Viñales was my favourite place in Cuba. A tiny town in the middle of green fields, brown tobacco plantations and towering rock formations in the Viñales Valley, Viñales had a calmness and tranquillity I needed after Havana and Trinidad. Not that Viñales was boring though, far from it! There are plenty of things to do in Viñales, I’ve picked out my top recommendations for what to do in Viñales.
How to Get to Viñales
It is possible to arrange Viñales tours from Havana, but it is easy to take the bus from Havana to Viñales. Viazul have twice daily buses that run from Havana to Viñales, and vice versa, stopping off at Las Terrazas and Pinar del Rio along the way. If you want to book a ticket on the Viazul website, you have to book at least 7 days in advance. Otherwise, you can go to any Viazul bus station and book your tickets. The journey time on the bus Havana to Viñales is around 4 hours.
You could also organize a taxi from Havana to Viñales, if there is a group of you travelling together ask your Casa particular in Havana if they have a contact for a taxi to Viñales to check the price and availability.
What to Do in Viñales
El Valle de Viñales (Viñales Valley) is a national park and a UNESCO World site, awarded UNESCO status for the incredible limestone rock formations known as mogotes, and the traditional architecture of the farms and villages in the valley. Viñales town is in the valley, and is a great base to explore the area.
Things to do in Viñales – Mural de la Prehistoria
A bicycle ride away from Viñales is the bizarre Mural de la Prehistoria, about 4km out of town. It is a huge mural painted on the side of the Mogote Pita, designed in 1961 by Leovigildo González Morillo, and taking 18 people four years to complete. I say bizarre, because the gaudy colours contrast drastically with the surrounding natural landscape. The giant animal paintings represent the theory of evolution, although the painters were not particularly talented artists, it certainly is worth seeing. You can see it from the path that runs around the site, but it is only $3 CUC to enter and get up close with the mural, and you get a drink included in the price. We chose a mojito (of course) and were given a bottle of rum to free-pour our drinks!
What to do in Viñales: Hike to Los Aquaticos
High up on the mountain slopes above the Mural de la Prehistoria, a small community of Aquaticos was founded in 1943 when the local people used the healing power of water when they had no access to regular medicines. You can walk alone up here, these are the directions provided in the Lonely Planet guide for Cuba:
Although no signs mark the path, there are plenty of homesteads en route where you can ask the way. From the main road follow a dirt road for approximately 400m before branching left and heading cross-country. You should be able to pick out a blue house halfway up the mountain ahead of you. This is your goal. Once there, you can admire the view, procure grown-on-site coffee and chat to the amiable owners about the water cure.
Be wary though of “guides” along the way who will offer to take you, only to go to their friend’s house and not the real community. I got scammed like this, and although the afternoon was enjoyable (thanks to the mojitos), it wasn’t the cultural experience I hoped for. That said, anywhere up the mountain the views over the valley are beautiful.
What to do in Viñales: A Sunset Walk in the Valle del Silencio
This was my favourite activity in Viñales. As recommended in the Lonely Planet for Cuba, Villa Reyes organize daily walks with local guides who take you to the tobacco farms, and to an eco-farm to watch the sunset with a mojito in hand. The guide explained the tobacco growing process, and pointed out various trees and plants along the walk, plucking fresh fruit from the trees and teaching us the names of plants I’d never seen before, like this mimosa plant which ‘shrinks’ in self-defence.
Horseback Riding in Viñales
Various companies arrange horseback riding tours all around the Viñales Valley, to the Mural de la Prehistoria, Los Aquaticos, tobacco farms, and natural swimming pools. Ask your casa particular for recommendations on trustworthy guides to go with.
What to do in Viñales: Learn How to Make Cuban Cigars
Viñales is surrounded by tobacco fields. When I was there, the tobacco had already been harvested, so the bare fields were a striking brown compared with the lush green of the rest of the valley. Any horseback tour or guided walk from Viñales will include a visit to one of the tobacco farms, where you can see tobacco leaves drying in barns, and watch an expert roll some cigars. You can also buy cigars from here to take home, they will let you know what the regulations are regarding exporting the cigars.
Rock Climbing in Viñales
Rock climbing in Cuba isn’t officially sanctioned by the Cuban government, but the mogotes in Viñales are without doubt the best places to climb in Cuba. Check out the website Cuba Climbing for up to date information on where to climb, and where to hire equipment. They gladly accept donations of kit, as it isn’t possible to buy anywhere in the country. Bear in mind though that there are no official safety procedures, and should something go wrong it will be entirely your responsibility.
What to do in Viñales: A Day Trip to Cayo Jutías
Cayo Jutías is a stunning white sand beach around 65km northwest of Viñales. Day tours to Cayo Jutías cost about $20 CUC per person, or you can group together and negotiate a shared taxi or collectivo to take you. Your casa particular in Viñales should be able to help you make the arrangements. At the beach there are a couple of restaurants, and a place to hire kayaks and snorkel equipment. We just chilled out on the beach!
What to do in Viñales: La Cueva del Indio
Take a tour to the Cueva del Indio where you walk through part of the cave before hopping on a boat to go further inside. Stalactites, stalagmites and beautiful rock formations make this a worthwhile visit, and some people love the dance from the indigenous people who used to live here – although others find it too touristy! Go early to avoid the crowds.
Where to Stay in Viñales
Almost every house in Viñales is a casa particular. In high season you may need to book in advance, but during low season you should be fine turning up, where you will be met off the bus by people offering bargain prices on rooms in their casas. If you are travelling in high season, check prices and availability on Airbnb, but bear in mind that prices will likely be higher than if you book last minute when you are in Cuba. I stayed at a hostel in Havana where the owner had a network of other casa particular owners throughout the country, and she contacted the casa in Viñales for me.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get $30 credit to use on your first trip!
Where to Eat in Viñales
There are plenty of restaurants in Viñales, but prices can be high, as the town is very popular with tourists. I found an awesome cheap and delicious café called Rompiendo Rutina a couple of blocks from the main street, which served up Cuban classics like Ropa Vieja and fried chicken for a fraction of the price in other places.
Where Next on your Cuba Itinerary?
Divers could head to Maria La Gorda on the western tip of Cuba, or explore more of the Pinar del Rio area. I headed back to Havana via Las Terrazas, but if you are at start of your journey you could head over the other side of the island to go to Cienfuegos, Trinidad or Santiago.
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