internet in cuba: history and reality

Is there Internet in Cuba? Where can you find free Wi-Fi? Has the Cuban Government censured the information we can find on line? Does it work Facebook there? Does it run Internet bank…? We clear up all doubts!

  • Internet service is paid in Cuba practicably, everywhere; independently of using it in guesthouses, hotel or Wi-Fi spots. There are Cafeterias that has free Wi-Fi service included, but only a few in the whole Island.
  • In Cuba you get Wi-Fi service while connecting to a Wi-Fi net, which always requires a password from our side. To start session and having the password, you must buy and rip a card that could give you from 1 to 5 hours service. The card is possible to use it multiple times and the price is 1 CUC for 1 hour of internet connection.
  • The Wi-Fi spots are all over the Island and normally are located in Parks, Hotels, squares of cities and popular touristic places.   

A brief History of Cuban Internet:

There is Internet in Cuba and this is the first message, very important for many people. Certainly, it is also partial or totally (none knows) controlled by the State offices. Wikipedia informs that Cubans had access to internet for the first time in the 90’s, but, obviously, not any average Cuban at that time had it. It was manipulated by Lab employees, investigation center and diplomatic missions.

Along with the legalization of buying and selling of computers in 2007, it was increase the interesting for new technologies. However, it was a process that took a long time. One year later, only 190 thousand people had internet connection, mostly residents or government journalist or people associated to government offices.

We had to wait till 2013 to have an increase of numbers of users, when the governmental company ETECSA, that has the monopoly of this kind of service in the Island, opened cyber coffee, where it was possible to obtain information about the world.   

The first Wi-Fi area of Cuba:

Shortly after, in 2014, there were introduce experimental zones of wireless internet that in the incoming years, grew as mushrooms. Nowadays, almost every small city has at least one of these places.

Significant changes in the use of the internet occur in 2018, after the appearance of the data package that Cuban could activate in smart phones. They talked about 3G for a Cuban phone for months, but it wasn’t until December 2018 that real mobile connection appeared.

If you wish to have data Internet in your phone while you are visiting Cuban, you must buy a SIM card (the price for this card is around a few dozens of dollars), and having a full wallet. The prices aren’t low; for 600 MG we pay $7 and for 1 GB $10, etc. This is to make you forget about video chat, sending photos and similar. In one word, having data connection is a real luxury for Cubans.

Nevertheless, the paradox is that presently, most Cubans, especially the young ones, they have smartphones and visitors, very often are surprised by the phones they see in the Island; sometimes, better than the one they have in their pockets. Brought by the loved Uncle Sam from USA, it was a very expected gift that later on, will catch the attention of tourist. But, does having the last IPhone or Samsung telephone prove that someone is rich? In Cuba, generally it doesn’t…        

Internet has more than one name:

To connect to Wi-Fi, most Cuban users create an account with their government email (the domain nauta.com), that later they surcharge at the ETECSA office or by buying a card with a secret code underneath. What’s the price? One hour of using cost $1. Where can you use it? It is possible at main squares of cities, towns or other strategic spots.

How do you recognize a Wi-Fi area? There is no need to worry about that; wherever you see people watching to their smartphones, that’s the right place (in Poland it will be a problem for us to identify a place like this, but there are not yet too many Wi-Fi spots in Cuba).

It is important to discard that these governmental emails account have been working without internet for many years. Cubans had access to their email “offline”, but in the Wi-Fi spots, so this is what they have been using with great enthusiasm till today. They are quite aware about the fact that this emails are been controlled or inspected by the government.

Internet in Cuba for tourist:    

How does tourist going? Normally, they don’t create an account with a SIM card, but they buy a card and rip the grey patch to know the codes and get connection in the designate place. Then, to have internet in Cuba everybody needs a ripping card. The actual price of the government is $1 per hour and it is possible to use it multiple times, in different places, one phone at a time.

Hotel internet:

One of the good news is that this card should work in the Island over; unless, we buy it in a Hotel reception and even if the card looks pretty much the same, it will only work at the hotel you bought it. Therefore, the internet service of hotels has its own rules. For instance, 1 hour of Internet service at the National Hotel cost $5 CUC and it’s possible to use the card in that hotel only. The same problems we find it in the Resorts, where in many Hotels to have internet connection, you have to buy the card of that Hotel. The cards that are selling at the ETECSA offices will be very useful but, just for public spaces with Wi-Fi, like the ones I have already mentioned.      

Price of Internet in Cuba:

Tourist pays the same as Cubans, one hour of internet service for $1 CUC (Nowadays equivalent to about 1 EUR). For a visitor, the price may seems to be attractive, but no necessarily for an average local person. However, a few years ago, the same card cost 4 CUC for one hour of internet or even 15 CUC at the very beginning. At that time, only the people that earned a lot of money had access to internet that was a great lux.

Is there free Wi-Fi?

Free Wi-Fi is almost inexistent. There is not even chance to find it in Hotels because they also have the system of cards I mentioned before. One exception could be a very luxury or expensive hotel, where maybe they give us 1 free hour of internet per day.

By a stroke of good luck, we will find a guesthouse or a private restaurant where the owner provides a domestic free Wi-Fi account to his customers. Nevertheless, rarely we find such a place. Generally, if our accommodation has internet service, we still need the card to get Wi-Fi connection.   

What does it work and what doesn’t? Apps and Banks

Before going to Cuba, most people are worry about internet and websites that work there. For the record, we will clear up all doubts about most frequent questions.

There is in Cuba:

  • Facebook
  • Messenger
  • Instagram
  • WhatsApp
  • Gmail
  • Internet Bank (except the American ones)
  • YouTube

What Apps doesn’t work in Cuba?

  • Booking.com
  • AirBnB(It works as a verification patron, but we can do the booking in Poland, not necessarily in Cuba)
  • Access to American Banks
  • Netflix(The content already download to see it offline works of course)
  • Apps store
  • Spotify
  • Skype(very different, it works in a square patron)   

If we plan to use Internet very often in Cuba, a VPN (Virtual Private Net) will be a very good solution that will allow us to have access to most websites that normally doesn’t work in Cuba.

Wi-Fi spots of Cuba (Biggest Cities):

  • Havana: All Hotels and some spots in Old Havana (including the square next to Floridita Bar, Cervantes Square), next to ETECSA offices and other places around the Waterfront call Malecon (easy to recognize due to the groups of people with smartphones).
  • Trinidad: The famous stairs at Casa de la Musica and at the Hotel Iberostar Trinidad located at Cespedes square, where is also possible to get connection.
  • Cienfuegos: The Square of the historical center (Marti square).
  • Vinales: Main Square, besides the Church and at La Ermita and Jasmines Hotels.
  • Varadero: Hotels, ETECSA neighborhood and Diversion Park.
  • Santa Clara: Main Square of the city (Vidal Square) and «Beatles Square».
  • Maria la Gorda: Internet on the beach.
  • Playa Giron: a point next to the Museum of Bay of Pigs Invasion.
  • Playa Larga: The principal spot of the city (a mini park alongside the Crab Monument).
  • Remedios: Marti Square (Main Square of the town).
  • Cayo Levisa: Hotel reception (There is also a Cyber coffee).
  • Cayo Santa Maria: Internet of the Hotel and in a place that looks like a town, to use the Wi-Fi card.

Internet in a Cuban Guesthouse:

One broadband connection in a house is as ridiculously expensive as the phone packages. The prices oscillate between $15 and $70 (worthwhile that an average salary for a Cuban person is around $30 per month). The quality of the connection is far from desire. However, there are many changes at present; for example, more incoming Cities are having a good price for internet connection. The price of the month package that provides 30 hours of internet access is $15 (0.5 CUC per hour); if you consume the whole amount, you still have the Wi-Fi service, but you have to buy more time, that will cost the regular price, $1 CUC per one hour of connection.

According to files, Cuban authorities control and look after sending messages and mailboxes of ETECSA users. At the same time, they don’t prohibit the use of Facebook but there are restricted websites, like Cibercuba (Cyber Cuba), sponsor by Cuban-Americans who live in Miami. In addition, many other American websites doesn’t work in Cuba, for instance, there are continuously issues with Booking.com, but it doesn’t have a big impact in the daily routine of Cubans. Therefore, is difficult to talk about the censure of information. There is control, but also, free will of speaking and information.

Cuban resistance is very active on Internet, directed by Yoanis Sanches and his website 14ymedio.com.

Cuban hackers:    

Furthermore, it worth to mention a few words for the lunatic hackers link to ETECSA package that we have in Cuba! Reportedly, Cubans are able to hack almost everything. Well, the proverb « The necessity is the mother of innovation », describes very well this nation. The access to last minute news and films is also available; only by going to «refill flash memory centers» to fill up yours, that should cost $1 CUC for having a lot of movies and series that sometimes, haven’t come out in Europe. «Everything is possible in Cuba», it’s what Cubans will say to us continuously, to explain how things happen there. But also, they have professional hackers that could take control of desired information. That’s why, it is so important to use internet in Cuba having conscience and careful while we are connecting to a public Wi-Fi.

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