Viñales including its surrounding national park is one of Cuba’s premier tourist destinations. Three hours by road from Havana, its picturesque limestone outcrops (mogotes) and tobacco fields attract day-trippers and longer-stay travellers.
Rocío and I visited Viñales twice in January 2017: a day trip from Pinar del Río and then four nights. We arranged our Casa Adela accommodation a day in advance to ensure we had a decent stay. Over the new year we heard reports of tourists sleeping in Viñales’ streets because all beds were full.
Horseback is a popular way to see Viñales National Park. Juan Carlos approached us near central Parque José Martí and after a few minutes we had reserved a following-day trip for 10 CUC (US$10) each.
In the morning we walked to a house on the outskirts where we met our horses and a French couple, our tour companions.
The tour lasted more than four hours and included:
- A cigar-rolling demonstration (we actually tried a cigar this time unlike at Finca Robaina)
- A stop to view old coffee processing technology and try local honey, guayabita (a spirit made from guavas) and a sugar can juice (guarapo) with rum cocktail (CUC 3 cocktail, CUC 2 tip)
- The Valley of Silence (Valle del Silencio)
- Cave of Silence (Cueva de Silencio) (CUC 2); the guide initially wasn’t going to take us to this but relented at the French guy’s insistence
Suffering from a muscle pain-inducing cold, Rocío did well just to get out of bed, let alone ride a horse. Her ill health was compounded when my horse bit her arm! Thank goodness she was wearing a jacket. Resiliently, Rocío toughed out the remaining ride.
Hiking and Bird-Watching
One afternoon we wandered out of Viñales towards Cueva de la Vaca (Cave of the Cow). Rock-climbers were scaling the nearby cliff. Fearful of bats, Rocío didn’t want to go through the open-ended cave.
The golden afternoon sun lit up the mogotes and tobacco fields. Growing tobacco and other crops in a national park appears contrary to the idea of preserving the environment. One concession is the tobacco (and presumably other crops) within the park boundaries is grown organically.
Birds enjoyed the lovely afternoon too.
Botanic Garden: Jardín Botanico de las Hermanas Caridad y Carmen Miranda
On a cool and windy day we followed the main road east for the botanic garden adjacent the petrol station. Behind a red gate decorated with fresh fruit, a guide showed us around the tropical ornamental and food plants along with the odd quirky exhibit. Entrance is free although donations are appreciated and in my opinion, worth giving.
Food and Dining
Although a smaller town, Viñales’ food scene is more sophisticated than neighbouring Pinar del Río’s. Almost every café, restaurant and shop is targeted towards tourists and the offerings reflect this. However, we did enjoy one evening with the locals drinking beers at Cafeteria las Cubanitas.
Some of the restaurants aim to serve eco-friendly, healthy, vegetarian and vegan food, rare concepts at traditional state dining establishments. The freshness and originality of meals provided a welcome change for Rocío and me and we ate lovely, contemporary dishes at both Razones and La Berenjena restaurants.
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás and other Sites
One Viñales afternoon we hired and car and driver to go travel to Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, Cuba’s largest cave system. This visit and guided tour is the topic of a separate blog post.
The surrounding Viñales Valley also contains many different viewpoints, hikes, bike rides and sites we missed including Mural de la Prehistoria, a giant, colourful mural. We could have easily spent a week in Viñales, however our time in Cuba was ending.