CactusVPN 2022 extensive review: Generally good but has a few drawbacks

Ruheni Mathenge Last updated: June 1, 2022
Disclosure

A low-cost VPN service with premium features. Good for beginners.

CactusVPN is a Moldova-based VPN provider that offers reliable services. It will protect your data and anonymize your online activities through its decent network of 39 servers in 22 countries. However, the network is relatively small compared to larger VPNs.

The VPN has valuable features such as dependable unblocking capabilities, smart DNS, no-logs policy, 30-day money-back guarantee, and more. In addition, CactusVPN offers apps for all major devices that are easy to set up and use.

But is it a worthy VPN to consider? In this CactusVPN review, I’ll look at different aspects, including performance, pricing, security, customer support, privacy, and much more.

CactusVPN 1-minute summary

Are you short on time? These are some of the things you can expect about CactusVPN:

  • Industry-standard security – Protects your connections with military-grade encryption alongside other features such as a kill switch, multiple protocols, etc.
  • Unblocked streaming sites – Bypass geographic restrictions with the SmartDNS feature to give you access to popular websites and apps. 
  • Zero-logs policy – The provider claims to follow a no-logs policy strictly, but it’s unclear if your data is entirely safe. 
  • Slow speeds – It has a few servers, so your connection might slow down due to congestion. However, you can try a nearby server for improved speeds.
  • Reasonably priced – This is one of the most affordable VPNs available. In addition, its monthly rates are among the lowest.

Pros and cons

Here are some of the CactusVPN solid and weak suits.

Pros:

  • Advanced security and privacy
  • Unblocks Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video
  • It doesn’t keep logs
  • It offers a kill switch
  • Easy to use apps
  • Reliable customer support

Cons:

  • Slow speeds on some servers
  • Small server network
  • No WebRTC or IPv6 leak protection

Main features

CactusVPN's features
Lowest price $2.77
Logging policy Strict no-logs 
Server network 39 servers in 22 countries 
Devices per subscription Unlimited 
Kill switch Yes 
Money-back guarantee 30 days 

Speed

Is CactusVPN fast? This is one of the slowest VPNs I have tested lately. For example, my connection kept discontinuing because of low speeds and high ping when playing popular games like Rocket League. Moreover, it wasn’t easy to watch YouTube videos and read online articles with delays of up to 30 seconds.

I tested some of the servers with both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections. The speed slowed down significantly when using distant servers but was good enough for basic browsing. For example, I couldn’t do anything when I connected to Indian and Hong Kong servers. Even streaming YouTube videos was a struggle because of the excessive buffering.

Download speed reduction Upload speed reduction Ping time Average time to connect Sites unblocked successfully 
CactusVPN 63%55%478ms32 seconds Hulu, YouTube, BBC iPlayer
ExpressVPN 12%16%16ms5 secondsNetflix, Disney+, CBS, ABC, Hotstar
SurfShark 22%33%41ms15 seconds Netflix, Peacock TV, Fox Sports Go, Amazon Prime Video
NordVPN19%21%19ms9 seconds YouTube TV, Sling TV, HBO Max, BritBox, Paramount Plus

CactusVPN servers

CactusVPN servers

CactusVPN has a network of only 39 servers in 22 countries. This is fairly small compared to premium services like ExpressVPN and NordVPN. In fact, I had to wait for several minutes to establish a connection on multiple occasions. These strains were due to the congestion on the servers.

Another major issue I experienced was constant disconnections, and when I tried to reconnect, the server was unavailable. I had to make several trials and errors before finding a reliable connection.

Nonetheless, all its servers are physical instead of virtual, like with some services. Also, you’ll be assigned a shared static IP address when you connect to any server. This is an advantage as it makes it almost impossible to track what you are doing online.

The usage percentage on each server is a positive thing with CactusVPN. It helps you see the server with the least load for faster connections.

I conducted multiple tests to see how the servers perform when doing everyday tasks such as browsing, streaming, and playing games. Some servers were extremely slow, but I got a server that provided consistent speed to stream in standard definition after several tries. The good news is that it is straightforward to switch servers in case the connection drops.

CactusVPN and streaming

CactusVPN streaming

One of the most critical factors to consider when choosing a VPN is the ability to unblock geo-blocked content. Unfortunately, many VPNs are unable to bypass these restrictions. However, CactusVPN works well with a few streaming sites, although you have to utilize the SmartDNS feature.

The servers with this feature will enable you to stream any content, but they are not as secure as regular servers. This is because SmartDNS uses your real IP address instead of assigning you a new one. In addition, the feature is only available on selected servers in Europe, America, Australia, and Asia.

Netflix: Unblocked

Does CactusVPN work with Netflix? I conducted tests on selected servers with Netflix libraries in the US, Japan, and the UK. There were some connection issues at first, but everything worked well after clearing my cookies on my browser. By doing so, it was effortless to stream movies and TV shows.


Disney+: Unblocked

The biggest issue with Disney+ is that it is accessible in selected regions such as the US, Oceania, and Europe. So I used the SmartDNS servers to circumvent the regional blocks and watch Disney movies such as Avengers, Frozen, etc.


Hulu: Unblocked

Bypassing Hulu’s restrictions was very easy when I connected to the SmartDNS servers in the US. The connection was a bit slow initially, but it stabilized, and Rick and Morty streamed without delays and buffering.


BBC iPlayer: Unblocked

I was able to bypass BBC iPlayer geo-blocks by connecting to Europe SmartDNS servers. Since it was a nearby server, streaming shows like the Graham Norton was seamless.


Cactus VPN torrenting

CactusVPN supports torrenting on limited servers that you can easily access from the dropdown menu. They are placed in the Netherlands, Germany, Latvia, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland. However, torrenting servers in Europe may not be the best option if you live elsewhere. That is because it becomes difficult to maintain steady and fast connections the further you are from the server.

CactusVPN security and privacy

CactusVPN security and privacy

Is CactusVPN safe? The provider focuses heavily on protecting its users. It offers military-grade 256-bit encryption together with 2048-bit DHE-RSA key exchange, SHA 256 authentication, and perfect forward secrecy. This is the same security level used by premium services such as ExpressVPN.

On top of that, you’ll get multiple protocol options, including L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2, PPTP, and SSTP. Many VPNs have adopted OpenVPN as the default protocol, although IKEv2 is generally faster. Initially, PPTP was popular but has now become redundant because of security weaknesses. Recently, CactusVPN has added tutorials to manually configure the SoftEther protocol, popular for bypassing the Chinese Great Firewall.

CactusVPN is registered in Moldova, which is not a member of the 5/9/14 Eye Alliance. This means that it doesn’t have any obligation to share intelligence information with other countries. In addition, according to the company’s privacy policy, it does not store IP addresses or any other identifiable information.

What’s more, all its apps have DNS leak protection. Although it is disabled, you can easily activate it on the settings page. There are also private DNS servers that will prevent your ISP and other third parties from accessing your DNS requests. Unfortunately, CactusVPN does not offer protection against WebRTC and IPv6 leak protection.

The desktop app comes with a kill switch feature that will cut your traffic if the VPN connection drops. However, this is also deactivated by default, so you will have to enable it in the settings screen. Apart from the main kill switch, CactusVPN also provides an app-specific kill switch known as the App Killer. It allows you to choose the apps to close if the VPN connection is affected.

Settings and interface

CactusVPN compatibility

CactusVPN offers compatibility with a wide array of devices, including Windows, Android, iOS, macOS, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and more. These apps are effortless to set up and navigate. All you have to do is download and install the suitable app for your device and use the provided credentials to log in. Note that the apps come with separate login details. In this unbiased review of CactusVPN, I’ll look at the Windows and iOS apps.

Desktop

After logging in to the desktop app, a server will appear for you to connect by simply clicking the ‘Connect’ button. If you want to switch to another server, go to the dropdown list and choose the server you wish to. Alternatively, there is an option to sort the servers by speed to get the fastest connection.

Once a VPN connection has been established, the server dropdown list vanishes. Also, a blue ‘Disconnect’ button will appear on the screen.

At the top of the settings tab, there is an option to switch the protocols. However, like the dropdown list menu, this feature will be inaccessible if your VPN connection is active.


Mobile app

The mobile app’s main screen is identical to the web version. However, it is minimalist with only the server location and the ‘Connect’ button. Click the dropdown menu to choose the server location you want to connect to.

Tap on the menu icon on the upper left-hand corner of the main screen to access the settings. You’ll notice that it doesn’t have some features such as a kill switch, DNS leak protection, and protocol dropdown. Generally, the mobile app is elementary, which is an advantage to beginners. 


CactusVPN pricing

CactusVPN pricing

CactusVPN offers multiple packages to cater to various budgets, and you can even save a few dollars depending on your needs. The monthly plan is available at $6.99, one of the cheapest in the market. Moreover, you can also choose the 3-month plan at $5/month or the annual package at $4.08/month. The best value and recommended bundle is the 2-year plan at only 2.77/month. It allows you to pay with PayPal, credit cards, Alipay, cryptocurrency, and more.

All the plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. However, unlike other VPNs, CactusVPN requires an explanation of why you are terminating the service when asking for a refund. The company has the right to deny your request if it doesn’t support your reason.

Will CactusVPN work in China?

Yes, CactusVPN is one of the few VPNs that work in China, but not always. This is normal because even premium VPN services struggle to bypass the Great Firewall, improving servers to block more VPNs.

Furthermore, the firewall also detects and blocks VPN traffic. Therefore, even if you manage to install VPN software, you’ll need to use obfuscation technology to hide your activities. CactusVPN claims it works in China with the SoftEther protocol. However, the protocol is not in-built, so you’ll have to install it separately. Luckily, CactusVPN offers tutorials on how you can do this.

Customer support

The VPN provides several options to contact customer support. For instance, the support page has FAQs, setup tutorials, ticket forms, and general information about VPNs. Although the FAQ section tackles the most common problems, you may need to get in touch with the support for technical issues. Luckily, there is a live chat that is available 24/7. I tested it, and the representatives were responsive and well conversant with the VPN.

CactusVPN alternatives

Windscribe

Windscribe is also affordable as CactusVPN, with amazing features. First of all, it provides a free version, although it comes with limitations. For example, it does not unblock Netflix, gives access to 11 servers, and allows only 10GB per month. However, if you upgrade your package, you’ll get premium features such as an ad blocker, high speeds, and the entire server network.


Tunnelbear

Tunnelbear is a VPN provider that offers both paid packages and a free version. The speeds are incredible if you use local servers but a bit slow on international servers. It is packed with advanced security features such as kill switch, AES 256-bit encryption, TCP override, and much more. Unfortunately, it is based in Canada, a member of the 14-Eye alliance.


Conclusion

By and large, after this CactusVPN extensive review, I can say that it’s a reliable service. In fact, this is one of the most affordable VPNs available, especially if you choose the long-term plan. Furthermore, the VPN is an excellent option for beginners as it is straightforward to install and effortless to use.  Moreover, the provider follows a solid privacy policy, does not limit data usage, and uses advanced security features.