Last week, I visited Cuba for the first time. Having only one week there, I’d planned to stay just in Havana–a city so large and filled with so much to see that a week in Havana alone didn’t seem like enough time. But, again and again I was told I had to see more of Cuba, so my travel companion and I settled on a day trip to the green countryside town of Viñales. I’m extremely happy with this decision and spent one of my best days in Cuba there! It’s especially a great destination if you want to get away from the city for a while. I was told it’s required to have a tour guide in this area, and though each tour surely varies, here you’ll find a bit of what to expect from Viñales.
P.S. If you’re planning your own trip to Cuba and want to know exactly how I planned this outing, scroll to the bottom or contact me for more information. My tour guide was kind, funny, and knowledgeable, and you’d get to ride through the countryside in style in this ’58 Ford instead of a big tourist bus.
Cueva del Indio:
We started with a boat ride through the Cueva del Indio on River San Vicente. Though it wouldn’t be worth driving to on its own, it’s a nice stop on the way to tobacco farms and the mural in the picture above.
Palenque de los Cimarrones:
Our next stop was at another cave which wasn’t as pretty as the first and is in some ways more of a tourist trap than anything, but it has an interesting history. This is a site where runaway African slaves went during the period of Spanish colonization in Cuba. At the end of the visit, you also get to see a ritual dance of the Africans who lived there. It’s also a great place to stop for a nice drink and a meal with live music, though I’m guessing these are pricey.
Mural de la Prehistoria:
This is one of the main attractions in Viñales and is a great stopping point for incredible photos. I’ve also been told there’s a restaurant nearby and paths to hike. With so many other things to see in the area, however, taking nothing more than a photo break on the road along the mural was enough for me.
Viñales is known more so than anything for its tobacco farms, and any tour you take will definitely bring you to one as well. I don’t know the name of the farm I visited, but it was an interesting experience where we even got to watch a cigar being made by hand. They also allowed us to go inside a barn where tobacco leaves are hung and dried for several years at a time. This was a highlight of the trip.
Viñales Valley Mirador:
Our next stop was nothing but a small area with shops and a balcony overlooking Viñales Valley, but it really was a spectacular sight. After a long day of driving, it was nice to slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the view. Live music and dancing may also accompany this sight if you’re lucky enough to come at the right time.
Casa Verde Restaurant:
Down the road and a short walking distance away from this viewpoint is the restaurant where I had my best meal in Cuba. All you do at Casa Verde is order your preferred drink and one of six entrees including pork, lobster, chicken, and more, and the rest of the food is brought to you. One after another, plates are sent to the table with enough for everyone to share. My favorite sides/appetizers were the black beans, grilled pumpkin and yuca, and fried plantains (a common appetizer in Cuba). Below are pictures of my entree, pork in tomato sauce, and some of the other sides which included white rice, arroz moro (traditional Cuban black beans and rice), and vegetables.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe we did all of this in one day, but that’s part of what made the trip so memorable and worthwhile. Many visitors also spend the night or several nights in the small town center of Viñales. If you’re interested in doing this, I’d suggest booking a Casa Particular to stay with Cubans and have a more authentic experience. I’ve heard it’s the perfect place to dance the night away doing the salsa with locals and tourists alike. No matter how long you decide to go, if you are in Cuba, Viñales is a must!
How to book this trip:
I booked my trip to Viñales through a woman named Maritza in Havana. She has a Casa Particular to stay at in Havana, though this is not where I stayed. When I requested to stay there, however, she helped me find another house in the area and invited me to come over and talk to her/get advice for where to go and what to do in Cuba. Her prices are fair and she’s an open and caring person willing to help anyone. Even if you are not staying at her house, she offers breakfast for 5 CUC and will let you in with open arms. You can email her to make a reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org