CactusVPN Review

7.3/10
Last updated: June 16, 2021

With a handful of servers worldwide, CactusVPN manages to do quite a lot that you’d expect from a reasonably-priced VPN.

Top VPN options:
1. NordVPN
9.6 / 10
Excellent security
Very fast speeds
2. Surfshark VPN
9.4 / 10
Strong encryption
Excellent performance
Unlimited simultaneous connections

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Disclaimer: Affiliate links help us produce good content. Learn more.

Promising top-of-the-line safety and complete anonymity, CactusVPN aims to be a contender in an increasingly crowded VPN market.

Launched in Moldova and now based in Romania, a VPN-friendly country with no data retention laws, the creators of CactusVPN have been working on their project since 2011. Contrary to some bigger providers, the CactusVPN team is unafraid to show their faces – you can meet the core group on their website.

But is this VPN truly sharp enough for all your anonymous browsing needs, or is it actually closer to a spineless house plant? Read our CactusVPN review to find out.

Rating:7.3/10⭐
Number of servers:39
Countries:22
Protocols:WireGuard, SSTP, OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP, IKEv2, SoftEther
Encryption:AES-256
Starting price:$3.95/month
Logging policy:No-logs
Company location:Romania
Available apps:Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chrome, Firefox
Website:cactusvpn.com

Is CactusVPN safe to use?

CactusVPN supports sever different encryption protocols:

  • WireGuard
  • SSTP
  • OpenVPN
  • L2TP
  • PPTP
  • IKEv2
  • SoftEther

When you start up CactusVPN, the IKEv2 tunneling protocol is the default option. It’s a good middle-ground for most, yet I would recommend opting for WireGuard. That would ensure optimal speed and security.

CactusVPN client protocol settings

What’s more, you can’t choose SoftEther protocol out of the box. It requires a separate SoftEther VPN client, which is available for download at no cost. This less-known protocol is based on OpenSSL and designed to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) from detecting it. It’s both fast and secure, so you should definitely check it out despite the extra effort required.

Furthermore, it’s commendable that WireGuard is implemented with CactusVPN. This gives users a fast, secure, and modern tunneling protocol option.

Depending on the protocol and your OS, CactusVPN uses either the AES-256 or AES-128 cipher. Not a fan of obscure technical abbreviations? In simpler terms, it’s a level of encryption that should remain unbreakable until the invention of quantum computing (which should take a while).

CactusVPN has a kill switch named “Stop internet traffic if VPN connection is dropped” in the client. It also offers an option to kill specific apps in case of VPN failure. A torrenting client should probably be at the top of your list for the selective kill switch feature.

Does CactusVPN keep logs?

This VPN service doesn’t keep logs of your online activities:

We do not store any IP addresses, traffic logs, connection timestamps, used bandwidth or session duration information that could be traced to a single person

The only information about you, such as your name or email address, is collected and stored exclusively to create and maintain your website account. This also means that nothing will be passed to third parties.

In other words, the company doesn’t store any data that can lead back to you or identify you as an individual, while the VPN itself prevents your IP address from leaking to your ISP or any other parties.

Is CactusVPN leak-proof?

While our initial test in 2018 has found no IP, DNS, or WebRTC leaks, this time it turned for the worse. CactusVPN had DNS leaks according to three different tests. Even turning on the DNS leak protection setting didn’t help.

We’ve repeated our tests in July 2019 and found this service to be leak-free again now. Whatever that was in June, though, should serve as a reminder to make sure your VPN works fine before using it. If a VPN service leaks your true IP address, there’s not much point in using it as all your actions can be easily traced back.

Speed and performance

Server coverage

CactusVPN offers 39 servers located in 22 countries, which isn’t a lot compared to the bigger VPN brands on the block. The company looks to solve this problem by offering its Smart DNS service. It’s a method that tricks a geo-restricted website by changing your DNS settings to appear to be local instead of re-routing your internet connection traffic through a VPN server.

Ultimately, the service allows you to unblock content from these countries: the US, the UK, Germany, Poland, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Russia, Italy, India, and more.

Speed test results

We performed a connection speed test for this CactusVPN review from Europe, with a baseline speed of 263 Mbps. We used the OpenVPN (TCP) protocol, which we choose for all of our tests when possible. Finally, we counted the speed drop-off from different locations with the VPN turned on.

Baseline speed, Europe

CactusVPN speed test baseline

  • Download: 263 Mbps
  • Upload: 260 Mbps

Nearby location (Germany)

CactusVPN speed test nearby location

  • Download: 72 Mbps (drop-off 73%)
  • Upload: 84 Mbps (drop-off 68%)

The United Kingdom, London

CactusVPN speed test in the UK

  • Download: 68 Mbps (drop-off 74%)
  • Upload: 122 Mbps (drop-off 53%)

The United States, Manassas

Cactus VPN speed test in the US, Manassas

  • Download: 21 Mbps (drop-off 92%)
  • Upload: 27 Mbps (drop-off 90%)

The United States, Los Angeles

CactusVPN speed test in the US, Los Angeles

  • Download: 18 Mbps (drop-off 93%)
  • Upload: 12 Mbps (drop-off 95%)

Australia, Sydney

CactusVPN speed test in Australia

  • Download: 7 Mbps (drop-off 97%)
  • Upload: 1 Mbps (drop-off 99%)

Japan, Tokyo

CactusVPN speed test in Japan

  • Download: 11 Mbps (drop-off 96%)
  • Upload: 1 Mbps (drop-off 99%)

To conclude, CactusVPN offers good speeds in nearby locations and average or below-average results from locations on other continents. Having in mind that our baseline speeds were pretty high, be sure to experiment with different servers and protocols to see which combination works best for you.

Ease of use and multiplatform support

available Cactus VPN

CactusVPN is available on the following devices and platforms:

  • Windows
  • MacOS
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Android TV
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Chrome (extension)
  • Firefox (extension)

You can also manually set it up on Windows Phone, Ubuntu, Chromebook, Boxee Box, and multiple router models. Smart DNS and Proxy options support even more OS and devices.

You can connect an unlimited number of devices simultaneously, which is quite generous. Plus, you can use CactusVPN on a router to secure your entire home network and get a VPN connection on unsupported devices.

Downloading and installing the CactusVPN client is easy.

Install CactusVPN

The toughest part will be clicking that Next button multiple times before the setup finishes.

When you start the client, logging into the app is pretty straightforward. You use the same account details that you would use on the CactusVPN website.

CactusVPN client main menu

The main menu of CactusVPN client is solely for choosing a location and connecting to the desired server, which can be clumsily sorted by the speed that probably translates into latency. The second tab is for connecting to Smart DNS if you bought a plan that includes it.

CactusVPN client settings

The Settings tab gives you some basic options like choosing a protocol, turning the kill switch or DNS leak protection on or off, and toggling when CactusVPN starts. The less common is the App Killer solution, which allows you to choose the programs that’ll close in case your VPN connection fails. This might prove useful if, for example, you’re torrenting in a country where it’s illegal while also downloading a huge update for your OS.

Unblocking Netflix and other streaming platforms

For streaming enthusiasts looking to avoid cycling through dozens of VPN servers, CactusVPN offers a premium option: Smart DNS. Smart DNS can unblock websites from a variety of regions at the same time without restriction. As an example of Smart DNS in action, you can stream a US-exclusive show on Netflix while you keep a live news report on BBC iPlayer running in another browser tab in the background.

Moreover, using Smart DNS to stream is usually faster, since your traffic is not routed through servers as it is with VPNs. Also, Smart DNS is easy to set up and configure, and you don’t have to possess in-depth technical knowledge to do so.

P2P and torrenting

As you’re probably already aware, torrents are one of the best file-sharing options. However, torrenting with CactusVPN is allowed on European and Malaysian servers only. This means that you’ll need a good internet connection to have decent download speeds in other continents.

You can feel safe when torrenting with CactusVPN because they have a kill switch, a no-logs policy and there’s no personal data that can be given to the authorities. The only concern that we previously had were the DNS leaks, a problem that seems to be fixed now.

Is it good for users in China?

China is one of the few countries that have placed strict restrictions on internet activities for its residents. If you’re planning to visit China, odds are you’ll want a great VPN to help you access all the sites and services you want to while still preserving your privacy and anonymity.

Oddly enough, we did not manage to find any specific information regarding China on the CactusVPN website. This deliberate vagueness might indicate that CactusVPN cannot bypass China’s “Great Firewall.” However, we couldn’t positively ascertain this at the time of writing our CactusVPN review.

Theoretically, the lack of a “stealth protocol” means that this provider should have trouble avoiding the Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), which ultimately leads to a blocked service. Thus, we cannot duly recommend using CactusVPN in China.

Customer support

CactusVPN subscribers have these support options:

  • Setup tutorials
  • FAQ
  • Submitting a ticket
  • Learning center
  • How to start guide

CactusVPN offers customer service that mainly operates through a 24/7 ticketing system. After submitting a ticket, you should expect a prompt answer to your query – if you ever need to reach CactusVPN’s staff, that is. When we contacted the response desk for this CactusVPN review, we found them to be very helpful.

Cactus VPN Support

Unfortunately, their live chat is not a 24/7 service. But you can still reach them for 16 hours a day on Monday through Friday and for 8 hours a day on weekends.

If you prefer to make your own research first, their official website has dedicated user help sections. These include tutorials for setting up the CactusVPN apps on different platforms, a complete FAQ section, and an official Learning Centre for those who want to educate themselves about online safety.

Pricing & plans

 

CactusVPN pricing plans

CactusVPN offers four different subscription options:

  • 1 month for $9.99/month
  • 3 months for $7.99/quarterly (save 20%)
  • 1 year for $5.83/year (save 42%)
  • 2 years for $3.95/month (save 60%)

Whichever plan you choose, you get access to all VPN servers, SmartDNS, a proxy, unlimited connections and bandwidth, and more.

All plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. A really nice addition is the 24-hour free trial that has no restrictions, allowing to test both the Smart DNS and the VPN service without bandwidth limits. You don’t need to fill in your payment details until you decide to subscribe.

When it comes to parting with your money, you can pay for a subscription by:

  • Credit or debit card
  • PayPal
  • Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
  • Qiwi
  • Webmoney
  • Boleto Bancario
  • Yandex Money
  • Alipay

The list is quite impressive for a VPN of this caliber. What’s more, if you prefer your payments completely untraceable, CactusVPN gives you an anonymous payment option with BitPay.

Finally, each subscription allows you an unlimited number of simultaneous connections.

Bottom line

So how did this VPN fare in the “sharpness vs. house plant” test from the intro section of our CactusVPN review? All in all, it’s somewhere in between.

This service has good privacy capabilities and a decent pricing policy. The company also offers Smart DNS, which is a nice alternative to VPN in terms of connection speed and unblocking streaming platforms. They also have a friendly customer support team and a variety of payment options, including an anonymous one.

The most glaring problem remains the lack of servers and locations, which makes torrenting a bit of an issue for some. But if torrenting is not a priority for you, CactusVPN is worth a try.

Good

  • Good security
  • Mostly privacy-friendly
  • Decent price
  • Unblocks Netflix US
  • No limits 24-hour free trial
  • Fast 24/7 ticketing system
  • Anonymous payment option

Bad

  • Few servers and locations
  • No good for China
  • Live chat is not 24/7
 7.3 / 10
Total score
$3.95 / month
Minimum Price
5 comments
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  1. Sam

    Not giving live customer support on the weekends really is a turn-off! There’s no way I’d get anything other than a free service that doesn’t have full customer support every day of the week.


  2. Maxwell Bauer

    This appears to be yet another VPN that offers security, but doesn’t give people the power they need for torrenting. While I don’t need it for China, there are over a billion people who might have hoped they could use it to break through the great firewall of China. I have a question, what does it mean when a VPN doesn’t have many servers and country locations? How does that impact a user?


  3. Adèle Sorel

    Purchased Pro package for $39 one year to use at my office where unlimited connections is ahuge bonus. No one is complaining. Few have noticed any slow down in speeds. I am very pleased and look forward to learning more about the product to maximize it’s uitility for our purposes. Thank you


  4. trueflake

    CactusVPN has the right privacy promises you need, and fairly good pricing. The company also offers Smart DNS services if you need to get around regional restrictions with a set-top box. The Windows app is nothing fancy, but there’s still some tweaking available for users who like to have a choice about VPN protocol and app behavior.


  5. BM-Dehaven22

    Having been a user of CactusVPN for quite a while, I can verify that the interface is user-friendly and that I haven’t had a problem with their customer service. I’ve also had good success connecting to Netflix and the server connection for me has been fast and dependable. I think their pricing is fair and competitive.

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