“Enjoy unplugging in Cuba!” everyone said when I left for my first trip to Havana. Not so fast. I was up and running within an hour of reaching my casa particular (booked through Airbnb). If you’d like the option to log on while in Havana, this is for you.
How to Get Wifi in Cuba as of April 2017
Nauta Wifi Cards
First, to get wifi in Cuba you need a nauta wifi card. Foreigners and locals use the same cards. There are two, a blue nauta wifi card and an orange nauta wifi card. The blue one gives you an hour of service and costs around 1.5-2 CUC and the orange one gives you 5 hours of service and costs around 3+ CUC. Make sure the strips of numbers on the back haven’t been scratched off (like lottery tickets). These are multi-use cards accessible until you use the allotted minutes or when they expire. The card I purchased in April 2017 doesn’t expire until November 2017, which means I’ll be able to use it during my second trip to the island.
Also, perhaps tuck the card away where you keep your license or passport. I opened my bag while walking on the Malecón and my card took off salsa dancing with a gust of wind. The wind chanted “unplug, Erika, unplug.” (I bought another card.) When I was buying the cards, ETECSA allowed a purchase of up to three cards. For only around $2-4 USD per card (depending on which one you buy) it’s worth buying enough wifi access to cover your stay.
Where to Purchase the Wifi Cards
- ETECSA stand. I went to one on the edge of the Vedado and Central Havana neighborhoods just north of where the streets Avenida 23 and Infanta meet at the Malecón. To be fair I had a little trouble finding this ETECSA kiosk because it wasn’t marked but Cubans were very helpful and directed me. See notes on lining up / queuing up below. Next to this kiosk you’ll see loads of Cubans on phones using wifi. I highly recommend visiting the area just a ways down next to the Malecón regardless. I sat there for hours people and sunset watching. Cross over to the Malecón and look southwest as the sun sets over the Hotel Nacional. The Malecón is where time ticks to the changing colors of the sky and Cubans fall in love every evening.
- ETECSA Building. I visited the ETECSA building on Obispo at the corner of Obispo and Habana streets in Habana Vieja. Also, refer to notes on lining up / queuing up in Cuba below.
- Evidently you can buy the cards at hotels at higher prices.
- On the street. I saw men selling the cards on the black market at all the parks. They’re more expensive and I don’t know if they work but it’s an option to avoid the lines or during afterhours. Note, make sure the numbers haven’t been scratched off.
Find a Wifi Park
I mentioned the park where the streets Avenida 23 and Infanta meet. This park is an area with a few benches and a cement ledge to sit on. As such, wifi parks can be actual parks or a cement area. As another example, there’s one across from La Floridita in a triangular cement area with a monument. I sat on the curb one night to log on and made friends with two Spanish guys. I met a Cuban friend I’m still in contact with at the one on Avenida 23. Magical Havana. I also frequented one in the mornings across from Universidad de La Habana. You’ll know when you’ve reached a wifi park as everyone will be on phones, tablets or laptops.
Checkout this TripAdvisor article for a list of wifi parks in Cuba. This was published in September 2016 so expect there to be even more locations now.
Logging on to Wifi
You’ll log on as you would at a coffee shop, airport or anywhere else you want to access wifi. On an iPhone, you’ll go to settings then wifi and select the network, WIFI_ETECSA. A screen will pop up and you’ll need to add the username (usuario) and password (contraseña). The username and password are located on the back of the nauta wifi card. You’ll need to scratch off both strips (a coin will work) to reveal the numbers.
Logging off of Wifi
To log off, I turned off wifi and left the wifi park. Next time I logged on, I had the same number of minutes I had when I had logged off. I never had a problem. With that said, I’ve read other blog posts suggesting you should access the logo on / log off page to ensure you safeguard your remaining minutes. I’ve included instructions from three sites offering the same general idea. Since I haven’t tested this out, I wanted to give you options:
- From Two Scots Abroad: “Type 220.127.116.11 into the search bar (if it takes you to a Google search of 18.104.22.168 ignore this and try again). Here you request to log off and click ‘cerrar sesión.’ If you have not used your full one hour then the credit will be available for you to use again.”
- From Vagabondish: “Once you’ve completed your session, be sure to log out! This ensures that you won’t continue to be charged for minutes you aren’t technically using. To do so:
- Launch your web browser (if it’s not already)
- Type 22.214.171.124 into the address bar
- A basic screen will popup indicating the total time used/remaining on your NAUTA card. Click the “cerrar sesión” button to logout.
- Close your web browse”
- From Business Insider: “When you are done, make sure to turn off your wifi. And if you want to be extra safe, type in http://126.96.36.199/ to reach a log-out screen. Otherwise, get ready to buy another card.”
What Websites are Accessible in Cuba?
From what I’ve heard, there are many websites not accessible in Cuba. If you only need to do some travel research and use google maps, email and social media, you’ll be fine. I even downloaded some podcasts though it was very slow. If you have a particular need, I’d suggest doing research ahead of time or assuming you won’t have access. It’s better to go to Cuba with no expectations and be pleasantly surprised.
I waited in line for an hour in the sun at the ETECSA office. The Cubans weren’t having it. They have a unique way of queuing up. When a Cuban approaches a line, they will shout out “el último?” They’re asking who’s the last person in line. If that’s you, speak up or raise a hand and the last person will get behind you or tell you that they’re the last one and walk away. If you don’t speak Spanish, just shake your head you understand. They may leave the line to run an errand or find some shade.
While it appears like chaos, it’s actually Cuban magic. When the time comes, everyone will remember exactly where everyone else and they are in line. If you need to go buy a bottle of water by all means, tell the person in front or behind you and go. They’ll respect your place in line. While I waited at the ETECSA office more than half the people in line were gone. There was a point when about 20 people were discussing positions and I didn’t even need to speak up. They knew exactly where the tall gringa’s position was in line and sure enough they got it right. I experienced this when exchanging money and saw this happen at the bus stop in front of a wifi park every morning.
Google Maps, a Reason to Access Wifi While in Cuba
I’m much more of a winger than a planner so wifi gives me the opportunity to confirm locations and hours during my travels. As Cubans and other travelers made recommendations I’d record the suggestions in notes on my iPhone and then next time I was on wifi, I’d yellow star the places in google maps. To use the star feature, click on the location in google maps then select “save” then select “starred places.” Your google maps GPS will work even when your phone is on airplane mode and your cellular data is turned off. You can access the stars but you cannot create the stars in these modes. This is really helpful when I return home and need to make recommendations or write blog posts as all the places I visited are starred in google maps on my phone. Another offline option is the maps.me app. You can download the Cuba maps before you leave home and then use them offline when you arrive.
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