CUBA: Three days in Valle de Viñales

What’s the best way to say goodbye to the lovely city of Havana? An oldtimer cabrio ride to the bus stop with the sunrise behind you! So awesome!

Early in the morning we were already on our way back to the Viazul bus station to catch our bus that would take us to Viñales: the next stop on our trip.

Viñales is a small village in Pinar Del Rio and is most known for the Valle de Viñales (Vinales Valley) with their typical Mogotes. The houses in town are all very colorful which gives it all a few happy look and feel.

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After a five hour bus drive, we finally arrived in Viñales and immediately headed for our casa.

Villa Cristal

During our stay in Viñales, we stayed in Villa Cristal. This case is really close to the center of Viñales, so the location was already a big plus.

Upon arrival we were immediately greeted warmly by the family of our hosts. Any and Francesco weren’t present at the time, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t get all our information. We were shown our room in a little building in the garden which we had all to our own and could reach without having to bother the family. We even had our own rocking chairs outside! Amazing!

Later we met Any and Francesco and they were just the loveliest people. They were always ready to help and give information about the area. Inside our room, we also found a folder with everything that we could visit and see in the area. Really helpful.

One night we also had dinner in Villa Cristal which was also very delicious. For breakfast, Any also made pancakes one morning and we simply fell in love with them. So so so tasty!

We had a very pleasant stay with these people and can only warmly recommend this casa.

Cuevas del Indio

Since we still had an afternoon to fill, we decided to take a taxi to the Cuevas del Indio for 5CUC. Those caves are about 5km out of the center of Viñales and were discovered in 1920. The taxi driver asked to wait for us to return, but we –foolishly- waived him off and said we’d managed. We didn’t like have the time pressure of someone waiting for us.

The Cuevas are beautiful but nothing extraordinary. I’ve seen more beautiful caves before. On top of that, it’s also very touristy and I got the feeling we were a bit herded through it like sheep. With its 5 CUC entrance it’s a bit overpriced for what you get. If I had to do it again, I’d maybe check out the Cueves de Santo Tomas.

After exploring the grounds a bit more – which were really beautiful -, we decided to return to Viñales. But there were no taxis available – as the taxi driver had warned. Since the drive to the Cuevas had  been really beautiful, we decided to just walk the five kilometer back to the city center. It was also a way of filling our afternoon. It was a nice walk through the Mogotes (= typical rock formations in Viñales) until the weather decided to turn. Suddenly it was pouring and of course we weren’t prepared. Just as it was at its worst, we luckily passed the ……. We didn’t hesitate twice and went to seek shelter. While we were there we – of course – had a cocktail to pass the time. The man at the bar recommended us their typical drink and it was the best choice ever. Really amazing cocktail.

When the rain had stopped we continued our walk back to the center. It appeared to be a bit more than five kilometers, but in the end it was a really lovely walk through the valley and the outsides of town. We weren’t all that sad we had let that taxi slip through our fingers. The rain even made it a really funny memory.

 

Horsebackriding

On our second day we were expected at 8:45am at the tourist office across the church for the excursion which we’ve booked through our travel agency. We were going to go horseback riding through the Viñales Valley!

A little late – as we’ve become used to in Cuba – our guide picked our group up and we were brought to the horses. They weren’t horses like those I use to ride when I was younger. Most of them were all smaller and skinnier. I kind of felt bad for mounting my horse.

The roads we took were very muddy due to the recent rainfall, so I felt like I was constantly holding my breath for the poor horse’s legs. But these animals are a lot stronger than they look because they managed just fine. Once I was certain that no legs were going to break I was able to enjoy the trip. The Viñales Valley is such a beautiful piece of nature.

We stopped halfway at a Tobacco farm where we were told all about the process of making a cigar. We even got to smoke one – which I gladly skipped as I probably would have ended up coughing my lungs out. Non-smoker here, yes! I did steal my friend’s one for a second for the obligatory picture. We were also shown around the property where all kinds of fruits were growing.

After a refreshing drink, we were back on the horses to go back to the center of Viñales. Back on our two feet my friends and I were brought to a little house a bit out of the center for lunch. The rest of the group didn’t have lunch included but we did. And this part was almost the highlight of this excursion. We were allowed to have lunch with the sweetest Cuban man ever in his humble home. First he showed us around and proudly told us what he grew and made himself and how they lived. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand much since my Spanish is very limited. Then we were given so much food we could have probably survived for a week. And it was so good! This is definitely one of my fondest memory of my entire trip to Cuba.

Los Jazmines

Thanks to the folder in our room at the casa we found out about Los Jazmines; a lookout point over the Viñales valley. We took a taxi over there for 5 CUC and enjoyed the breathtaking view for a long time. There was a little band playing and the lookout also had a terrace where we had a couple of tasty Piña Coladas. It was a really lovely afternoon. This time though we took a taxi back to the city center which was the best decision ever as it once again started the rain cats and dogs.

Photo tour – Discover Vinales

For our next morning we had online booked a photo tour of the town through Discover Vinales. We were expected really early at Yaniel –our guide for the days-’s home as the lighting is better in the morning. Unfortunately the weather still hadn’t cleared out so it was really cloudy. Yaniel still have us the option of cancelling our tour, but we decided to go for it anyway. We didn’t really have anything else we still wanted to see.

First we drove back to Los Jazmines, which we had already seen, but didn’t mind going to again. The view was still as beautiful even with more clouds. Next we drove to the other side of the valley to another hotel where we were allowed into the garden for a view on the city of Viñales. Really special. From there on we were taken all over the city for beautiful viewing points. A biofarm, an artificial lake, the wall painting, and we were also – again – shown a tobacco farm and the process of making a cigar. This time it was explained a bit more clear, maybe because we were only two, so I didn’t mind that much.

We paid 20 CUC per person plus 20 CUC for the taxi to bring us everywhere. Maybe a little overpriced, but we did get to see a few lovely places in the town.

 

Pinar Del Rio

Due to the bad weather we were back from the Photo Tour a bit earlier than planned, so we decided to risk it to take a cab to Pinar Del Rio. This cost us 30 CUC both ways as the driver was going to take us places and wait for us.

We first stopped at a tobacco factory. Entrance was 5 CUC and you had to leave all your belongings, including purse and camera, behind at a cloakroom. Then we were shown to the small factory where we could see the factory workers rolling the cigars.We weren’t allowed to take any pictures but could stay as long as we pleased. I’m happy that I’ve seen it, but it felt more like a tourist trap than anything else. Way overpriced.

Next up was an old rhum factory. We got a small guided tour through the place which was once again pretty small. There is no entrance fee, but of course the guides expect a tip. They do try to sell you some rhum but just be persistant and say no.

Our taxi driver still gave us an hour to stroll around the city but we quickly realised there wasn’t much to see in the city. We stopped in Coppelia for another ice cream and then headed back to Viñales. Pinar del Rio definitely disapointed.

Food in Viñales

Two of our three evenings in Viñales we had dinner in a restaurant called El Olivio. This italian place was in the center and had a small terrace outside. Both times we were lucky (and early) enough to get seated outside. The food was really great (Never can do wrong with Italian, right?)- which is also why we went back – and the price was more than great for what we got. Staff was also really nice so I can only warmly recommend this place.

While looking for a taxi to get us to Pinar Del Rio, we passed Pizza El Central which is also on the main street. There you can get quite a large piece of pizza for only 1 CUC. And it was really good. Only downside is that you have to wait quite a long time as the line gets long and the pizza-making progress is quite slow. But still, perfect place for a quick lunch.

And that’s all for Viñales. It’s a really beautiful region which definitely can’t be overlooked when in Cuba. We had a bit of a misfortune with the weather, but the vally is so unique and wonderful what even some bad weather can’t make it look mediocre.

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

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