Once in a Lifetime: Havana

By: Katie Manning

January 9, 2013

If you want to really get under the skin of Cuba’s sultry capital, we suggest checking out these five top Havana experiences. With everything on offer, from late night bars to boxing lessons, we’re sure you’ll have plenty of unique memories to take home with you.

Cruise the Streets in a Classic Car with Gran Car


Touring Havana with Gran Car © Tony Hisgett/ Flickr

Buicks, Chevys, and countless other cool-finned cruisers rumble down the crumbling streets of Havana, many abandoned by their American owners when they fled in 1959 and kept going by Cuban ingenuity. For us, this is undoubtedly the coolest way to take in the Havana sights. You can book a classic-car tour through Gran Car at all hotel tour desks. They’ll provide a car with a driver from about CUC 25-150, depending on the gorgeousness of the desired automobile. +53 7 881 0992.

The Tropicana Cabaret

The Tropicana Cabaret | HavanaThe Tropicana Cabaret © Cabaret Tropicana

Havana’s most lurid cabaret is also one of the world’s finest and, for us, an essential experience. Open since 1939, it is the oldest cabaret in Havana and has lashings of gaudy pre-Revolution decadence about it. We especially love the chorus girls with pineapples on their heads dancing madly against a backdrop of lush tropical vegetation. Order tickets from any travel desk in a hotel or buy them at the ticket booth from 8.30pm. Calle 72 y 43, No. 4505, +53 7 279 147, Open: 9am-6pm Mon-Sat; 10am-1pm Sun.

Consultation with a Soothsaying Babalao


Santeria Temple © James Emery/ Flickr

The animist Yoruba religion was imported to Cuba by West African slaves and is still prominent in the country. The word babalao in the Yoruba language means “˜father of knowledge’. We suggest a private consultation with a soothsaying babalao, which is one of the most strange and wonderful experiences you can have in Cuba. To arrange a visit, call Gilbert or Giselle at Havana Holdings, who run Santeria tours. Bungalow 892, Calle 3° y 84 Playa, +53 7 204 7710/11.

Boxing lessons at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo


Training bags © Karen Pilling/ Flickr

If you’ve seen the cult documentary Sons of Cuba, about how hard Cuban boys work to make boxing gold, then you’ll want to go and see the real thing at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo. It’s living proof that fancy equipment and money aren’t needed to make Olympic boxers. We recommend enquiring about boxing lessons with head trainer Carlos Miranda – aim to pay about 25 CUC for a few hours. Calle de Cuba 815, La Habana Vieja, +53 7 862 0266. Training from 4pm. Matches 7pm Friday.

Go sailing for the day

Sailing with Cloud 9 | Havana

Cloud 9 Sailing © In Cloud 9

Lounging on a catamaran is, for us, one of the delights of Caribbean travel, and Cuba is no different. The owner of Cloud 9, Tobi Brocklehurst, is an Englishman who loves to sail, and he’ll happily put together something tailor-made just for you. Or you can sign up for a yachting day trip – normally with food and drink inclusive, at any of the travel desks of the major hotels. Cloud 9, +53 7 206 9062,

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Cuba from London Gatwick.


Katie Manning

Katie is an author for the Virgin Atlantic blog. Despite her urban London residency, Katie can often be found exploring far-flung corners of the globe in search of exciting new experiences and stories. A self-confessed night-owl, she makes it her mission to search out the best cocktail bars and live music venues on each and every expedition. Follow Katie @kt_saramanning

Categories: Our Places