After spending two nights in Havana, our taxi colectivo showed up at the door of our casa particular to pick us up for Viñales. We were eight people in the car in addition to the driver, all of us full of enthusiasm and ready to discover the land of cigars and steep limestone hills. The journey was 20 CUC per person and it lasted around 3 hours, without taking into consideration the stop at the tobacco plantation.
Just before reaching Viñales, the driver asked if we want to make a short stop at a drying house to see how tobacco leaves are dryed. Here we were welcomed by a guy who told us from the start that this is a free tour where we will learn about the process of making cigars, visit the drying house and try different types of cigars while having a delicious coffee. Obviously, at the end you can buy unlabeled cigars, of which, we were told, a small percentage is sent back by the cigar factory to each plantation. We still haven’t figured out if that was just story to add credibility, or the truth, since almost every person we asked had a different story regarding authentic cigars.
By the time our driver took us to our casa particular in Viñales, it was already mid day and we started to be hungry. Our casa was situated just outside the village, after the end of Viñales sign but it was a cozy house with a nice porch, two rocking chairs in font of each room and a rustic breakfast area with wooden chairs and tables. The owner of the house quickly explained us about the tours he can arrange for us but because we didn’t had much cash left, we decided to go to the bank first, eat something and maybe visit around depending on the time left. Even though there were less than 5 people in front of us at the bank, the exchange took more than 30 minutes.
Things to visit:
The Prehistoric Wall
After a hearty lunch, we decided to walk to “Mural de la Prehistoria” which is less than 4-5 km away from the village. The entrance is 3 CUC but you get a free drink at the bar with the ticket – water, mojito, piña colada and other cocktails are included but not imported beverages. I asked for a mojito and they left the rum bottle in front of me to top up in case I wanted – the only thing I needed was more ice as the cocktail was already too strong for me. The wall itself is nothing extraordinary, but the area around it is quite relaxing, especially since there weren’t many people around. There is also a viewpoint at the top of the mural but because of the rain, the ground was too slippery for me so I gave up after climbing 10 min. Cristi continued his way up and returned after more than 1 hour and a half while I was waited without any money, passport or keys since he was carrying all these. I was lucky I had some water left in my backpack although it wasn’t cold anymore – will need better planning next time.
The Indian Cave
Next day we decided to rent bikes and go to Cueva de los Indios which is 7 kilometers away from the village. The owner from our casa found two bikes for 10 CUC per person for the day – they were not the best we could have found in Viñales but they did their job. The way to the cave is a bit downhill so you will get there quite fast. The entrance to the cave is 5 CUC per person and inside there is a boat that will take you through the cave while the guide will explain a bit about the history of the place and the formations.
As this is a popular spot among tourists, I recommend you get there early, before 11 if possible as the queues to the boat can be quite long. There is a bar if you want to cool off with a cold drink but don’t forget to use repellent as there are many mosquitoes around.
El Palenque de los Cimarrones
On the way back, we stopped at El Palenque de los Cimarrones to have a sneak peak inside the cave. It wasn’t anything outstanding, just a restaurant inside a cave but to be honest, I took my time admiring the cave and the steep limestone hills which were seen in the distance as I was tired of biking back uphill.
On our way back, we took a short stop at our casa to cool a little before heading to the lake. As it was raining on our way back, we were all wet but we decided not to change in dry clothes as we will dry in less than 5 minutes from the burning sun. After cycling through pine forests and a heard of goats on paved, but quite bad road we reached the lake. Only stayed to catch our breath, took a couple of pictures and headed back. There was no one in sight and it was really calm – can be a nice destination for a picnic or just a relaxing afternoon by the water.
Pinar del Rio
In our last day we decided to hire a private taxi for 25 CUC to visit the cigars and rum factories in Pinar del Rio which is less than 30 kilometers away. Our car was totally different than our first taxi colectivo, it was old and rusty, the door was opening just from one side and I am pretty sure the windows didn’t worked but as it was hot outside, it didn’t bothered us to leave them open. On our way we were pulled over by Cuban police, this being the second time this happened to us while travelling, first time being in Cambodia with a tuk-tuk. I haven’t seen them to ask for any paperwork but they chatted for a few minutes and then we continued our way like nothing happened.
First stop was the Cigars Factory. Here we were walked through the process then wandered around on our own inside. Each employee has to roll around 150 cigars daily. The cigars are rolled, pressed and then taken for thorough inspection. The entrance is 5 CUC per person and you can buy the ticket from the shop across the street. One thing to keep in mind, you are not allowed with any bag inside so you need to leave it with your driver. You cannot take pictures inside either which is a shame as the process was really interesting to see. Just before the exit, you can find a store where you can buy cigars and alcohol for a cheaper price compared to the ones in Havana for example.
Guayabita del Pinar – Liqueur Factory
The second stop was the Liqueur Factory which is popular among the area for producing two types of liqueurs, sweet and dry from Guayabita fruits that are growing just in Pinar Del Rio province. Here, we paid just 1 CUC per person to the lady that showed us around and explained the process of brewing and packaging the liqueur. The factory is looking just like a normal building, without any sign to point out that there is a factory inside. What was really interesting here to see was the process – how they are making everything by hand from placing the bottles for the filling, adding caps to placing labels on the bottles – notice that the labels are not uniform.
You can buy the liqueur from the shop store inside the factory for less than 5 CUC.
El Mirador Los Jazmines- Viñales Valley
On our way back, we asked the driver to drop us to Los Jazmines as we wanted to enjoy the view of the green Valley surrounded by steep limestone cliffs and walk back home later on.
If you want to cool off, you can buy the local drinks from the restaurant for 1 CUC each. There is also a band singing live music at the view point and they will walk around for donations after every 2-3 songs.
You can either walk back to the village on the main road or you can chose the red coloured paths that are passing through the bottom of the valley. We chose the main road and we passed through another drying house, close to the village.
We visited the botanical garden because we were passing by it every time we went to the village and we saw people going in and out. We were welcomed at the entrance by friendly staff who showed us around, talked about the history of the garden, about the large variety of trees and plants that they currently have in there and even funny associations for most of the trees. One example is “the tourist tree” due to its red-brownish bark colour – apparently this is how the tourist skin looks like after a few days in Cuba. Also you can taste some fresh fruit after the tour ends. The entrance is free but a donation is highly appreciated to help maintaining the garden.
La Ermita Swimming Pool
One good place to cool off is the Ermita hotel situated on top of the hill, with a pool facing directly to the Valley. We had to pay 3 CUC per person the entrance to sit at the swimming pool but to be honest I believe we were the only ones paying for it, since there was no sign. There is also a bar if you want to sip some delicious cocktails while sunbathing on the pool’s edge while admiring the valley. The water temperature was nice and the pool was big enough to accommodate multiple people. If you move around the place, you could also find WiFi signal.
Where to eat and drink
During our stay in Viñales, we went just to two restaurants that we found because the food and service were both good. One night although the food choices weren’t many on their menu, we picked another restaurant just because it had a rooftop terrace and the view from the top was great. We weren’t that hungry at the moment but for sure we were thirsty from that heat so we placed our order and waited. After more than 30 minutes of waiting without any sign of drinks, nor food (and we weren’t the only ones either), we decided to give up and head to El Olivo. It was a shame because the view was gorgeous.
We picked this restaurant for lunch the first day as it was recommended in our Cuba FootPrint book and it didn’t disappoint us. Here, the food and cocktails are delicious and the serving is quick. I went with the rabbit with fine herbs and dark chocolate as the book recommend to try while Cristi picked a pork dish.
Next day after the rooftop failure, we returned here for dinner as we knew it will be quick and tasty (even though we waited in line to get in). This time I went with the Carbonara.
Las 3 Jotas
This tapas bar has the best lemonade I had in Cuba and we came here for at least 4 times, probably the fact that you have WiFi signal in here was to blame as well. I asked for a piña colada and again they gave me the bottle to top up as much as I wanted – not something that you can find in Europe. This time I picked the Galician Style Octopus for only 10 CUC. The only inconvenience was the fact that the lights were turned off before our food arrived so the light from the coloured LEDs was barely enough to see what you were eating.
For tapas we picked mixed croquetas and mini empanadas – and they even do takeaway. Keep in mind that the cocktails in Cuba are strong, they are not stingy with the rum, and in some places the price of cocktails or beers is the same as a bottle of water.
From Viñales we decided at the last minute to go to Trinidad instead of heading back to Havana but that’s a story for another time.
- Always carry a bottle of water with you as it can get really hot.
- Don’t forget about mosquito repellent and sun block.
- Wear proper shoes if you decide to hike – even if it hasn’t rained recently some paths can be muddy.
- The internet card for one hour is 1.5 CUC but on the street people will sell it for 3 CUC (especially after the store closes).
- In case you want to book a taxi, always double check prices with your host and taxi drivers in the village.
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