If you're traveling to Cuba your smart phone is about to get a lot dumber. Here are a few suggestions to get you ready to go offline and still get some use out of your device.
Best Offline Apps to Use in Cuba
Cuba as a Time Capsule
One of the favorite tropes the media uses to describe Cuba today is the time capsule. Yes, you've heard it but what does it mean? It elicits the smell of earth and remembrances of walking out to the playground during primary school and burying a coffee tin of school supplies, handwritten letters, maybe a cassette tape with a message (depending on when you were in elementary school maybe a CD?) then forgetting about it. It occurs to me now that the lesson obviously wasn't well thought out or we would have been digging a time capsule up from a previous class as well.
Anyway, what does that mean? The press loves to play poetic with that phrase but when you try and get at the practicality behind it the metaphor folds. What does a people suspended in time look like? What about a car cut off from the industrial infrastructure it needs for maintenance? What if you could photograph the internet in 1999 and then access it with an old 144k router? You can't. But, you can use your current device to access the internet of today in Cuba taking advantage of the one undersea cable connecting it to Venezuela and thereby the rest of the digital world, you'll just have to be patient.
But where smart phones are concerned it's not the loss of internet you'll notice so much as cellular data service. As soon as you leave the tarmac in Miami or wherever you are coming from your smart phone will get a lot dumber. It's best to be prepared.
So It's Just a Camera Now Right?
Yes, one of the few functions that will still work more or less as you're used to is the camera but if you have any photo syncing enabled you'll want to disable that for your trip or in when you do find yourself connected your phone will bog down trying to upload large file size photos over a 1mbps up 1mbps down bandwidth you're sharing with everyone in its range. So, in preparation for your trip one of the first things you'll want to do is update your camera app, pause photo syncing and make available offline any photos you think you may want to view or share while you travel.
While Cuba has a great wealth of music to offer Cubans are also hungry for Western culture and music is a great way to offer value. Music services like Spotify and Pandora have features that allow you to save your playlist for offline use. If these services are available to you it might be worth taking advantage, not just for your personal listening pleasure but also to share, and make your favored playlists available for listening offline.
One more thing you may be taking for granted is easy access to cloud stored documents. The most obvious would be airline itineraries and boarding documents accessible in your email inbox. If you have a drive on the cloud - be it Google Drive, iCloud, Microsoft Cloud, Dropbox, etc. - it would be a good idea to save copies of your flight details as well as...
- a photo of your passport
- a photo of your driver's license
- a copy of your visa
- a copy of any travel or travel health insurance you carry
- a copy of your itinerary
- a copy of any and all emails to/from service providers during your trip
Consider Downloading a Couple of Offline Apps
For added functionality you will likely want your phone to do a couple of the things it normally relies upon data for that will make your stay a lot less stressful and may facilitate understanding
- an offline maps app
- an offline ENG/ESP dictionary
It's an eerie feeling when you reflexively open your maps app only to find, at most, a lovely view of wherever your flight to Cuba left from. At worst the app doesn't even open. There are a few options in offline maps that we'll cover here and of course a simple web search will provide many more. These are free and functional but if you want added functionality - like GPS navigation - that might cost you.
Google Maps brought back (ok, it never left but they stopped hiding it) a feature with its 3.0 update that allows users to save area maps offline. You'll need to zoom over the area you're planning on traveling to then tap in the search bar. Depending on whether you're using Android or iOS you'll see some language akin to 'make map available offline'. Tap, accept, download, you're set.
Another, more holistic solution is MAPS.ME. This is a freemium service that allows you to download whole geographic areas (like the island of Cuba) in one hulking swoop (like 50mb) for your use later. This app shows your area in great detail and has features that allow you to drop and save personalized pins but navigation is a paid feature.
My personal favorite is OsmAnd which has detailed maps and offline navigation. This open source solution does a lot - maps, routing and navigation - and does it well.
Tell Us What You Suss Out
Whatever you do don't leave your phone at home. You will find something to do with it if just to take pictures and sets alarms. And, we are first and foremost a travel company, not a tech blog so if you find other inventive ways to use your technology in Cuba where achieving connectivity is like traveling back in time tell us how in the comments below!