In Cuba, cellular service is controlled by Cubacel, Avenida 5 and Calle 76, Edificio Barcelona, Centro de Negocios, Miramar (tel. 7/204-1640; www.cubacel.cu). Cubacel has offices at the José Martí International Airport and in Havana and most major cities and tourist destinations. Cubacel offers SIM cards for CUC$3 per day. You'll have to leave a deposit and purchase a prepaid calling card.
If you have a Cuban friend, you could organize a permanent contract through them: a CUC$50 charge activates an account that must be topped up every 2 months with a minimum of CUC$10. If there has been no activity in 3 months, the line dies. Cubacel works with both TDMA phones and GSM systems. Prepaid calling cards are sold in denominations of CUC$10, CUC$20, and CUC$40. Rates inside Cuba run between CUC10¢ and CUC60¢ per minute for outgoing calls, depending on the hour and the package. Rates to the rest of the world run between CUC$1.40 and CUC$1.83 per minute. Text (SMS) messages are free to receive, but cost CUC16¢ to send within Cuba and CUC$1to send abroad. (Remember to dial Cuba's country code of 53 before any area code and the number you wish to dial in the country before using your own phone.)
Note: Any phone with a SIM from a U.S. provider will not work in Cuba.
Internet & E-mail
In all cities outside of Havana, head to the main Etecsa telephone office where you will find a small bank of computers. A large number of hotels in the provinces and most beach resorts also offer Internet access. In Havana, outside of the Etecsa office in La Habana Vieja, all the top-end hotels offer internet access. The José Martí International Airport in Havana also has Internet access. Internet access in most hotels and at Etecsa offices costs CUC$6 per hour for dial-up access. It is frequently frustratingly slow and is best avoided. You'll need to show your passport to register and get a card with a scratch-off log-in number and password, which will allow you to use any Etecsa computer around the country. It is valid for 30 days.
A handful of hotels have Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) "hot spots." These include the Meliá Cohiba, the NH Parque Central, Hotel Saratoga, Hotel Chateau Miramar in Havana, and the Hotel Meliá Santiago in Santiago de Cuba. Charges are from US$8 an hour.
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests. Throughout Cuba, electricity is mostly 110-volt AC, and most outlets are U.S.-style two- or three-prong. However, many of the large hotels and resorts that cater primarily to Canadian and European clientele are wired for 220 volts.
Newspapers & Magazines
The nationwide Spanish-language daily, Granma, is a thin paper with sparse coverage of local and international news, and a strong party-line editorial bias. The paper is not nearly as widely available as daily papers in most other countries, but some street vendors and many hotels do have copies each morning. English-digest versions of Granma come out every few days and are available at many hotels. A handful of other daily and weekly newspapers are published, and are usually even harder to find than Granma. These include Trabajadores, Juventud Rebelede, and a host of regional rags.
The phone numbering system inside Cuba is being modernized, but it remains confusing. Havana's city code is one digit. Other area codes are two digits; individual phone numbers can range from five to seven digits. You do not need to use the city or area code for local calls, but you must dial 01 followed by the city or area code for any long-distance call within Cuba or to a cellphone, except when calling to or from Havana. Calling from Havana to any other province or from a province to Havana, you would dial only a zero before the area code. Thus, a call from Trinidad to Pinar del Rio would start 01-48. A call from Havana to Pinar del Rio would begin 0-48. The same rules apply for a cellphone call. All Cuba cellphones begin with a 5. To dial a cellphone from a fixed line in Havana, dial 0-5, then the rest of the cellphone number. If you call a cellphone from any other province, dial 01-5, then the rest of the cellphone number. If you dial cellphone to cellphone, just dial 5, then the rest of the cellphone number.
To call Cuba: If you're calling Cuba from the United States:
- First dial 011, the international access code.
- Then dial 53, the country code.
- And last, dial the area code and then the number.
The whole number you'd dial for a number in Havana (area code 7) would be 011-53-7-XXX-XXXX.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Cuba, first dial 119 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next dial the area code and number. For example, if you want to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 119/1-202-588-7800. You can make collect calls to Canada, Spain, the U.S., France, Italy, and the U.K.
For directory and operator assistance: Dial tel. 113 if you're looking for a number inside Cuba and for domestic help, and dial tel. 180 for numbers to all other countries and for help with collect calls.
Nearly all hotels and some casas particulares have phones in their rooms. Dialing instructions should be available in rooms; if not, contact the reception desk. Cuba has a wide range of public telephone booths where Cuban pesos (moneda nacional) and a variety of cards can be used. Most older sky-blue phones have been phased out but where you see them -- and the newer royal-blue phones with a coin slot -- they will take moneda nacional. This is the cheapest option where you can talk for a very long time for 1 peso.
You can also buy pre-paid calling cards with set values; with these cards, you can make telephone calls by first dialing an access code (166), then dialing the number on your card, followed by the hash key, and then the phone number you want to dial. These cards are available in CUC and in moneda nacional and may be worth purchasing if you plan to make a lot of local calls on your trip. Note that international calls made from these calling cards run between CUC$1.50-CUC$1.80 a minute. To dial an international number from a CUC pre-paid calling card, you must dial 166 followed by the card code followed by the hash key, followed by 119 (international code) followed by the international area code, then the number you wish to call, followed by a hash key.
New royal-blue phones can be used for these calling cards expressed in CUC (from CUC$5) and moneda nacional (from $10MN). Only buy the CUC cards to make international calls, as making a local call with a CUC card means you are paying more than several times the peso amount.
Note that many public phone booths, especially in Havana, frequently break down. Those that are working suffer from long queues in Havana and, if you are in a rush, this may not be your best option.
Note that if you stay in a casa particular and wish to confirm your subsequent casa in another town, your casa owner will make this courtesy call for you. Pre-paid calling cards can be used from land lines in casa homes too.