Viñales is a very small, relaxed town located in one of the most beautiful areas of Cuba. The town is characterized by quiet streets and cheerful, colorful homes with verandas and rocking chairs, against a background of the picturesque Viñales Valley (Valle de Viñales), a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the stunning lush greenery, limestone monoliths and red earth.
Viñales Valley is a very fertile agricultural area which grows organic fruit, vegetables, coffee and tobacco. Everything is farmed using old school, traditional methods, which means fields are plowed by oxen and crops are picked by hand. Because of the fertile soil and the traditional agricultural practices used (modern mechanical methods of cultivation and harvesting lower the quality of tobacco), the best tobacco in the world is found in Viñales. A cigar from Viñales is the best and most authentic Cuban cigar you’ll find in Cuba, and the rest of the world.
The #1 thing to do in Viñales is to take a tobacco tour where you’ll visit a tobacco farm and learn the process of making Cuba’s famous cigars, you’ll have an opportunity to smoke a cigar and they’ll send you home with your own cigar. You can also buy more cigars at a cheaper price than anywhere else in Cuba. The cheapest and the best quality are two traits which are rarely ever experienced together, so take advantage; your friends and family will thank you.
Other things to do in Viñales include horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, and exploring the caves, swimming holes, limestone mountains, and farms. It’s a great place for people who love nature and a quiet, laidback atmosphere. Or if you need a break from the crazy partying in Havana, like I did.
The lady whose casa particular I stayed at (along with the four new friends I’d made in Havana), arranged for a guide to take us on a tour of a tobacco farm, coffee plantation, a cave and horseback riding through the countryside for $20CUC each (CUC is on par with USD). The tobacco tour was the highlight. They showed us how they hand pick the tobacco leaves, remove the stem (which holds the majority of the nicotine), then spray the leaves with a mixture of honey, rum and vanilla (other variations can include pineapple, guava, cinnamon and sugar cane), and then the leaves are left to dry. Once the leaves are dry, they’re rolled into cigars by hand. He made us a fresh cigar on the spot, dipped the tip in honey and then we all smoked it together. Even for non-smokers, trying a Cuban cigar in Cuba is a must. I hate smoking, but of course I tried it. It tasted very pleasant and sweet!
The next day, our casa particular arranged for a guide to take us on a walk in the countryside for $8CUC each. It was beautiful, but it ended being over five hours in the heat of the day with next to no shade, so we would’ve been content with less time. It would’ve been nice to go hiking in Viñales, but it was very hot and humid when I was there in early April and just the simple walk in the valley was intensely hot. I don’t believe the temperature varies much throughout the year, so if you really want to hike, the early morning would likely be your best bet.
Viñales relies heavily on tourism, so of course it’s touristy, with the main street in the town being the most touristy; but despite that, it’s still very laidback, authentic and beautiful. The town is very quiet at night, which is great if you need a break from Havana.
Unless you’re going on a big hike or rock climbing adventure, Viñales can be enjoyed in one full day or 1.5 days. I felt satisfied with what I saw in a day and a half.
Viñales is a 3-4 hour taxi ride west of Havana that will cost between $50-120CUC+, depending on your bargaining skills (you can fit 5-6 passengers in a taxi to split the cost). Between me and 4 other people, we paid $80CUC for a taxi. Or you can take the bus, which is around $12 and about 3.5-4 hours.
You can take a taxi, bus or colectivo (shared taxi) back to Havana or you can take a bus to Trinidad for around $37 (and about 9.5 hours). I took a $15CUC colectivo back to Havana and I’ll never forget how the colectivo showed up- a classic car pulled up to our casa particular and four young, attractive Cuban guys got out and walked up to the veranda to talk to the lady of the casa to ask for us, and off we went. It felt reminiscent of the movie Grease and it was awesome.
As usual in Cuba, stay in a casa particular (which is like a homestay) for $20-25CUC per night.
The beach is a half day trip away.
I couldn’t find any cheap local food in Viñales, but that also doesn’t mean there isn’t any, it’s just hard to find. I could only find pricier tourist restaurants (well, pricey if you’re on a budget- ie. around $7-10CUC for a meal vs. $1-2CUC, which is what I paid in Havana). But it was also the first decent food I’d had after being in Cuba for a few days, so that was a plus.
Wi-fi is hard to find, but not impossible.
For more information on traveling Cuba, see Traveling Cuba Independently – Tips, Facts and What to Expect.