Breathtaking scenery, flourishing farmland and untapped culture. I fell in love with this beautiful and rural Western Cuban town, which actually happens to be a natural park! When planning your Cuba itinerary, you will definitely want to include a few days in Viñales. Here are some tips before you go!
Normally, most tourists traveling to Cuba will fly into Havana, explore the city for a few days and then make their way down to Viñales. However, we decided to start our trip in Viñales and end in Havana and I am so happy we did it that way. The pace of life is slower here, and compared to Havana, Viñales is both defined by and surrounded by agriculture. Colorful houses dot the town and hillside and the valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is rich in fruit, vegetables, tobacco and coffee beans. You will immediately feel the presence of Cuban culture and kindness and a growing respect for their dedication to farming, their livelihood. Starting your trip here is a great way to form your experience of Cuba, observe everyday life of the locals and get a true feel for Cuba’s roots.
The ride from Havana to Viñales takes about 2 1/2- 3 hours. Being that our flight into Havana was a late afternoon flight, we didn’t arrive in Viñales until past 10 pm. If I could have done anything different, I probably would have included an extra day in the town to make up for our late arrival! We actually had friends in Cuba that were able to set up a driver to take us there. However, taking a taxi or bus is pretty inexpensive and you can probably just set it up before hand with your host.
ROOM + BOARD
We stayed at a casa particular that I booked via AirBnb and it was such a steal at $8 a night per person! (Yeah, I know.) Our host, Maria was super sweet, kept our living quarters spotless and provided fresh fruit every day at no extra charge. She also offered breakfast as well as a stocked fridge of beer and waters for a few extra cuc’s. The AC worked well and must I add that AC is a must when staying here! To get the full Cuban experience, as well as travel tips and great meals, I highly recommend staying with a family!
The town center is on the smaller side compared to Havana which makes it less overwhelming and easier to navigate. The main street is filled with tasty restaurants, shops, street markets and live music spots. You will definitely want to eat here at least once (don’t forget to make time to have a meal with your host as well.) You will also find plenty of unique and handmade souvenirs being sold so don’t forget to save some room in your suitcase! Here you will also be able to exchange your money, as well as book transportation back to Havana.
You will want to either book a tour with your host or schedule one from one of the many travel guides on the main street. We did a horseback tour of the lush green valley which lasted about 5 hours. If you are comfortable riding a horse, I would definitely recommend doing this instead of a walking tour as there is a LOT to see and with the heat, you will get tired! It was nice to just kick back and let the horse lead the way. Not to mention, the horseback tour is kid-friendly and I saw plenty of families with younger children riding ponies. Our tour guide was kind and each of the stops we made was very informative and filled with both kind locals and plenty of photo ops.
During our tour, we rode past endless crops of coffee, pineapple, potato and tobacco. We saw plenty of farm animals, pigs, chickens, horses and endless sherbet-colored houses and barns scattered throughout the valley. The views are truly unreal. Don’t forget your camera!
We made a few stops on our tour where we were able to get off our horses, use the bathroom, buy waters and snacks and relax for a bit. Our first stop was at a coffee bean plantation. Here we were able to get a demonstration of how the Cuban’s make their delicious coffee. We were also able to sample and purchase fresh ground coffee, medium and strong, for 5 cuc, and also enjoyed a few guava cocktails!
Our next stop was a massive cave, Cueva de Santo Thomas. The cave was damp and dark inside and had a few tight squeezes…definitely not ideal for anyone who is claustrophobic. However, the cave is fascinating inside and worth the quick 10 minute walk through.
Our final stop was at a tobacco hut where they let us see the entire tobacco leaf drying process. We were also educated on tobacco rolling and were able to purchase freshly-rolled cigars free of preservatives and specially-wrapped in palm leaves! Also, in case you were wondering, you are allowed to bring cigars back to the states.
WHERE TO EAT
You will have no trouble finding an assortment of both Cuban and more American food in the town. However, dinner at El Paraiso was hands down my favorite meal of our ENTIRE trip to Cuba. The food exceeded my expectations and the whole dining experience was truly memorable.
The restaurant sits outside of the city’s center and we had quite a bit of trouble finding direction to the spot. Don’t give up, this spot is worth the hassle!
Situated atop a hill overlooking the valley, the restaurant is nestled by trees and surrounded by fresh crops of lettuce and vegetables and beautiful lush flower gardens. Our group was seated at a large table right by the window with an amazing view of the valley. Shortly after ordering, the food started coming, and coming, and coming. From vegetable soup to rice, beans, pork, chicken and fish, there is something for everyone. We each paid no more than $15 cucs per person which is a steal considering how much food and rum they served us. We left stuffed and satisfied!
All in all, Viñales is way less touristy and more naturally beautiful. Carve out a couple days here that you will never forget!
Questions about Viñales? Leave a comment in the section below!