Viñales is Cuba’s most popular attraction after Havana. Encircled by mountains and rocky outcrops, this rural town is located at the western tip of the country. For those of you who would prefer to escape the city, this lush, green countryside is for you! Visit tobacco and coffee plantations, enjoy lunch on a farm, ride horses, rock climb, and hike in this beautiful town. Keep reading to find out we did and recommend for a fun day trip to Viñales.
Viñales is only about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Havana. To get there, you can either take the bus or a private taxi (~70-80 CUC one-way). We chose to take a private taxi and split the fare with friends, which was both convenient and affordable for us as a traveling couple. Our friendly driver, also our tour guide, took us to all of the main sites and even joined us for lunch and a horse ride!
What to See
Tobacco Farms: Guajiros (rural farmers) still use traditional farming practices to grow and harvest fruit, vegetables, coffee, and tobacco. In fact, Viñales has been home to tobacco farming for more than 200 years and farming techniques have changed very little. When you visit, you must check out one (or more!) of the many tobacco farms. You won’t find factories here, as all of the cigars are grown, harvested, and rolled by hand.
Horseback Riding: Horseback riding in Viñales was at the top of my Cuban itinerary. My Wyoming cowboy-at-heart was all about this excursion and, thankfully, we convinced our friends to do this with us instead of the caves.* We told our driver of our plans and he rolled down his window to whistle at a man leading his horse on the side of the road. After a few brief words in Spanish, he told us this man would give us a tour. As odd as it might sound, this is really how it’s done in Cuba!
Once it was arranged, we agreed to pay 8 CUC/person for an hour-long tour through the plantations. Will and I rode the smallest horses, despite that we were by far the tallest in our party. Thankfully, I felt very comfortable knowing that if I fell, I wouldn’t fall very far! 😉
On our route, we visited a tobacco farm where a farmer explained his farming practices, which included rolling the cigars in honey and water. He gave Will and Greg a cigar to sample, and they both agreed it was “very smooth”. We bought a few to take back home, making this our only souvenier – unless you count our new salsa skills!
Mural de la Prehistoria: Do not be misled — this art is not historic. It’s a modern painting of a prehistoric scene on a mogote (dome-shaped hill), but it looks more like graffiti to me! While it is a nice pop of color in this pretty green space, we didn’t think it was worth paying to view it up close. We recommend you do a quick drive-by and hop out of the car to capture that perfect shot.
* From what we gathered, the caves are packed with tourists. While exploring the Cuevas de Santo Tomas, Cuba’s largest cave system, sounded cool, we didn’t want to fight the crowds. Instead, we spent our time outside, enjoying the beautiful sunshine.
Where to Eat
If you visit Viñales, eat at El Paraiso. This open-air, farm-to-table restaurant sits on a hill and offers picturesque views of the Valle de Viñales and its distinctive limestone hills.
For 10 CUC/person, we were overwhelmed with the amount of delicious food they served us. We enjoyed all of the classic Cuban dishes, including fresh plantains, rice, beans, pork, fish, chicken, beef, and flan!
We also ordered tropical drinks with fresh “medicinal herbs” – I really think this meant “cinnamon”. Regardless, this drink was fantastic. They even brought us a full bottle of rum to make this fruity virgin cocktail into an alcoholic beverage, but I opted to leave that out. Why mess with a good thing?
If you’re interested in visiting, kindly ask your casa host to make you a reservation (+53 5 8188581) or arrive around 11 am to grab a table (Carretera Al Cementerio KM 1 1/2, Vinales 22400, Cuba).
Our day trip to Viñales was filled with everything we wanted to see and experience! After our tobacco tour, farm-to-table lunch, and horseback riding adventure, we were more than ready to head back to Havana for our siesta. If we visit again, we would love to take a boat ride to the caves, hike one of the many routes, and maybe even try rock climbing. Have you been to Vinales? If so, what was your favorite part?
Have a great week!
P.S. We are planning two cross-country road trips this summer. Our plans aren’t set in stone yet, so I’d love to know your favorite place(s) to visit in between D.C. and California. Comment below with your recommendations!