Viñales, Cuba is certified spectacular. How many times have you heard someone say, “WOW!, this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen”? Probably a lot. I’ve said that myself about quite a few places. I have lots of “most beautiful places I’ve ever seen” in my memory. I meant it each and every time I saw one of those places. Then you see a new place that leaves you awestruck and the words just spill out of your mouth again. Then THAT place takes precedent in your mind and the others, although still memorable, recede in your memory. That’s what I said the first time I saw the Valley of Viñales in Pinar del Rio Province, western Cuba. I knew the area was lauded for its natural beauty but nothing prepares you for seeing it the first time. I’m not the only one that thinks so. Christopher Columbus said the same thing when he first landed in Cuba. Actually he was talking about the northern coast but why split hairs.
We drove into Viñales in a 1949s Chrysler with no air conditioner and a very friendly, talkative Cuban driver named Jose.
THE VALLEY OF VIÑALES
Very quickly you begin seeing the natural beauty. The area is doted with huge limestone formations called mogotes that rise high above the valley floor. I understand this phenomenon is unique to this area.
Besides knockout beautiful scenery, Viñales is famous as the premier tobacco growing region of Cuba, an area called Vuelta Baja. One of the area’s big draws is a visit to the local tobacco and coffee plantations where, of course, they try to sell you something but you also get to sample terrific coffee and buy the best cigars in the world at reduced prices because you’re buying from the source. Remember, you can legally bring back up to $100 in goods from Cuba, for personal use, into the U.S. so take advantage! Another benefit is that tobacco purchased at the plantations is genuine. Tobacco from anywhere other than authorized suppliers is probably counterfeit. Finally, these are fun tours to see something completely different.
You can tour the valleys by car, foot or bicycles which are available to rent in many locations but the best way to see the countryside is by horse. Hire a horse and local guide (real Cuban cowboys) in town for a few dollars an hour.
You can’t leave Viñales without visiting Cayo Jutia. This is a spectacular beach where you can snorkel, go on a boat ride to outlying islands with local fishermen, eat fresh seafood and drink coconut water with rum in one of the little shacks that serve food on the beach. Local musicians frequently stop by to play for tips. You would pay good money anywhere else to listen to these talented itinerant musicians that seem to be everywhere in Cuba. The beach is about two hours away by car or public bus but its worth it and the trip is interesting. You are really in deepest Cuba here.
Another exciting activity in Viñales is exploring the local caves many of which have underground rivers that run for miles. Tours run throughout the day. All of these activities can be booked from your hotel or homestay (casa particular) location.
Believe it or not the best part of a stay in Viñales can be night time. There are no less than six, SIX! music venues along Cisneros Street, the main drag. The music is outstanding, as it tends to be throughout Cuba, and the rum is legendary. One of the coolest hangouts I’ve found in Cuba is JP Bar and Tapas on Cisneros; good food, drinks, music. You can chill on a wicker rocking chair on the porch sipping the local rum and watch the world go by.
What’s the most relaxing location you have ever been to?