Passionate about boxing and traveling? Havana is the best destination to combine boxing and discovery of a country as Cuba is a captivating island which has developed a true “boxing culture”.
Are you tempted by this unique experience? In this article you will find information and practical advice to organize your trip.
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Cuban boxing is very famous and Cuban boxers are known as some of the best in the world. Since the 1970s, they have taken home more than 100 medals in Olympic Games and other World Amateur Boxing competitions. Eligio “Kid Chocolate” Sardiñas, Cuba’s first world boxing champion (1931, Gerardo “Kid Gavilan” Gonzalez, world welterweight champion (1951) and Benny Paret, two-time world welterweight champion (1960 & 1961) are some of the Cuban boxer legends.
If the boxers of this magnificent Caribbean island shine in boxing, it is thanks to the requirement of the Cuban schools which train Cubans daily from a very young age. The most famous of them is the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym.
This club, the oldest in Cuba which is located in Habana Vieja, the historic district of Havana, is equipped with an old ring and old stadium stands. It conveys a soul, a story. Determination, work, perseverance and effort define the atmosphere of the club. The training and the sparrings follow one another all day long, the last ones at nightfall under the light of the spotlights of the ring.
It is one of the few clubs to offer training to foreigners. You will be able to follow daily courses, at any time of the year. Unfortunately, it is not permitted to participate in training reserved for Cubans, (but the coaches are able to organise sparring with Cuban fighters) therefore you will train with other foreigners: boxers of all levels from all over the world. Some are preparing for the Olympic Games or other international competitions/ fights, others are just there to practice boxing as a leisure. Beginners are also welcome.
The training for foreigners generally takes place every morning from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. (except Sunday) outside on the banks of the Malecón in front of the Church of San Francisco de Paula. What characterizes Cuban training is the importance given to technique. They start to work on the movements (forward, backward, lateral, pivots …) then they add the punches and dodges. Nothing escapes the coaches, everything is played to the nearest centimeter. The movements are first done in slow motion so that each gesture is performed with great precision. The perfection of the gesture is a Cuban priority! You learn boxing in Cuba like you learn salsa. This requires rhythm, repeating the same gestures over and over, coordination and above all concentration. The coaches will keep reminding you: “concentración!” (plan to learn a little Spanish before you leave, very few Cubans speak English and boxing coaches are no exception).
The coaches are numerous and very attentive. You will have at least half an hour of individual pads work for each training session.
If you master the technique, you will have the chance to enter the ring for sparring with a Cuban boxer.
In the afternoon you can watch national team fights and children’s training and sparring. You will be amazed that Cubans start boxing and sparring from an early age.
On Saturday, the coaches organize a distant training session for foreigners either at Casablanca or at Marazul beach (Santa Maria del Mar) and I think this is a very good initiative. This allows you to visit the surroundings while continuing your sporting activity.
You will reach Casablanca by boat where you will discover a magnificent view of Havana, the training is done in a park near the Che’s house and the status of El Cristo de la Habana.
Ultimately, training boxing in Cuba is a fabulous way to meet, exchange and share time with Cubans while learning about their culture. It is also an opportunity to practice Spanish while improving your skills in boxing and discovering different training styles. Combining it with salsa lessons is quite common, you will see similarities between boxing and salsa.
Some tips and addresses for daily life in Havana
The session costs 15 CUC. (it is worth contacting @cubanboxingcoach to negotiate prices if you are staying for longer).
You can contact the coaches on social networks (instagram and FB) @cubanboxingcoach or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Whatsapp Number to book lessons: +44 7947828151
NB: @cubanboxingcoach can also help you book your salsa lessons.
The “casa particular”
A very good way to soak up more Cuban culture is to stay with a local: the casa particular. There are many casas around the boxing gym. You can contact Juan Carlos e Izumy, his casa is located at Merced street. There is a large bodybuilding / fitness room upstairs and a wifi access certainly not always functional but which has the merit of being there.
Tel: +53 78600449, +53 54817951
NB: You can also use the gym’s email address to reserve a casa particular and they do discounts for combined training and casa packages. They are very reactive and efficient: email@example.com
A stay in Cuba is a bit like a “digital detox”, internet access is very complicated, you have to buy cards and then find places to connect (usually places or parks). The spot we used during our stay is a 15 minutes’ walk from the gym in front of the Hotel Inglaterra. This is also where buses leave for Santa Maria beach. (5 CUC round trip in a comfortable bus). As the internet access is very limited, we strongly advise you before leaving (in order to be able to find your bearings in the city) to download the Maps.me application and the Maps.me Cuba map which then works without internet access.
If after training, you want to regain strength nearby with a Cuban meal, we recommend the Cafeteria Doña Alicia (less than 2$ per meal). This small cafeteria is located near Compostella Street in Jesus Maria Street. Rafael Trejo coaches meet there quite regularly.
A little further, the famous restaurant Jolly’s is also inexpensive. It is one of the rare Cuban restaurants to offer vegetarian dishes.