Long gone are the days of old when travelling abroad on holiday meant complete seclusion from friends and family back home until the arrival (probably after your own return) of the postcard you sent.
These days, thanks to the rapid spread of the internet, such isolation with the outside world is rare even in Cuba. But how do you get the internet in Cuba? Here we let you into some tips and tricks of how, so you can take advantage of all the websites and apps available to travellers while taking the stress out of staying in contact with loved ones back home.
The basics of how to get internet in Cuba
As a short term traveller your best bet for accessing the internet is almost certainly to log on to WiFi. Unfortunately for the budget conscious, WiFi is rarely free. Nor is it as widely available as in other countries. For example, it’s still rare for cafes to offer WiFi. However, the ability to get access to the internet in Cuba is improving all the time, and we don’t think it will be long before Cuba follows much of the rest of the world in its access rates.
It’s also worth bearing in mind (though you’re unlikely to have any issues as a visitor) that Cuba remains a communist country, and as such, the internet is strictly regulated and restricted by the government in Havana. Don’t be tempted to visit illegal or restricted content.
The options for getting internet in Cuba
There are three main ways in which to get the internet in Cuba. Firstly, there are the ETESCA telecommunications centres in towns and cities around the island. If you don’t know where to find your nearest centre, just ask a local or at your accommodation.
ETESCA is the government-run telephone company and their centres have internet-enabled computers as well as WiFi hotspots. More recently, WiFi hotspots have also been installed at a number of the country’s larger parks. Such ‘internet parks’ currently exist in Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Baracoa, Holguin, and Vinales. Like with the ETESCA telecommunications centres, if you’re having trouble finding an internet park, just ask a local to point you in the right direction.
Internet at your accommodation
Easier perhaps is the second option, accessing the internet where you are staying. Higher-end hotels are likely to have WiFi you can log on to for a fee. It is also increasingly common for casa particulare accommodation (private homestays) to offer a similar service. Surfing can be slow, so don’t be expecting the broadband speeds of home! A list of more than 200 locations with WiFi in Cuba is available from TripAdvisor.
Getting a NAUTA card
For either of these first two options it is necessary to buy your time on the internet by means of a credit card-like NAUTA card with a scratch-off username and password. They are on sale at ETESCA centres (and some hotels), at around US$1.50 for one hour of internet access. One hour and 5 hour cards are on sale. The cost of WiFi hotspots in internet parks is a little higher, at US$2 for an hour of surfing.
Buying the same NAUTA card at your hotel will be a much quicker experience, but also a more costly one, with a 1 hour card costing up to US$4. Decide what’s more important to you, your time or your money.
Locals also sell NAUTA cards, at higher than market value, to save you the bother of having to purchase them yourself. This can be a slow process, with queues known to last up to two hours at peak times. Be warned that there are plenty of scammers out to rip you off with fake cards, so only go down this route if you’re confident in what you’re doing. Buying in bulk for the length of your stay will save the need to go through this process more than once.
Using 3/4G connectivity
Easiest of all ways to get the internet in Cuba is our third option however. So long as you have an unlocked phone and purchase a SIM card from the likes of Digicel, it is now possible to get the internet in Cuba through 3/4G connectivity, doing away completely with the need to visit an ETESCA centre.
What to do with the NAUTA WiFi card
The good news is that each NAUTA card and WiFi log-in screen has information in English as well as Spanish – Cuba’s main day-to-day language – reducing the chances of things going wrong before you’ve even got connected. And it’s relatively easy to get connected too. First off, open your WiFi settings and connect to the ETESCA network. Next launch your web browser and enter 126.96.36.199 into the address bar. This will bring you to the NAUTA log in screen for which you need your NAUTA card username and password, so scratch off the protective foil over them if you haven’t done it already. That’s it!
To log off when you’ve finished your day’s surfing, and ensure you keep your remaining minutes and aren’t charged for them on a technicality of not having logged off, enter 188.8.131.52 into the address bar of your web browser once more and click the End Session / Cerrar Sesion button. Make sure you keep your NAUTA card somewhere safe, and don’t let anyone else use it, as it can be traced back to you (you’ll need to show your passport to buy it to begin with).
What we’ve learnt
If anything, the main take home message of this article is how rapidly the internet and WiFi scene is changing in Cuba. It’s clear that getting access to the internet will only get easier, as more locations offer WiFi and as Cuba opens up further.
Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comment below!