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Viva Cuba! Part 4 – The Basics: Internet

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Viva Cuba! Part 4 – The Basics: Internet

Million Mile SecretsViva Cuba! Part 4 – The Basics: InternetMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Emily:  When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!

Cuba has a lot to offer.  My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people!  We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.

The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights.  Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible.  Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up.  When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.

Note:  Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip.  There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money.  I’ll show you how later in this series!

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
Internet Wasn’t Nearly as Accessible in Cuba. My Friends and I Were Forced to Have Fun the Old Fashioned Way!

My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!

Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata.  Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer.  Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.

On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design.  Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times!  We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!

Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:

The Basics – Internet

Internet is available in Cuba, but you have to go to big hotels or public squares to access it. I learned to detach from my electronic devices, and it was the best decision I could have made.  It taught me the importance of relationships with others, and how we often get distracted by what’s going on with our phones!

One of our reader, Karen (thanks!), pointed out the cheapest & easiest internet options:

“[You can pay] 3Cuc an hour ($3 an hour) for a WiFi card at any of the WiFi parks located all over Havana. You walk by the parks and there will be tons of guys selling WiFi cards. 2 Cuc an hour if you buy it from the internet shop. You can use the exact same cards to use the WiFi at any of the fancy hotels (or right outside of them). How to find a WiFi spot? You’ll notice people sitting around on their phones and tablets, there’s WiFi available there. The WiFi isn’t the fastest and some sites (like Yelp) are blocked, you can’t work from home from Havana but getting online isn’t hard at all. I do agree that it’s often nice to disconnect.”

The Fastest Internet Is at Big Hotels

I ended up needing the internet twice, so I went to the Hotel Nacional (this was before I received Karen’s sage advice above).  It was the most beautiful hotel in Havana!  It was built in 1930, so it only enjoyed ~30 years of US tourism before the US embargo with Cuba.

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
The Lobby Was Breathtaking! But I’m Still Glad I Chose to Stay With Locals

It was fast, but pricey at $7 per hour.  The one redeeming factor was that I didn’t have to use the full hour all at once.  I was able to use it for 20 minutes, and then come back to use the rest at a later time!

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
I Loved Unplugging, but I’m Glad Internet Was Available When I “Needed” It!

Other Hotels Might Not Be Reliable

My friend Chelsea went to a smaller hotel, and the speed was frustratingly slow.

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
The Proud Owner of an Internet Card! You’ll Need One of These No Matter Where You’re trying to Connect

It took her nearly 30 minutes to send an email because of the poor loading speed!

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
I Was Expecting to Hear the Dial Up Sounds

I wouldn’t recommend places like this, and think it’s worth paying extra at the larger hotels for faster service (unless you’re used to dial up speeds!)

Get the Locals’ Internet Cards!

I had heard about getting internet cards from my houseparents.  They are cheap at 2 CUCs ($2) per card, and they give you free wireless access at the Wi-Fi zones around town.  The Wi-Fi zones are in streets, plazas, and other main areas around town.

I hailed a taxi and asked the driver where to find internet cards.  He knew exactly where to take us.

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
The Store Was Similar to an AT&T

Our driver, Alejandro, parked his car and came inside with us to ensure that we found what we were looking for.

The store employee was out to lunch, and would return in 20 minutes.  Alejandro waited with me and my friend Sarita.  We chatted about how he’s planning to move to Miami, where his brother currently lives.  He was so excited!

Once the employee came back, Alejandro explained to her what we needed.  We received our 2 internet cards, no problem!

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
The Internet Connection Around the City Wasn’t Great, but Definitely Better Than Nothing!

Our cab driver was pleased to help us get our cards!  We posed with a picture and then said our goodbyes.  This kind of exchange was very typical in Cuba.  My friends and I made friendships wherever we went.  People wanted our email addresses to write us emails, and a few of them stayed in touch! I loved how much more caring, patient, and relationship oriented the island is compared to the US.

Viva Cuba Part 4 The Basics Internet
Alejandro Was So Sweet! The Cuban People Were Always Willing to Help

Bottom Line

It’s impossible to get Wi-Fi or any other internet access in casa particulars.  If you need to do work, consider staying at a hotel, but realize that you might miss out on a more authentic Cuban experience.

I learned to turn off my phone and curb my Wi-Fi usage, and it felt SO good!  I reconnected with my friends and the people around me, and I learned to appreciate the moment!

If you DO need to use the internet, try to buy in internet card from a local and use it near the hotel or in the public squares.

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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@ DaveS- Thanks for the additional insight!

@ Ben- Thanks for the feedback, and I completely agree that I found happiness in the lack of cell phone addiction there. It was so refreshing to see people value each other on another level.

@ Natalie- I didn’t find any specific music and dance tours or packages. In the Lonely Planet guidebook, there are a few schools where you can take classes at. I would do that and talk to locals about where to go. Good luck! 🙂

I am interested in a salsa music and dancing tour or package. Did you encounter any good ones? Thanks for the interesting dance posts Emily. Keep up the good work.

When I went in January, I just added a long layover in Montreal and went to Rogers Communications and signed up for a monthly plan that included their Roam Like Home feature, meaning when you go to a variety of international destinations, you pay between C$5-10/day to use your normal pool of data and minutes.

Cuba does have mobile data available – mostly 2G but some 3G – but a good reminder of the inequality there is that it is not available to locals, just tourists (and government officials). And so my Canadian SIM card worked fine there. When I got back to the U.S., I cancelled the monthly plan.

I just checked and Rogers and has removed Cuba from the Roam Like Home list! Now it’s C$1.50/MB which is completely out of the question (although, cheaper than Sprint, Verizon, and . Perhaps too many Americans had the same idea as me and it became too costly for Rogers. I asked them on Twitter and they said, “Our agreement with Cuba has changed and it is no longer a part of Roam Like Home.” Holding out hope for T-Mobile to come through with unlimited free roaming like it has elsewhere in the world.

I will say one of the “place lost in time” features of Cuba was how many people didn’t have data on their phones. No one was walking down the street with their eyes peeled to their phone, and young people just met up on the Malecón each night in order to find their friends. Not that we should be romanticizing a government that forbids their citizens from easy access to the Internet, but it was culturally an amazing thing to see. Few places in the world these days where people aren’t glued to their phones.

Thanks for the series. I just returned from Cuba so I’ll be comparing experiences with interest. You are not always anywhere near a big hotel and service in places like parks can be spotty at best. It’s good to take the attitude – and let people back home know it – that you may well be out of contact completely at times, and that’s OK. I do think that if Cuba wants to ramp up American tourism beyond the special interest / curious adventurer type, this is an area for attention.

One slight quibble. I wouldn’t refer to paying 2 CUC for “free” internet – that’s paid internet.