CactusVPN isn’t a super popular VPN provider that offers plenty of advanced features and claims to unblock 340+ streaming services while protecting users from online threats. But does the VPN stay true to its promises?
I decided to put CactusVPN to the test to scratch the surface and see what the provider really has to offer. The provider is no doubt one of the most affordable ones out there, but its selling point is its Smart DNS feature that helps you bypass geo-blocks and access streaming services.
But that’s not all, the VPN also takes security seriously as it offers perfect forward secrecy, Port 443, and obfuscation.
After running the tests, I found CactusVPN to be a small, but solid VPN for beginners. As with every provider, there are shortcomings as well which we will dive into in this detailed CactusVPN review.
So, let’s get started.
Key Findings from CactusVPN Review
If you are short on time, here are the key findings of the in-depth CactusVPN review:
|36 servers in 22 countries
|Netflix, Disney+, and BBC iPlayer
|Dedicated P2P servers and obfuscation
|Split Tunneling, SoftEther, App Killer
|Yes (based in Canada)
|FAQ, ticketing system, tutorials
|$3.95/mo (Save 60%)
|Money Back Guarantee
CactusVPN Speed Test Analysis
CactusVPN boasts consistent speeds with minimal lags. It is fast enough for browsing, streaming, and torrenting.
Even though the VPN has a small network of servers (36 servers in 22 countries), it still manages to offer consistent speeds. For testing purposes, I ran speed tests on various server locations to see how CactusVPN would perform. Here are the results:
CactusVPN Speed on Short Distance Servers
Speed on short-distance servers is generally good, as your data doesn’t have to travel that far while rerouting. To see how CactusVPN would perform, I connected to its UK server and ran speed tests. I choose the UK server because it was close to my actual location in the Netherlands.
Surprisingly, more than 78% of my original speed was retained as I recorded a download speed of 78.24 Mbps and an upload speed of 70.92 Mbps. You can see from the results that CactusVPN offered consistent upload and download speeds, which was great.
CactusVPN Speed on Long-Distance Servers
Generally, on long-distance servers, your speed drops as the data has to travel a long distance while rerouting. When testing CactusVPN’s long-distance servers, I did not have high hopes. And my hunch was right.
Using its WireGuard protocol, I recorded a download speed of 45.12 Mbps and an upload speed of 34.91 Mbps. Just for reference, I used its Australia server.
As you can see, I lost more than 50% of my download speed, and around 70% of my upload speed after connecting to CactusVPN. So, if you are using CactusVPN, make sure to connect to a server that is closer to you to get the best results.
Is CactusVPN Fast Enough for Gaming?
CactusVPN offers fast speed connection for playing online games, especially on nearby servers.
Even though CactusVPNs speed on short-distance servers was good, the ping was too high, so I decided to test it out with Monster Legends in order to see how it will perform.
As expected, the latency was the major issue due to high ping, even on local connections. I didn’t experience any speed loss, but latency was an issue.
CactusVPN Pricing Plan Pricing Plan
CactusVPN has rather complex pricing plans. It offers 4 basic packages as discussed below:
- 1 Month plan for $9.99/mo
- 3 Months plan for $7.99/mo
- 1-year plan for $5.83/mo
- 2-year plan for$3.95/mo
CactusVPN’s 2-year plan offers the best savings. At 60% off, you get 2-years worth of service for $94.99.
Now, here is where things get interesting. You see, apart from these basic monthly and yearly plans, CactusVPN offers something different. There are small plans depending on your needs. These are:
- US VPN for $6.99/mo. 8 servers in the US but P2P is not allowed, and no Smart DNS is offered.
- UK VPN for $6.99/mo. 4 servers in the UK, with no torrenting support or Smart DNS.
- Liberty VPN for $6.99/mo. 9 servers in Europe, including P2P servers, but no Smart DNS is offered.
- Smart DNS for $6.99/mo. No VPN servers, just Smart DNS proxy.
- VPN + Smart DNS for $9.99/mo. This is a complete package with VPN servers, P2P servers, and Smart DNS.
CactusVPN 30-day money-back guarantee
All these plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test CactusVPN yourself and decide if it’s the one for you. However, if you made a payment via cryptocurrency, you are not eligible for a refund.
You are only eligible for a refund if:
- You cannot connect to a VPN server.
- The Smart DNS is not working for you.
- You are facing trouble unblocking a website or streaming service.
As you can see, like other premium VPNs like ExpressVPN that have a “no-questions-asked money-back guarantee,” CactusVPN’s refund policy comes with eligibility criteria.
CactusVPN Passed DNS Leak Test
CactusVPN uses its own DNS servers and you can configure the DNS leak protection feature that is available in its app. Unfortunately, it does not offer IPv6 leak protection, so you will have to manually disable it on your device.
While using the VPN, I did not experience any DNS leaks. I connected to CactusVPN’s US server and ran DNS leak tests. My real location in the Netherlands was well hidden.
Unfortunately, when I used its Smart DNS feature, I experienced DNS leaks. It’s not surprising though as Smart DNS does not encrypt your data like a VPN, so your information can be revealed online.
Overall, I’d say that CactusVPN passed my leak tests.
Can CactusVPN Unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Amazon Prime?
CactusVPN claims to unblock over 340 streaming services from around the world. However, it can only be done so using its Smart DNS feature, and not the VPN itself. But as Smart DNS is included in every subscription, it will not be a problem for you.
Not all VPNs are capable of unblocking streaming services that are geo-restricted. To put CactusVPN to test, I used it with some popular services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, and more to see how it performs.
While testing I could unblock the UK and Japanese Netflix on CactusVPN’s servers. Unfortunately, I had no luck accessing US Netflix or other libraries. If you want to watch Netflix, I recommend checking my best VPN for Netflix guide.
I couldn’t unblock HBO Max, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer either using CactusVPN’s normal servers. It’s definitely not the best BBC iPlayer VPN out there.
Smart DNS on the other hand, allowed me to stream Disney+ Hotstar, BBC iPlayer, NBC, Amazon Prime Video, and US Netflix.
It seems that for streaming you will have to use CactusVPN’s Smart DNS feature. Smart DNS changes your DNS to make it look like you are in another country. This way you can unblock streaming sites that are geo-restricted.
However, it does not encrypt your data or mask your IP address, so anytime the streaming service can detect your real IP and block access. I tried this feature with various streaming services and had no issues accessing geo-blocked platforms.
Is CactusVPN a Good Choice For Torrenting?
CactusVPN is a decent choice for torrenting, but not the best out there. It has a small server network, and torrenting is allowed only on seven server locations.
CactusVPNs P2P servers only exist in Europe, and South-East Asia. These servers are labeled in the apps, which I find quite convenient.
Its P2P servers are well-configured without any leaks, so you can securely torrent using CactusVPN. Its no logs policy is another positive point as it does not keep a record of your torrenting activities.
However, if you are living in the US, Canada, or Australia, CactusVPN is not the best choice for torrenting as its P2P servers are only in Europe and one in Asia (Malaysia). These servers will be far away from your geo-location, resulting in slow speeds.
While testing with uTorrent, on its Malaysian server, CactusVPN offered a slow bitrate of 2.3MB/s on my base connection of 100 Mbps.
CactusVPN Offers Great Apps
Just like most VPNs, CactusVPN offers easy-to-use apps for various platforms and devices. It also supports unlimited simultaneous device connections, making it easy to share one account on multiple devices.
It’s Windows app works with Windows Vista and higher. The app interface is almost similar on all devices, so you will have no trouble finding the server, and other features. Similarly, its Mac app works with macOS Version 10.11 (El Capitan) and higher. But the good thing is that if you run an older macOS, you can manually download the CactusVPN app on your Mac device.
CactusVPN’s mobile apps for iOS and Android are also feature-rich, with Smart DNS available as well. In the Settings tab, you will find all the features and options such as Smart DNS Settings, VPN protocol, and General Settings. Its mobile apps also look quite similar to the desktop version.
CactusVPN Has a No-Logging Policy
CactusVPN is based in Canada, which is a major part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing countries. As it’s based in Canada, CactusVPN adheres to Canada’s data privacy laws which are quite invasive.
According to its logging policy, the provider does not log any data regarding user activities and metadata.
CactusVPN does not log:
- Traffic data
- Connection timestamps
- session duration
- IP addresses
- Used bandwidth
It would be great if CactusVPN got a full audit to back its no-log claim. That would definitely take its claims to another level, making the service more trustworthy and private.
Overall, you can trust CactusVPN with your online data, but there are other transparent VPNs like ExpressVPN that are based in privacy heavens and have undergone audits.
CactusVPN offers plenty of features. Here is a detailed analysis of some of its noteworthy features.
- Shared Static IP
- Secure VPN Protocols
- AES Encryption
- Kill Switch
- Offers TCP Port 443
- Perfect Forward Secrecy
- Split Tunneling
- Smart DNS
- Proxy Servers
1. Shared Static IP
CactusVPN does not own its servers, instead, it leases them. Therefore, you get a shared static IP address. In other words, the IP address you have is used by various other users, so no one can really trace activities back to you.
When multiple people are using the same IP address, it gets almost impossible to see which user is accessing which websites online.
2. Secure VPN Protocols
CactusVPN allows you to choose from seven protocols:
- L2TP/ IPSec
With so many options, you can customize your connection based on your needs. However, keep in mind that not all apps for different operating systems have access to all protocols.
I prefer using WireGuard and OpenVPN as they are highly secure. If WireGuard is not available, you can go with OpenVPN as it’s very secure and easy to set up. If speed is something you are looking for, then IKEv2 is a good choice as well.
Luckily, CactusVPN offers WireGuard protocol on all its apps, so you can conveniently use it. It’s better than other VPN protocols because of its unique mix of speed and security, offering the best performance.
3. AES Encryption
CactusVPN is a secure VPN that uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption. The encryption prevents your ISP and other third parties from tracking your online activities and keeps your data safe from hackers.
Even if your data is compromised, it will be scrambled so it will be of no use to anyone. AES 256-bit encryption is the highest level of encryption used in the VPN industry, so CactusVPN keeps your online activities secure.
Along with encryption, CactusVPN also offers SHA256 authentication, and 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange, further boosting your security.
4. Kill Switch
CactusVPN apps have a kill switch feature that disconnects you from the internet in case the VPN connection drops. This way, your actual IP address is safeguarded against leaks. You can toggle the kill switch option from the App Settings tab.
Apart from the traditional kill switch, CactusVPN also has an “App Killer” feature. App Killer lets you choose the apps that you want to close immediately in case the VPN connection drops.
For example, you can add your banking app to the App Killer list or any streaming app like Netflix. In case the VPN connection drops for some reason, the App Killer will close these apps immediately, preventing any data from leaking online.
5. Offers TCP Port 443
CactusVPN has a TCP Port 443 that reroutes all your incoming connections to help bypass firewalls and blocks. It masks your VPN traffic and encrypts sensitive data, preventing hackers from intercepting it.
This feature is also useful for those living in highly restrictive countries like China, Iran, Turkey, UAE, and others.
6. Perfect Forward Secrecy
CactusVPN offers another advanced feature called Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). It changes the private key for encryption periodically, thus making it impossible for hackers to get access to your encrypted data.
Perfect Forward Secrecy ensures that you get a different encryption key for every session. This feature comes in handy when you are using the VPN to send sensitive information online or torrenting.
7. Split Tunneling
CactusVPN has a split tunneling feature that allows you to route some of your traffic through the encrypted VPN tunnel, and some through the open network.
This feature comes in handy when you have to use online banking and financial websites that don’t usually work with VPNs for security purposes.
However, this feature is not available in all apps. For example, it’s missing from the CactusVPN iOS app but is available in its Android app. This feature is altogether missing from desktop apps.
8. Smart DNS
CactusVPN has a Smart DNS available as well to help you access streaming content. Smart DNS offers faster speeds for streaming than a VPN because it lacks encryption. However, it makes it less secure.
Unlike most VPNs, I like the fact that the Smart DNS feature is built into CactusVPN apps. Therefore, it does not require any additional setups.
During testing, the Smart DNS allowed me to stream Netflix, and Disney Plus. I used it on my Smart TV, but you can also use it on your gaming consoles, or streaming devices such as Apple TV, Chromecast, and more.
CactusVPN offers an obfuscation feature which is great for helping you bypass VPN blocks and firewalls undetected.
Obfuscation masks your VPN traffic by wrapping your VPN protocol in a layer of encryption. This way, your ISP cannot tell if you are using a VPN. It makes it look like you are using a normal connection, instead of a VPN.
This feature is available in the Windows app, but if you using Linux or Mac, you will need to manually set it up.
10. Proxy Servers
CactusVPN servers also serve as proxy servers. It works similarly to a VPN, but it replaces your IP address, without encryption. In short, proxy servers allow you to bypass geo-blocks, but it’s not as secure as VPN servers.
Proxy servers are faster than VPN servers as they lack encryption. You can use them while web browsing as it’s faster than a VPN connection and convenient for browsing or torrenting.
Analysis of Servers
CactusVPN has 36 servers in 22 countries. These servers are mostly clustered in Europe, with a few in America and Asia.
In America, CactusVPN only has servers in the US, Canada, and Brazil. In Europe, there are servers in 13 countries with 6 server countries in the Asia Pacific including 1 in Australia, India, and East Asia.
Among these servers, there is only 1 P2P server in Malaysia, while the rest are located in Europe only. These are Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Latvia, and Romania.
CactusVPN operates a very small network of servers which is no competition for premium providers like ExpressVPN which offers 3000 servers in 160 locations.
Note: As a result of India’s new VPN law that requires VPN companies to log user data, most providers like ExpressVPN have stopped offering physical servers in the country for their user’s privacy. However, CactusVPN continues to operate in the country, so be cautious while using its India server.
CactusVPN Apps Compatibility
CactusVPN has a wide selection of apps for the most popular devices and platforms like Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, FireTV, etc. It even works with routers and offers a Smart DNS feature, which is something not offered by most VPNs.
|Amazon Fire TV
For macOS & Windows
CactusVPN is compatible with Windows Vista and above. It’s Windows app is easy to use with a clean user interface and advanced features.
Its macOS app is similar to Windows and is compatible with macOS 10.11 (El Capitan) or newer. If you are using an older OS, you will need to manually install the app.
CactusVPN’s macOS app lets you choose from WireGuard and IKEv2 only, as the OpenVPN protocol is missing.
Its desktop apps have 4 tabs – VPN service, Smart DNS, Settings, and App Killer. In Settings Tab, you can choose the VPN protocol you want to use, along with the obfuscation feature.
Unfortunately, there is no app for Linux, so you will need to manually set it up if you wish to use it on a Linux distro.
For Android & iOS
CactusVPN has easy-to-use Android and iOS apps. It is compatible with iOS 12 or later. The iOS app comes with DNS leak protection, an internet kill switch, and a VPN protocol selection.
CactusVPN is also compatible with Android and you can download its app from Google Play Store. It also works with Android TV and is easy to set up.
The iOS app allows you to choose from WireGuard and IKEv2 protocols, while the Android app offers WireGuard and OpenVPN protocols.
The split tunneling feature is another thing missing from CactusVPN’s iOS app but is available in the Android app. However, the Android app is missing the internet kill switch option.
CactusVPN offers lightweight browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These are great if you want protection while browsing and not a full VPN.
Like most VPNs, the browser extensions encrypt your in-browser activities only. Both Chrome and Firefox extensions are easy to configure and set up.
The extensions come with a WebRTC leak protection feature that you can enable. When the feature is enabled, the browser will not leak your real IP address while you are connected to the VPN.
CactusVPN does not have a dedicated app for routers, but you can manually set it up on your router. It currently supports the following popular routers:
For each router, different VPN protocols are offered. For example, most routers like Asus, and DD-WRT allow you to choose from PPTP, L2TP, and OpenVPN.
Mikrotik only allows you to set up SSTP, PPTP, and L2TP VPN protocols. While WireGuard is only offered for OpenWrt.
You can find detailed setup guides on the CactusVPN official website.
Does CactusVPN Work in China?
Bypassing the Great Firewall of China is not easy but CactusVPN does work in China on its SoftEther protocol and OpenVPN protocol.
Its Port 443 is helpful in bypassing the firewall along with its obfuscation technology. It allows your internet traffic to pass through Port 433 which helps bypass online censors in countries with heavy censorship like China, Turkey, and other regions.
However, it does struggle at times and it requires some fiddling with the features along with manual configuration to get going.
CactusVPN Customer Support
CactusVPN used to have great customer support with a live chat feature, but it was recently removed. There’s no reason behind the decision, but it’s a real shame.
Now, CactusVPN has FAQs, Setup Tutorials, and Online Guides. It also has a ticketing system that is efficient at responding quickly. Its online resources are also comprehensive and offer step-by-step tutorials.
However, I would still like to see the chat support feature again as it’s the best medium for getting help.
Best Alternative to CactusVPN
CactusVPN is a good all-around VPN that offers solid value. It is an excellent choice for streaming with decent speeds on close-distance servers. However, one of its major drawbacks is its small server network and basic apps.
So, if you are looking for something different, you can check the VPN reviews of the following best VPNs in the industry right now:
ExpressVPN is the best alternative to CactusVPN because of its unmatched unblocking capabilities and fast-speed servers. It also has a wide server network.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is CactusVPN safe?
Yes, CactusVPN is a secure and safe VPN. It protects your data with 256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and secure protocols (OpenVPN, WireGuard, and IKEv2). It offers standard security features, along with perfect forward secrecy and obfuscation.
Will CactusVPN slow my speeds down?
Yes, and no. The speed depends upon various circumstances like your base connection speed, the server you connect to, and its distance from your location. Cactus VPN offers consistent speeds with minimal lags.
Can I use CactusVPN for free?
Yes, CactusVPN offers a completely free trial with no credit card required. It is valid for 3-day, during which you can use CactusVPN for free.
Is CactusVPN good?
CactusVPN is a good VPN with a trustworthy logging policy, security, and other features. There are better VPNs out there like ExpressVPN, but CactusVPN is a solid choice that works with streaming, torrenting, gaming, and more.
Do I Recommend CactusVPN?
In this CactusVPN review, you now know that this is an easy-to-use VPN that is secure and offers good speed with unlimited simultaneous connections. It also boasts tight security with AES 256-bit encryption, a kill switch, no logs policy, and perfect forward secrecy.
However, it lacks in a few departments. For example, its Android app does not have the kill switch feature, its server network is small, and it does not work with all streaming services.