The sleepily seductive town of Viñales could surprise you as being a quiet spot on the Cuba trail if you happened to be anywhere other than the main street. While the calle principal, main street, is jam packed full of tourist restaurants, fancy casa particulares and live music venues, the rest of the town is comparatively low key. One only needs to turn down a backstreet, or wanderer off the track, to realize just how natural this popular tourist location is.
Carrying a backpack? Look like a tourist? Yes? Then you will get bombarded with taxi offers, tour proposals and eager restaurants, but compared to big city Havana it’s like a drop in the ocean. The best thing about Vinales is that because all the businesses are highly condensed along the main street, it’s only a small section you’ll need to tolerate before you get some peace again.
For us the best thing about Vinales was the stunning landscape views of luscious green fields and scenic mountains. There are a number of walking, horseback, cave and tobacco tours on offer, with tobacco plantations being the main draw card depending on the season. In case you’re unaware, Cuba produces some of the world’s best quality cigars, with over 100 different brands and sizes. And it’s at Viñales that a lot of the premium tobacco grows to produce one of Cuba’s finest exports.
Unfortunately when we visited the tobacco growing was out of season, but that didn’t stop us from mixing it with the local farmers and finding out all about this famous tobacco region. We ditched the town tours and took ourselves out to all the tourist attractions. Stopping by at random houses, getting invited in by locals and chatting away.
Vinales is a fun town packed with adventure, history, fine food and lovely people. It’s got a cooler temperament than the capital, not just in the weather, but in the people too. Laid back country folk rock on wicker chairs on their front porch, selling guava smoothies or egg sandwiches to passing by locals and tourists alike. Here’s just a few of the awesome things to do in Vinales.
Adventure in Viñales
Explore the Santo Tomas caves (Cuevos de Santo Tomás) in the town of El Moncado. This impressive cave structure is the largest in all of Cuba, with 46kms of caves running through 8 different levels. You’ll only get to see a small section of it, and it may not be the most thrilling cave exploration (sorry extreme cavers), but it offers a little fun for all ages . Ditch the $20+ tour price from Vinales and make your own way out there by hitchhiking or local bus. Admission to the cave costs $10 with a bilingual guide, 90min tour and headlamp.
Take a nice half hour walk to the ‘prehistoric wall painting’ at dos hermanas. While the painting itself is a little over-rated the sheer size of it is pretty incredible. Skip the $1 entry fee to get up close, you can take all the pictures you need from a far. While you’re out that way follow the signs to the el mirador, the lookout, which is another 20mins into the countryside. It’s got a cracking view from the top of the surrounding scenery.
Jump on a horse! Horseback tours are a very popular way to get around the Vinales countryside, but we decided to give them a miss. If it’s something you’re interested in doing please do it the right thing and check out the conditions of the horses and how they’re treated. Some tours keep naturally roaming horses on call, while others have less regard for the horse and more for the money.
Tobacco tours are what it’s all about. Almost year round (apart from when we were there) there are genuine tours running that take tourists to see where it all begins. See how they grow and tend to the crops, before they store and dry them. Even in the off season you’ll see thatched roof huts along the countryside that are designed to dry out the leaves before they get carted off to tobacco factories all around Cuba. We were unlucky to miss the season, but we did make a local friend who invited us on a tour of his farm to check out how he makes his living.