There are tons of things to do in Viñales, Cuba, the certifiably spectacular town 3 and a half hours west of Havana.
How many times have you said, “WOW!, this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen”? 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 for 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 this spectacular valley in a 1949 Chrysler with no air conditioner and a very friendly, talkative Cuban driver named Jose. Our casa particular hostess in Havana arranged a taxi for us. The cost was 70 CUC one way.
No matter what city you are in, your casa particular hostess can arrange all activities for you; tobacco farm tours, horseback riding, restaurant reservations, taxis.
Things to do in Viñales, Cuba
Stare in Amazement at the Natural Beauty of the Valley of Viñales
Very quickly you begin seeing the natural beauty. The area is dotted with huge limestone formations called mogotes that rise high above the valley floor. I understand this phenomenon is unique to this area.
Visit a Tobacco Plantation
Besides the 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 were, 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.
These tobacco farm tours are fun destinations to see something completely different. When you arrive, one of the workers will walk you through a tobacco field to see the plant before cutting. Next, you go into the leaf drying area, usually a large barn where the leaves are hung to dry on beams attached to the roof. Finally, you are taken to an area where one of the workers explains the tobacco rolling process.
Delicious Cuban cocktails and beer are served (2 to 2.5 CUC each) and you can sample cigars. I think the drinks are deliberately strong to induce you into buying more cigars. By the time you leave you are best friends with the farmers.
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. Make sure to stay away from people in big cities like Havana offering you cigars. Tobacco from anywhere other than authorized suppliers is probably counterfeit.
Explore the Valley on a Horse
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, or ask you casa hostess to reserve for you. This is the quintessential Cuban experience and one of the most fun things to do in Viñales.
Swim in Pristine Waters in Cayo Jutia
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. Any taxi will be happy to take you and wait in order to bring you back.
Tour the underground caves
Another one of the exciting things to do in Viñales is exploring the local caves many of which have underground rivers that run for miles. Tours run throughout the day. The cost is 5 CUC per person. Learn more about Cuba’s dual currency system and other Cuba facts here.
All the activities mentioned in this post can be booked from your hotel or homestay (casa particular) location. You can book a casa through Airbnb.
Eat at a farm-to-table restaurant with a view
Another one of the delightful things to do in Viñales is to eat at an agro-ecological paladar, or private enterprise restaurant, in view of the stunning Valley of Viñales. All the food is locally grown and the prices are reasonable. A typical meal will cost 10 to 15 CUC and drinks go for 2 to 2.5 CUCs. But you are really there for the breathtaking view.
Indulge in the Nightlife
Believe it or not, perhaps one of the best things to do in Viñales can be to enjoy the nightlife. There are no less than six, SIX! major 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 watching the world go by.
One thing is for sure, you’ll not soon run out of things to do in Vinales.
There are many Cuban “casas particulares” (guest house or homestays) casas for short in Viñales. You can book one through Airbnb, and here is a $40 credit for you to use towards your first stay.
Remember your casa particular hostess can arrange all tours for you; tobacco farms, horse back riding, restaurant reservations, taxis.
What’s the most relaxing location you have ever been to?
And don’t forget my new book, The Ultimate Cuba Travel Guide, available on Amazon.
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