So you’ve arrived in Cuba, and you need to check your emails. If it’s your first time, and if you are staying at a major hotel, you can easily check your emails in the hotel lobby, with the purchase of internet login codes at the business center. These codes will allow you tap into Wifi for 1 hour intervals.

However, if you are staying at cute little “casa particular” AKA, a private residence (thank you Air BnB), The wifi situation can be a little confusing. Fear not, below is a guide.

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(Wifi access at the Parque Coyula, in Playa, Havana. Photo: Jauretsi)

In June 2015, the Cuban state installed 35 WiFi’s in the country. These are not free Wifi parks, but rather, one can log into Wifi with the usage of a Nauta card (Nauta cards are sold by the only Cuban phone company, named ETECSA).

WHAT IS NAUTA?

Local Cubans (and foreigners alike) log into the internet using scratch-off cards from the company NAUTA. These cards can be purchased at the local phone company, ETECSA for $2 CUCS. Most tourists do not purchase these cards at the ETECSA offices, simply because the lines are too long, and you’ll find yourself wasting a full afternoon on your vacation (did we mention each person is only offered a 3 card limit purchase per person per day when bought at ETECSA?).

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(Internet Log in Cards, in very high demand in Cuba)

The smart move is to troll outside most Wifi spots until you hear a local voice pass by you uttering these words under their breath: “tarjeta de internet” [tar-he-ta-de-eeent-er-net]. This is usually a local resident selling NAUTA cards on the black market for $3 CUCS. It only costs 1 CUC more, but you’ll be able to buy a bigger wad of cards in one shot. Welcome to Cuba’s black market, offering an efficient service at a slightly higher cost (but worth it for the convenience). Hello Capitalism.

Two good spots to purchase the black market Nauta cards is the exterior of Habana Libre Hotel (near the outside stairs of Havanatur office) and Miramar Business Center (front of building). If you’re feeling brave enough to weather the long lines of ETECSA, there is also an office tucked inside the Miramar Business Center. For additional places, just ask word-of-mouth once you arrive. Most Cubans are helpful with routing you to buy a NAUTA card.

 

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(Vedado Park. Photo: Jauretsi)

PARKS THAT ALLOW LOGIN VIA NAUTA CARD

• La Rampa (from the Malecón up to cine Yara in Vedado),

• Parque de 51 in La Lisa,

• Parque Coyula in Playa/Miramar,

• El Anfiteatro de Marianao y el Paseo de la Villa Panamericana

• Parque Mónaco in 10 de Octubre;

• Pabellones Central and 14 at Expocuba (Parque Lenin)

• Calle 23, near Nacional Hotel (see Map for exact cross streets)

• Parque Fe del Valle in Havana Centro (Galeano y San Rafael)

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(A few of the public Wifi spots in Vedado, opened last year)

HOTELS THAT ALLOW LOGIN VIA NAUTA CARD:

• Parque Central – You will also need to purchase food or drink in the lobby.

• Hotel Inglaterra – You will also need to purchase food or drink in the lobby.

• Hotel Santa Isabel (Habana Vieja) note: this hotel has a weak Wifi signal, but it’s a charming hotel to stay if Wifi is not important during your trip.

HOTEL DIRECT LOGINS – No Nauta Cards here

Specific large State-Run Hotels have instituted their own “sign-ins” for a nominal fee. These hotels do not allow a visitor to log into Wifi using a Nauta card ($2-3 CUCS). These hotels charge a larger fee. There are pro’s and cons to logging in this way.

The first one being that if you need quick service, you can walk into these hotels and pay a premium price to log in ASAP, without chasing NAUTA cards on the street. Instant gratification, if you will. The con, of course, is that this option is more expensive.

Please note that when purchasing your “hour of internet”, that each hotel offers a code which expires quickly. It is important to note, because, for example, if you purchase Hotel Nacional login, the codes expire within 24 hours. If you do not return to the hotel within 24 hours, you will lose remaining unused minutes. Some hotels with Wifi include:

• Saratoga, Habana Vieja (10 CUC per hour) the code expires within 1 month

• Melia Cohiba, Vedado (10 CUC per hour) the code expires within 1 week

• Nacional Hotel, Centro Habana (10 CUC per hour) – the code expires within 24 hours

• El Presidente (4.50 CUC)

• Melia (Habana, Miramar)

More hotel options with Wifi options:

• Hotel Chateau, Miramar

• Montehabana, Miramar.

• Panorama, Miramar.

• Occidental Miramar, Miramar.

• Sevilla Hotel, Vieja.

• Plaza Hotel, Vieja.

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(Vedado Park. Photo: Jauretsi)

THINGS THAT CAN HURT YOUR LOGIN

PHONE MODELS: iPhones tend to be trickier devices to pick up wifi signals in Cuba. Traditionally, Samsung phones (Androids) log onto ETECSA Wifi quicker than iPhones. With a little patience and tenacity to search a strong signal, both models will eventually log on.

RAINFALL: From personal experience, I’ve noticed that when heavy rain falls in Havana, that most major Wifi spots (for example, Melia Cohiba and Parque Central), are useless to log in. If you’re visiting Havana on a heavy rainfall week, I would not even bother attempting to login. If you do, prepare to lose your $10 CUCS while wrestling the whole hour with no success. Cuba has not quite understood the concept of “refunds”.

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(Vedado Park. Photo: Jauretsi)

THE STATES CURRENT STANDING WITH INTERNET

This year, it was big news that Google offered to wire Cuba. 85 year old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura (Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party) rejected the gift that Google offered in July 2015 — that is, to install Free Wifi antennas for the country. His quote in the local state paper, Juventud Rebelde.

“Everyone knows why there isn’t more Internet access in Cuba, because it is costly. There are some who want to give it to us for free, but they don’t do it so that the Cuban people can communicate… Instead their objective is to penetrate us and do ideological work to achieve a new conquest. We must have Internet, but in our way, knowing that the imperialists intend to use it as a way to destroy the Revolution.” (Quote: HavanaTimes.org)

Ramon is kinda seen as part of the old guard revolutionary. Of course the other side, the hardline anti-Castro faction in Miami is having a field day with this quote and is angry that Cuba is not taking this favor. It’s so exhausting seeing these 2 forces ram heads together, like 2 stubborn rams.

While, of course I would love to see Cuba have free Wifi all over the country, it is very understandable that Cuba would have its guards up. Have we not forgotten the last US digital invasion through the usage of an absurd Cuban Twitter? Based on the USA’s latest covert operation, how could they be sure this is not another Trojan Horse?

I do firmly believe that Obama’s first visit to the island has reduced this paranoia, and hopefully paved the way to begin real open talks about lending digital infrastructure. This is a complicated trapeze walk for people on both sides looking to join forces. The 57 year ideological battle has created a deep wound, which is going to take more than 1 year to heal. With the US Presidents recent visit to Cuba, Obama announced that Google was indeed creating a deal to set up more WiFi on the island. Nobody quite understands how this will unfold, but nonetheless Google is attempting to help upgrade the island’s 2G wireless coverage. More here on this plan.

The most important thing to defend is that the Cuban people need internet… and they need it now. Access to information is everything. Stay tuned as the story of Internet evolves in Cuba.

Until that magic day arrives, good luck scratching off and logging in…