At the end of October I travelled for the first time to Cuba with an old friend from school and spent ten days there. As soon as we landed we went to Viñales where we spent the first two days of our trip and we absolutely loved it. Viñales is a small town in a beautiful green valley and National Park in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba. In this article I will outline all the things we did in Viñales in two days, including where to eat, where to stay, how to get around and what to do in evenings. If you’re only visiting for a brief period of time, this guide to all the best things to do in Viñales, Cuba, is right for you!
- 1 How to get from Havana to Viñales
- 2 Where to stay in Viñales: Casa particulares
- 3 What to do in Viñales, Cuba
- 4 Where to eat in Viñales
- 5 Nightlife in Viñales
How to get from Havana to Viñales
Viñales is approximately a 2 hour and a half car journey from Havana. It is quite easy to travel around Cuba as there are a lot of private taxis, collective taxis and public coaches that travel across the country multiple times a day. We went to Viñales as soon as we landed in Havana, so we had to get a taxi to the coach and taxi station, where we got a private taxi for 30 CUC each (there were two of us). This was around the middle of the afternoon and we were told that the coaches were only in the morning, and that we could wait for someone else to show up so that we could get a collective taxi but this didn’t seem likely given the time of day. Since there were a lot of things we wanted to do in Viñales we didn’t want to risk getting there too late or having to wait for a bus the following day so we just decided to settle for the private taxi.
For comparison purposes, a collective taxi would have cost us 20 CUC and the coach 15 CUC. If you’re staying in central Havana or close to Havan Vieja don’t try to arrange your transfer to Viñales with the taxis in the street, as these are highly overpriced. Same goes for the taxi transfers arranged by big hotels. I recommend getting a taxi to the coach and taxi station (approximately a 15 minute drive from central Havana and should cost around 10 CUC) and negotiating with the drivers there.
Where to stay in Viñales: Casa particulares
Like pretty much everywhere in Cuba nowadays, there are a lot of “casa particulares” also in Viñales. A “casa particulares” is when you stay in someone’s spare room / house / upstairs floor or any other part of their house. All “casa particulares” hosts have to be registered with the Cuban government and are safe to stay in, as long as they have the “casa particulares” sign outside the door (see photo). The sign outside the house usually also indicates whether they have availability, so if you’re a bit of a YOLO traveller you could just travel to Cuba without pre-booking anything, look for houses with the “casa particulares” and “available” signs outside and check them out.
However given that I’m a short blonde girl and was travelling with another skinny girl we did not feel like risking this and going totally YOLO, so we pre-booked accommodation on AirBnb. With the rise of internet also in Cuba most “casa particulares” can be found on AirBnb today. We stayed in this “casa particular“. The hosts, Pedro and his wife, were absolutely fantastic; they cooked us some amazing breakfasts, gave us advice on places to eat and see, and also helped us by booking our excursions and return taxi for us. There are also some hotels in the valley of Viñales however I do not recommend staying in a hotel in Cuba, as you would miss out on the “living with the locals” experience and the value for money isn’t very good.
What to do in Viñales, Cuba
Horse riding in the valley of Viñales
Viñales is especially famous for the green valley that surrounds it, where they grow all the tobacco that then gets used for the famous Cuban cigars. It’s the main attraction and you can’t miss it, if you had to do only one thing in Viñales a horseback tour of the National Park and valley of Viñales should be it. It was my third time ever horse riding and I have to say I was a bit anxious at first. After seeing how docile the horses and how experienced our guides were however I relaxed a bit. The tour lasts between 3 – 5 hours and costs 5 CUC per hour. Even if it is very warm, remember to wear long trousers or you will have very sore legs after! I personally loved exploring the valley, with its green landscapes and mountains surrounding us. It was very scenic and despite my inexperience horse riding I still found it very relaxing. While we were in Cuba we went horse riding also in Trinidad, but perosnally I enjoyed it more in Viñales as the landscape was more captivating.
Visit the tobacco plantations
Even if you don’t smoke cigars (I’m not a smoker either) you will enjoy paying a visit to the tobacco plantations. We did as part of the horse riding tour and found it really interesting. The local farmers told us about the tobacco growth cycles and they explained the process that happens from when the seeds are first planted to the tobacco leaves rolled into cigars. We were very shocked to discover that by law they have to sell 90% of the tobacco they grow to the government, and are allowed to only keep 10% for their own personal use or for selling to tourists.
The constructions that you see dotted around the valley, which we thought were houses at first, turned out to be the buildings where they store tobacco leaves when they are being dried. The house was empty when we visited in October as they had just planted the new tobacco plants, we were told the drying season ends at the end of summer. He then offered us all a cigar to smoke while he showed us how they make them. You can buy cigars on these farms for approximately 3 CUC a cigar, this is considerably cheaper than the 10+ CUC per cigar that they sell in the shops in Havana.
Do the hop-on hop-off bus tour: Viñales valley day trip
Now before you get excited, this isn’t the hop-on hop-off bus tour you’re thinking, there is no double decker red bus with open roof. It’s a slightly less efficient but equally exciting Cuban version of it. On the Main Street of Viñales there is a bus stop where you can see the itinerary and times of the bus tour. Just like the hop-on hop-off bus tour we know, this bus constantly drives around the valley, doing stops at the most important points of interest and attractions in Viñales. In some places (eg. the Hotel Jazmines viewpoint or Mural de la Prehistoria) he will do short 5 – 10 minute stops for those that want to take a quick photo without stopping for too long. If you want to spend longer in a determinate stop you can get off and then get on the next bus, just bear in mind it will come in approximately an hour and a half, as the “next bus” is actually only one bus that drives around continuously.
Visit the Murales de la Prehistoria
In the valley of Viñales there is a huge “Mural de la Prehistoria” which you can see in the photo below. It is a colourful and gigantic painting on a wall of rock in the valley, depicting odd scenes from historical times. The photo below was taken from the car park of the murales, if you want to get closer you have to pay 3 CUC. We figured there wasn’t much point since you wouldn’t be able to see it as well from closer. We were also surprised to find out that the murales doesn’t actually date back to prehistorical times, but has been painted in recent years to add an attraction and point of interest for tourists.
Check out the view from Hotel Jazmines
If you Google Viñales the vast majority of photos that come up will show a flat green valley surrounded by mountains. All these have been taken from the same viewpoint, at the Hotel Jazmines. There is a wide viewing platform with a small coffee shop right next to the hotel, where you can go for free and enjoy the view or grab a drink and a seat if you feel like it. As most viewpoints go, this is also obviously a bit higher up relative to the village. There are two ways to get here; the first is with the hop-on hop-off bus that I mentioned earlier, the second is by bicycle. Cycling in the valley of Viñales is another popular activity and your AirBnb host will easily be able to arrange it for you. Pedro gave us two bicycles for free and we decided to brave the cycle up to the viewpoint. Needless to say, most of it is uphill and quite tiring, but the view is well worth it.
Go to the beach
After having seen the main highlights of the valley on the first day we had originally planned to go to the beach on the second day. As previously mentioned this didn’t happen due to bad weather, however if you’re a beach person you should consider visiting the beach at Cayo Jutias while you are in Viñales. We were advised by our AirBnb host that it is one of the best beaches along this part of the Cuban coast, and given the heat and how tired we were from horse riding spending a day relaxing on the beach would have been nice!
Visit the Indios Cave
Another famous attraction in Viñales is “La Cueva de los Indios” or the Indios Cave in English. This cave supposedly dates back to indigenous times and was rediscovered in 1920 by a local farmer. You have to pay 2 CUC to go inside. After an initial section just after the downwards staircase you have to crawl under overhanging rocks to get to a wider section of the cave. Here there is an underground river where you will get a boat that will take you outside the cave from a different access point. I wouldn’t know all this as I have issues with claustrophobia and backed out after walking about 10 metres into the cave, but my friend I was travelling with recounted it in great detail.
Where to eat in Viñales
There are a lot of nice places to eat in Viñales and they are mostly crowded around the main street. Some of our personal favourites that our AirBnb host recommended and we personally tried out and loved were Mogotè Cafe and 3J Tapas Bar. We particularly enjoyed Mogotè Cafe thanks to its lovely view over the valley. Cuba was not as cheap as we had expected it to be. For a sit down meal for two you can expect to pay anywhere between 15 – 50 CUC. The higher end estimate is what we paid for a three-course meal with two cocktails each so not a totally unreasonable price. The cuisine is a mixture of Caribbean, Mexican and European, offering things like tapas (eg. croquettes or other small portion dishes), meat or fish served with rice and salads on the side (see the photo below) or fajitas and enchiladas. In every casa particulare we stayed at during our trip they made us breakfast for 5 CUC, this usually included eggs, fruit, cheese, bread and spreads.
Nightlife in Viñales
For a small town like Viñales it might come as a surprise that I am including this section at all, however Viñales actually has a very lively nightlife. In the main town square there is the Centro Cultural Polo Montanez, where every evening there are drinks and salsa dancing classes. If you’re visiting on a Saturday like we were this all gets moved out of the Centro Culturale and directly into the main square. The whole town, tourists and locals of all ages, gather in the main square to dance. The speakers from inside the Centro Culturale get brought outside and all around town you will be able to hear a mixture of salsa and commercial Latin music. We easily made friends with another group of tourists that were dancing in the square and I highly recommend checking it out if you get the chance, it was one of the most fun evenings we had in the whole Cuba trip.
Have you been to Viñales? How did you spend two days there? Let me know in the comments below! Visiting Viñales was one of my favourite parts of my Cuba trip, even if we were only visiting so briefly. Horse riding in the tobacco plantations and learning about the cigar production in Cuba were incredible experiences, which I highly recommend to anyone. This guide is based on our own experiences, if you have other suggestions let me know, I’d love to expand this guide and make it a more complete list of the most awesome things to do in Viñales, Cuba.