trip. Keep in mind that you can only buy 3 cards per person (you’ll need your passport to make the purchase), but it doesn’t matter if you get 3 x 1-hour cards or 3x 5-hour cards.
ETECSA cards are also sometimes sold at hotels, shops, or by locals on the streets, but always at a premium ranging from $4-$6 (4-6CUC) per hour.
Each ETECSA card has a unique Username (Usario) and Password (Contraseña), which you need to log into the ETECSA internet service. You can use the cards on your laptop, your phone, or in some cases in hotels (see section below).
TO LOG IN: simply connect to the ETECSA wifi hotspot, wait for the login window to pop up, type in your login and username info and hit “Accept”. The page will refresh and a timer will come on showing you how much browsing time you have remaining.
You can close the window and browse freely, keeping track of time on your phone or just by watching the clock.
DO NOT FORGET TO LOG OFF, when you are done browsing. One of the biggest downsides of the cards is that they don’t always terminate the session when you disconnect from wifi. To ensure we didn’t lose time, we would always disconnect our wifi, forget the network, wait a couple of minutes and log back on again to make sure the login window pops back up. To be safe, do the same thing on your phone and computer.
2. Connect to the internet using an ETECSA Card via a hotel’s ETECSA hotspot
As mentioned before, some hotels allow you to access the Internet via an ETECSA hotspot as well. Some allow you to do this using desktop computers in the lobby, while others actually have a wifi hotspot that you can connect to using your phone and/or laptop.
Same principles apply when it comes to connecting to ETECSA hotspots in hotels. You’ll need an ETECSA card, and you’ll need to log in using your card’s password and username.
TO LOG OFF: If you are using hotel wifi, logging off requires more than just disconnecting wifi and forgetting the network. To do this properly you must go to http://188.8.131.52 and hit disconnect to end your session.
3. Connect to the internet via a private internet connection in a hotel/resort
While a lot of hotels offer an ETECSA connection, some (mostly high end hotels) only allow you to login using a private hotspot. ETECSA cards will be useless for these types of connections as internet time can only be purchased directly at the hotel. The prices are significantly higher than connecting via ETECSA. Expect to pay upwards of $10-15 / hour.
ETECSA Wifi Hotspots in Cuba
Wifi Hotspots are typically located in parks, with the exception of Havana, where one of the best hotspots runs all along the La Rampa street in Central Havana.
Below is a list of ETECSA wifi spots that we have personally used throughout our time in Cuba.
- Parque Céspedes, Havana Vieja
- Boulevard de San Rafael, Havana Vieja
- La Rampa Street, Havana Vedado
- Hotel Ambos Mundos on Obispo Street
- Parque Villuendas
- Plaza Mayor
- Parque Céspedes
Santiago de Cuba:
- Parque Céspedes
- Plaza de Marte
- Grand Hotel
- Parque Central
- Parque San Juan
- Plaza Jose Marti
Whenever you do get a chance to log on, make the most of your time online. This is the process we followed which proved to be very efficient.
- Download your emails, messages, and preload pages when you first log in
- Disconnect from the Internet
- Compose email/message responses, and any social media posts.
- Edit any photos offline and prep them for posting
- Send emails, copy and paste message responses, schedule social media posts
- Log off
Prepare to be Offline
Even though Internet access is available across the country it’s not always easily accessible so we do recommend a bit of pre-planning to help your trip go as smoothly as possible.
- Download Maps.me, it’s one of our favourite apps that allows you to access maps (with routing) without connection to the Internet. Download the full Cuba map before you go and you’ll never have to worry about being lost.
- Download and save Wikitravel Pages for each city you plan on visiting. Same goes for travel blogs and interesting articles about travel in Cuba. You can do this with an app called Pocket
- Take notes of the TripAdvisor restaurant recommendations. You can either find best restaurants in each city on your mobile and screen print TripAdvisor suggestions or download pdf versions of the TripAdvisor desktop pages.
- Download the app A La Mesa, to get some insight into the restaurant scene across Cuba.
- Download this or a similar guide to Wifi in Cuba for an easily accessible list of ETECSA hot spots and tips for connecting to the internet while in Cuba.
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