Telecom/Internet options while traveling in Cuba
Replies: 16 - Last Post: Oct 30, 2013 4:14 PM Last Post By: johnabbotsford
Apr 30, 2013 3:54 AM
Telecom/Internet options while traveling in CubaOne of the best overviews Ive seen, from resident writer WowCuba:
Staying in Touch in Cuba
Posted on April 29, 2013by WoWCuba
While communication in Cuba is admittedly sometimes a challenge, it’s not impossible these days to stay connected with friends, family and even your business while traveling in Cuba. Growing up in PEI, our family home had a party line and if you were so inclined, you could listen in on all your neighbors’ conversations – rural life can be boring if you’re not keeping abreast of the gossip. So moving to Cuba wasn’t necessarily such a big step backwards in terms of technology for me. In our first year of operations in an ecological property located somewhat off the beaten path in Santiago de Cuba, my brothers had to get out the shovels and dig a very deep hole so that they could install a radio phone (with the phone company’s blessing) just to remain in contact with our office in Canada. The villa relied exclusively on walkie-talkies for all contact with other areas in Cuba. There was no international phone at the property. During the two decades I’ve been living here, I’ve gone from dialing on a rotary phone and struggling to send/receive faxes from the post office to having relatively inexpensive phone and mediocre internet service at home. Granted, it’s sometimes maddeningly slow, but eventually most of the messages get through. Following is a summary of current options for staying in touch while you’re traveling in Cuba.
ETECSA is Cuba’s national communications company. Through Etecsa and their partners, visitors can acquire domestic and international telephone service, cellular service in Cuba, and internet.
All hotels in Cuba have international telephone access. Rates for calls are fixed depending on the hotel’s star rating (the higher the star rating, the more they can charge you, up to a maximum posted rate). Charges for telephone calls in hotels are processed by the minute, not portions thereof.
An alternative to using your hotel’s telephone service is to purchase a pre-paid international calling card in Cuba (from $10 CUC), which you can use from any public or private telephone and your card will automatically be discounted according to usage (by the second). The cards can also be used for national telephone calls in Cuba. There is a separate card (Tarjeta Propia) sold in national money for domestic use only which is by far the most economical option for calls within Cuba, and usually more convenient than public coin telephones. The card can also be used in public telephones (rather than using coins) or from private homes. Current international rates for phone cards/international cellular calls are as follows:
Central America, Mexico & the Caribbean
Rest of South America
Rest of the world
Cuba operates on the GSM system, using the 900 MHz band. If your cell phone operates on the same system/band it will have widespread coverage in Cuba. Some cell companies offer roaming/data plans that include Cuba. Check with your provider for details. Even though they are equipped with GPS (which, according to Cuban customs, is not permissible), iPhones are accepted for entry. If interested in activating a temporary line from ETECSA as a visitor, the current rate is $3.00 CUC/day plus $6.00 CUC/day for optional equipment rental. A minimum $10.00 CUC recharge (prepaid call credit) required.
INTERNET: Warning: connection times are typically much slower than what you are probably used to. Skype doesn’t work here, and if sending attachments I urge you to reduce them in size prior to sending, unless you have alot of time and money to burn. Just checking my daily email and bank accounts in the morning can sometimes take me more than an hour and several attempts on a dial-up account. You tend to forget about these things when you live in the developed world where broadband is the norm.
ETECSA Multiservice Centers: ETECSA has a network of public computers across the country where you can purchase 30 minute or 1 hour internet access cards from $3-6 CUC. Use is normally limited to daytime connections when an attendant is present and you sometimes have to wait your turn in a lineup of locals/visitors.
Cybercafes: Found in many hotels, airports and conventions centers primarily in tourism poles. Internet access cards can be purchased in 30 minute or 1 hour increments from $3-$12 CUC.
Wifi Access in Cuba: is limited at this time to the following locations (using prepaid cards purchased locally which usually cost $6-12 CUC/hour). Identification (passport) is sometimes required to purchase access codes/cards.
Havana: Aparthotel Montehabana, Chateau Miramar, Parque Central, Melia Cohiba, Melia Habana, Nacional (executive floor), Occidental Miramar, Panorama, Saratoga, Sevilla
Holguin: Paradisus Rio de Oro
Jardines de la Reina: Tortuga
Santiago de Cuba: Melia Santiago
Trinidad: Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad
Varadero: Barcelo Solymar, Iberostar Varadero, Playa Varadero, Sandals Royal Hicacos, Solymar
Important Telephone Numbers:
Ambulance: 104, Fire Station: 105, National Police: 106, Information: 113
To make an international call from a public, cellular or residential phone in Cuba: Dial 119 + country code/área code/telephone #
With the opening of private businesses in Cuba, the Yellow Pages are also becoming an increasingly interesting source of information. Their party, room rental, photography, furniture, and cafeteria/restaurants sections have expanded. There’s even pickup/delivery laundry service listed there now.
For alot of people, coming to Cuba is almost like going off the grid. Depending on where you go, it’s very possible that’s what it’ll feel like. It’s in stark contrast to the hyper-connected direction that developed countries have taken, where people have their eyes constantly glued on their smart phones/tablets, and text instead of talk. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re on vacation. You might just even have a chance to truly reconnect with yourself and those around you.
Apr 30, 2013 7:16 AM
Apr 30, 2013 11:34 AM
Apr 30, 2013 5:33 PM
3Thanks - excellent Wow (and Conner).
We find the pre-paid phone cards really useful for calls within Cuba. The only pain is the queue to buy them so we usually kill 2 birds and join the internet card queue first which is generally shorter and then ask for the phone card at the same time (from ETECSA).
Apr 30, 2013 6:57 PM
4I respect everyone's personal decision about what level they desire to keep in touch with home while they are in Cuba.
But, I do encourage everyone to step back and make a fresh assessment of their desire to keep in touch rather that just assuming it is mandatory. There are some great delights in today's constantly connected world to be disconnected when in Cuba. It is refreshing to be totally removed from normal daily life. And it is comforting to realize you are not as critical to the world as you have led yourself to believe.
Apr 30, 2013 7:33 PM
Apr 30, 2013 8:30 PM
6Hotmail from our experience is problematic. A no of other travellers on our last trip were similarly not able to access. No idea why. We solved the problem by opening a Gmail account and having our Hotmaill messages diverted to it. Worked fine. But if you have never been to Cuba before you will be shocked at how slow it is. There have been times when 30 minutes is eaten up with opening only 2-3 emails!
May 1, 2013 4:55 AM
7Bob....a lovely sttitude, with which I agree entirely.
Gmail has always been accessible, in our experience, and we have had only occasional problems with hotmail....but haven't really used it much in the last few years....it's become the junk mail address whenever someone we don't like demands an email address in order to access something or other....but as John says, think back to your old 56kbps dial up modem, when it comes to speed....and make sure all your correspondents understand not to send any attachment. Forwarded voicemails are usually only 25-35 kb in file size and shouldn't be a problem.
May 1, 2013 4:56 AM
May 1, 2013 5:14 AM
9Tip for you.. If you go into your browser settings and turn off "display all Images" - this should boost your speed somewhat.
Also, needless to say (and it goes without saying for most of us here) but if using wifi.. compose your messages offline before connecting - sending - and disconnecting right away. If you really are a news-a-holic like me, you can of course open several tabs before disconnecting and doing your reading offline. Surfing the web is an expensive hobby in Cuba.
May 4, 2013 7:51 AM
May 4, 2013 8:01 AM
11In reply to abspark,
There is internet service in the business center upstairs from the lobby at the Nacional as well as WiFi in the lobby and patio. There are many blocked services. Sometimes our clients have had difficulty connecting to gmail, sometimes difficulty to hotmail, other times no problems whatsoever. Best is to have both options available, and/or Yahoo.
Be advised that there is extensive packet sniffing and keystroke logging of all connections made from the hotels. Do a web search for Avila Link software for full details, but just use common sense and avoid sending your confidential data from those connections if possible.
May 4, 2013 8:51 AM
May 5, 2013 5:42 AM
+There are many blocked services...there is extensive packet sniffing and keystroke logging +
Ive found (after 11 years of using dial up here) that it is more a question of sites timing out than blocked sites. Indeed, sites like PayPal and iTunes are blocked by US embargo, as has been discussed here before.
May 8, 2013 11:30 AM
14Keeping in touch and checking your email is no longer a big deal in Cuba. My partner has a private email connection in her casa since 2005 and in Havana our rental casa has internet connection in his house using a doctor friend connection and we have many friends with full internet connection in their homes and offices and cost us nada to use it
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