Roberto and I only had time to visit Viñales for a day trip so I don’t have the same “stay, eat, do” recommendations as I did for Havana, but we loved it so much I felt like it deserved its own post. As a reminder, you can find everything you need to know before you go to Cuba over here and our full one-week itinerary here.
Viñales is two and a half hours west of Havana by car and is known for its lush green valley and the rust colored soil of its tobacco fields. We arranged a tour of the Valley by horseback with Yubier from Riding Viñales, and couldn’t recommend them enough. They offer round trip transportation from Havana for 135 CUC (total for two people). We chose to go with the driver who took us to our hotel from the airport because he was willing to do it for slightly cheaper. Mistake. As we pulled into town we realized that he wanted to take us to his friends’ place of business instead and was disgruntled when Roberto explained that we already had reservations and didn’t want to be taken somewhere else. So the only thing I’d change about our reservation is to make it easy and use them for your transportation as well. The tour is 5 CUC per hour per person and I think we did about 5 hours including lunch. Perfect amount of time and well worth it.
When we finally arrived we met Yubier and his team and were paired up with our guide Velo. Roberto had told the team we were fine with having a Spanish speaking guide since I understand enough and Roberto is able to translate what I don’t understand. If you don’t speak Spanish let the Riding Viñales team know when you book as you can request an English speaking guide.
We set off to get meet our horses and were greeted by the most mellow group of beauties. Roberto was paired up with ‘Muneco’ which means doll in Spanish. It also happened to be his older brother’s nickname when he was little, so Roberto found that endlessly entertaining. I was setup with ‘Chiquirito’ (little one) and we were fast friends. Just to take a step back here: I hadn’t ridden a horse since middle school and I don’t know when the last time Roberto rode a horse either, so there’s definitely no need to be a pro. Our equine buds were cool, calm, and collected only getting in trouble once in a while for trying to stop for a snack.
After riding along pastel single story ranch houses, we made our way to the heart of the valley where we got our first full glimpse of the whole valley sprawled out in front of us. We had just finished watching Westworld and I was feeling like a modern day Dolores. Our first stop was at their ‘Cafeteria El Corazon del Valle.’ Here we met with a coffee farmer who showed us what the plants looked like and the whole process from picking the bean to roasting and grinding it.
We continued our tour of the valley passing all kinds of agriculture: pineapple and banana plants, yuca, coconut trees, green tomatoes, avocado trees, and of course tobacco fields. Our next stop was at the drying hut where we had the opportunity to meet Velo’s father and brother who work the tobacco fields. Over rum & lemonade, they explained to us that the government takes 90% of the tobacco they produce, leaving them with only the remaining 10% to sell. We, of course, tried one of their cigars and they showed us how they prefer to smoke them, dipping the end in honey first which they believe makes it less harsh and gives it a more complex flavor.
After purchasing some cigars to take home we reunited with Muneco and Chiquirito who carried us to a nearby cave. We paid a small entrance fee to enter and checked out the stalagmites and stalactites. Pop quiz, do you remember which is which? We did not. There is also a little pool of water where you’re able to swim, but we skipped it. By then we had worked up an appetite so we headed back to the ‘Cafeteria El Corazon del Valle’ to chow. I kid you not this meal was one of the best that we had in Cuba. Roberto was especially into the green tomatoes, and I was enamored by all the pups who agreed our lunch looked delicious.
By the time we were done it was time to start heading back and our time in Viñales was already over!
This was an absolute highlight of our trip and Roberto even argues that Viñales was his favorite of everywhere we visited on the island! Promise me you’ll go if you find yourself in Cuba.