Viñales in Cuba is a popular backpackers destination with many things to do and see that cities cannot provide. That is; pure countryside air, horses, tobacco and coffee farms for miles, a warm welcome and great hospitality from the locals.
We came because we had heard of the beauty of the valley, surrounded by ‘haystacks’ or steep mountains left untouched by tourists and locals alike. The backwards charm of Cuba persisted here in what amounted to hundreds of houses acting as Casa Particulares (cheap homestays), many things to see and things to do in the small town, alongside a farming culture (coffee and tobacco) with one main road designated for restaurants and shops.
After arriving on our Viazul bus (costing 12CUC from Havana), we were whisked away by our Casa host to a house overlooking a tobacco farm, with a perfect view of the impending sunset. Indeed, on more than one occasion whilst staying here we all headed up to the roof and indulged in a mojito or two, marveling in our surroundings.
But more than this, during our too few days here we experienced a lot of activities within Vinales and the surrounding area.
We decided to go horseback riding through the Cuban countryside. A local tour in town cost only 3CUC per hour (don’t pay more). A good tip is to make the guide aware of how long you want to go for… we have heard many stories of people going for more than 5 hours and being very sore afterwards (4 is more than sufficient).
We all took off from the local guides house towards a tobacco farm. We then sat down with a local farmer who prepared honey mojitos and showed us the best way to roll an organic cigar! The most interesting thing was that he removes the stem of the tobacco leaf which contains the nicotine, so no addiction required!
After some brief haggling to purchase some local Cuban cigars (hint: negotiate everything!), we set off once more towards the coffee and rum plantation. This double-header was quite interesting. We passed by avocado, orange, and coffee trees before coming across a small guided area for coffee and rum tasting. They use a small guava (local to the area) to add to rum, bottled in a local factory. You have the opportunity to purchase both here.
Our final stop was at a cave (cueva) known as the “Cueva de Silencio”, where you get to walk quite far into the cave. This was a fun stop costing 2CUC, and the guide was cracking jokes in Spanglish the entire time to keep us entertained (alongside the history of course).
After completing the 4 hour ride, we finally made our way back to our casa satisfied with our great adventure (alongside sore legs!).
We rented bikes to ride around Vinales and back into the farm lands. Using a great app called maps.me (offline maps – a great idea for Cuba), we made our way towards another cave called the Cueva de la Vaca (Cave of the Cow). We dropped our bikes off at a locals farm (which also sells mojitos and fruit – go figure) and had a short 15 minute hike up to this amazing cave that you can walk right through. If you wanted you could continue on a massive round trip, but we chose to return to our start point. We also hiked around this area towards a much higher mirador (viewpoint), where you can also rock climb with spectacular views of the valley.
We hopped back on the bikes with one final mission – make our way to the Cueva de la Piscina (a cave with a river and a “swimming pool”). This was quite the mission, and if you using an offline app to help you make sure you stick to the ‘main roads’. Some of the lesser taken roads are literally goat tracks and make it easy for you to get lost and possibly puncture a tire. This is exactly what happened to two of us in the group, making for an interesting and thirsty 5 kilometer walk back to Vinales!
Despite this, the cave was spectacular, and at 2CUC entry for a tour and time to swim, we would highly recommend it.
These activities took up the majority of our time in Vinales, and we were happy to be able to see some of the surrounding land and caves. There are of course plenty more things to do in and around town, some of which we indulged in and others we were not able to (no salsa for us – everything was shut as Fidel Castro had just passed). Some of these activities include:
Visiting the Mural de la Prehistorica: Frequently named as “the worst tourist attraction in Cuba”, this mural that was sanctioned by Fidel himself features images of cavemen, snails, and dinosaurs. TIP: look and take photos of this mural from outside the entrance – the view is the same as if you were inside.
Salsa Bar in the main square: This place gets absolutely pumping most nights and offers entry for only 1CUC or 10CUP (local currency). Make your way in and dance the night away!
Cave Disco (El Palenque de los Cimarrones): Worth a look if only to see a discoteca (night club) inside a cave! This is a little way out of town so you would have to take a taxi to get here. You can do tours during the day to get an idea of slaves in Cuba, but then on the weekends it is used for drinking (an interesting combination).
Cueva del Indio: Another cave, but an interesting one nonetheless. You can take a boat ride through here to check it out. This one is definitely aimed more at tourists with a higher price tag for entry (10CUC), but we’ve heard it is still quite good.
Day Trip to Cayo Jutias or Cayo Levisa: Pay around 20-30CUC and you can take a day trip to the nearest beaches to Vinales. We did not end up doing this due to lack of time, but we have heard that the beaches are phenomenal and well worth the money to see for the day.
Try the Food: Okay so the food in Cuba isn’t the best in the world, but we found that if you looked you can find some great options (that aren’t too bland). “The Corner Cafe” had some amazing churros on offer (1CUC each), and was next to what was probably the cheapest restaurant / cafe in town with offers of pizza for 2CUC and bigger plates with meat and vegetables costing 3-4CUC maximum.
Overall, we had an amazing time exploring Viñales and the surrounding sites and our casa host was equally as amazing. We would definitely return, if only to keep drinking mojitos!
What did you like about Viñales? Let us know so we can try them out next time!