Viñales is a beautiful and lush valley in Pinar del Río province of Cuba, with a population of around 10,000. It's about 26 kilometers north of the city of Pinar del Río, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This article also covers the town by the same name.
Viñales is said to be Fidel Castro's favorite place in Cuba. It also is one of the only places where Cubans seem happy. The mountains are beautiful, the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world, and tourists—who come every day by the busload—are allowed to mingle with the Cubans and spread money in a nice even sugar-coating.
Cuba was once covered by limestone ("karst"). Much of this limestone has eroded away, leaving mountains with steep sides and rounded, jungly tops. The mountains are called mogotes, which means "haystacks." Many mogotes have caves. Several caves are developed for tourists to visit.
The red farmland and unique microclimate produce the best cigars in the world. Some tobacco farms are set up for tourist tours.
Flora and fauna
Start at a tourist office or your hotel or casa particular. Point out something in the guidebook you'd like to see or do, and offer to pay someone to take you there. Or offer to pay for a Spanish lesson or a salsa lesson. Hire a local guide for a few hours and you'll make a friend, and he or she will introduce you to his or her family, and they'll invite you to do more stuff, and you won't be bored the rest of your visit.
But be aware of what's illegal to pay for. You can't pay someone to drive you somewhere, unless it's a licensed taxi. You can't pay for lodging, unless it's a licensed casa particulares (bed&breakfast).
Viazul ticket office, Salvador Cisneros, 63 A. (on main street opposite town square) Open daily and as well as booking your bus to Havana and Pinar del Rio, they also can organise transfers in smaller coaches to Soroa, Las Terrazas and other locations. There are 2 departures daily to Havana via Pinar del Rio at 8am and 2pm. (Price 12 CUC one way to Havana, 24 return)
A green minibus takes the tourists around the valley. For about 5 CUC you can ride all day, with stops at the tourist hotels, in the village, and at the caves and other sights.
The main street, Calle Salvador Cisneros, was named after Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, who was a leader in the war of independence (1868-1878) and later was President of Cuba from 1895 to 1897.
In the central plaza, the Casa de la Cultura puts on events every day (or night), including music, fashion shows, and children's events.
Also on the central plaza is an art gallery and the church. On Saturday mornings there's a farmer's market at the plaza.
Relax and sit back in the town square, complete with Casa de Cultura, Art Gallery and Church. Further down the main street is the small museo municipal, former home of independence heroine Adela Azcuy.
Mural de la Prehistoria
Perhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba is the Mural de la Prehistoria. In 1961 Fidel Castro visited a beautiful valley a few kilometers west of Viñales. He commissioned that the cliff should be painted with snails, dinosaurs, and a family of cavepersons, in garish colors!
There's a restaurant, bar, and gift shop. To be fair, the guidebook says that the food in the restaurant is excellent and the live music is good. Also there's horseback riding. So consider visiting the mural and doing something other than looking at the mural.
Cueva del Indio
An easy to visit cave complete with tourist focused boat ride through it. Best place to pick up not so tacky souvenirs and paintings. Food also served. (6km from Vinales)
El Palenque de los Cimarrones
Tiny museum as you walk through a smaller cave (Cueva de San Miguel) showing how slaves hid out in centuries past. Restaurant at back with slave show, mostly for bus tours. Cave is best known for its disco at the weekends where all the locals go to hang out. Food also served. (4km from Vinales)
Casa del Veguero
To learn about about tobacco farming, visit this tourist oriented tobacco farm and drying shed. Food also served. (1/2 km from Vinales)
Parque Nacional Vinales visitor centre
The park covers 150 sq km and the visitor centre located close to the hotel Los Jazmines offers information, hiking and guides. (2km from Vinales). The visitor centre in itself does not have a lot to see, some wall charts with walking routes and a small model of the valley. It is the view that is stunning and from here you can organise your excursions into the valley.
There's a bird-watching trail starting at the El Ranchón restaurant near the Cuevas del Indio.
This is another good way to see the valley up close. As it is a valley, it can be hilly but it is worth it and one of the best places to cycle in Cuba. Bikes can be rented from a desk located in front of the restaurant, Casa Don Tomas. If not available, check with your casa particular and they may be able to loan you a bike. All cycling is on the road as there are no off road routes.
Cycling tours can also be booked at the travel agents in town. Prices are 5 CUC for half day, morning or afternoon and 10 CUC for daily rental.
There are day trips to the beaches Cayo Levisa, Cayo Jutias and Maria la Gorda. There are day passes available for the swimming pools at the hotels, Los Jazmines, La Ermita and El Rancho and you can also swim in the natural pools in the caves and in the local rivers. Best known are: Cueva de Palmarito (pool within a cave about 3km from Vinales) and river bathing in Los Resvalosos and La Jagua. Check with your casa particular for transfers.
Day trip to Cayo Jutias: 22 CUC for transfer, entrance fee to beach and lunch available with travel agents. Departs 9am Cayo Jutias is about 60km from Vinales
Day trip to Cayo Levisa: Transfer by coach and boat to Cayo Levisa, 29 CUC to include lunch and 35 CUC for hot lunch. Departs at 8.30 to take boat at 10am from Palma Rubia. Cayo Levisa is about 50km from Vinales
Entrance fee to pools is 7 CUC. For this you get a day pass and a voucher to spend 6 CUC at the poolside bar.
No entrance fee to swimming in local rivers but you will have to pay your transport and the entrance fee to the Cueva del Palmarito is 2 CUC, payable to the farmer who owns the land.
The focus of rock climbing in Cuba is the Valle de Viñales in the western, mountainous province of Pinar del Río. Overhanging limestone faces on 1,000-foot freestanding crags called “mogotes” rise above traditional thatch-roofed Cuban houses, red-soiled farms, and verdant palms and pines. The climbing is superlative, cranking jugs and pockets in chiseled karst limestone on improbable lines through stunning overhangs of stalactites and tufa columns.
You can rent a motorbike (a scooter) for about 20 CUC per day and ride it either to Cayo Jutias or to Cayo Levisa. The road is magnificent and you may even enjoy it more than the beaches. You will need your passport and driving license in order to rent a scooter. There's no need for a motorbike license.
Tobacco Farm Tours
- Cuevas del Indio The Cuevas del Indio ("Indian Caves") is five kilometers north of Viñales. The cave is well-developed for tourists, with lights and a boat tour. The price is 5 CUC. Nearby is a restaurant, gift shop, etc.
- Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás For real caving, drive 15 kilometers west to the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, near El Moncada. This is the biggest cave in Cuba. Basic tours are two hours and you must hire a guide. Helmets and headlamps are provided, although you might want to bring a more powerful flashlight, if you have one. Also you're required to wear shoes, which is a problem for female Cubans, who seem to own nothing but sandals. The cave is spectacular, especially where the roof has collapsed and you walk into a green jungle paradise sunk into a mountaintop. The cave has 45 kilometers of galleries on eight levels. Also, the town of El Moncada was another of Fidel's ideas, and the streets are laid out to form a C, U, B, and A.
A great place to use as a home base for caving and exploring the area is the National School of Speleology in El Moncada. The School is located at one of the main entrances to the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. For a low price, you can rent a room or bed, have meals, and guide service. The School is rustic, but for real explorers the location can't be beat. For more information contact Eduardo, the School manager, by phone at 681274.
Hiking and Horseback Riding
The national park building (near the Hotel Los Jazmines) has maps and exhibits showing fourteen excursions (see the photos below). The main hike everyone does circles behind the mogotes closest to the town. You can hire horses for this. You may be able to hire a hiking guides at the Museo Municipal Adela Azcuy (Calle Salvador Cisneros #115).
Time: 5 hours
Length: 8 km
Start: Hotel La Ermita
End: Mural de la Prehistoria y Campismo Dos Hermanas
Cueva del Cable (Cave of the Cable)
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Length: 10 km
Start: Rancho San Vicente
End: Hoya de Jutia
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Length: 5 km
Start: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
Maravillas de Viñales (Wonders of Viñales)
Time: 5 hours
Length: 6 km
Start: 2 km from Moncada
End: 1.5 km from Moncada
El Pinar y Su Encanto (The Pine and His Charm)
Time: 4 hours
Length: 2.8 km
Start: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
End: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
Entre Valles y Montañas (Between Valleys and Mountains)
Time: 5-6 hours
Length: 10.8 km
Start: Hotel La Ermita
End: Hotel La Ermita
Tradiciones Campesinas (Traditional Countryside)
Time: 7 hours
Length: 7 km
Start: Intersection of the road Capón and the Viñales-Puerto highway
End: Comunidad República de Chile
Del Infierno al Paraíso (From Hell to Paradise)
Time: 6-7 hours
Difficulty: Very high
Length: 8.6 km
Start: Resolladero río El Novillo
End: Mural de la Prehistoria
Tradiciones de Viñales (Traditional Viñales)
Time: 2-3 hours
Length: 5.7 km
Start: Hotel Los Jazmines
End: Hotel Los Jazmines
Los Paisajes en al Valle (The Landscapes in the Valley)
Time: 4 hours
Length: 7.6 km
Start: Intersection of the Viñales road and the La Ermita Hotel
End: Intersection of the Viñales road and the La Ermita Hotels
En el Corazon del Valle (In the Heart of the Valley)
Time: 4 hours
Length: 11 km
Start: Viñales Museum
End: Farm House in Viñales
Del Mirador al Valle (The View of the Valley)
Time: 3 hours
Length: 4 km
Start: Hotel Los Jazmines
End: The town of Viñales
De la Mano del Guajiro (Of the Hand of the Peasant)
Time: 3 hours
Length: 4 km
Start: Viewpoint at Sitio del Infierno
End: Primary School El Sitio
Cuba is not renowned for its shopping but there are some things worth considering. Cuban rum, cigars and coffee are excellent and prices here are much better than at home. Music CDs, DVDs and instruments are also worth looking at. In terms of souvenirs, the leader of the pack is anything to do with Che, from t-shirts to the key rings and so on and so on. Leather is not of great quality nor are the wooden carvings but you can find some nice artwork and prints if you look hard enough. Most of these items can be bought in all of the tourist attractions in and around Vinales. The town park also has stalls selling items geared at the tourist. The Art Gallery on the park also has artwork for sale. Coffee cups with designs from Cuban modern artists are a tasteful souvenir and this series, available in all tourist attractions, also features plates, oil and vinegar, shower curtains, towels and aprons.
The restaurant at the Patio Centro Cultural Polo Montañez (on the central plaza) is good. There's a restaurant where the locals eat on the street heading north, towards the Cuevas del Indio. It's a typical Cuban restaurant, serving pizza and spaghetti, with remarkably slow service. There's a little store selling snacks and ice cream on the main street, across from the plaza.
- Patio Central Cultural Polo Montañez, Calle Salvador Cisneros (off the central plaza, between the Casa de la Cultura and the church). During the day a restaurant and snack bar serve food and drinks. At night salsa bands play here. Polo Montañez was a singer world-famous in Cuba.
- Patio del Decimista, Calle Salvador Cisneros. A few blocks down from the plaza, a.k.a. the yellow bar. They also have live salsa music.
- El Palenque de Los Cimarrones. The nearby Cueva de Viñales (Cave of Viñales) has a discotheque built into it. You just can't beat a discotheque in a cave (there's another one in Trinidad). Saturday night there's a cabaret espectáculo followed by dancing. Saturday night they host the hottest nightlife in the province — the place is packed, almost all Cubans.
Viñales has three tourist hotels: Hotel Las Jazmines, Hotel La Ermita, and Rancho Horizontes San Vicente. Each is rated three stars. Expect to pay about 50-70 CUC per night, plus meals. The hotels are each located a few kilometers outside of town, which is not conducive to nightlife (Rancho Horizontes San Vicente is within walking distance of El Palenque).
- Hotel Las Jazmines, ☎ . This hotel has one of the best views you'll ever see. In 1960, Fidel said, "Great view! Build a hotel here." It was one of his good ideas. The rooms are nice. The pool is big and clean. Breakfasts are good. Suppers were institutional in 2007 but in 2008 the food improved.
- Hotel La Ermita, ☎ . Also has an incredible view, especially at sunset.
- Rancho Horizontes San Vicente, ☎ .
If you're hoping to socialize with Cubans, not elderly Canadians, stay in town at a casa particulares (licensed bed & breakfast). Every other house in Viñales is a casa particulares and homeowners are adding rooms as fast as they can scrounge up concrete blocks. Expect to pay 25 CUC per night (based on double occupancy), plus meals, which will be better than the hotel food.
- Villa El Rinconsito, Calle Séptima, No. 22, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The house is very nice and welcoming, with all amenities. It has 2 double and triple rooms, spacious, bright, good ventilation, air conditioning and private bathroom in each. The house has a large porch, lounge, kitchen, a terrace exquisitely decorated shack that serves delicious meals and a garage to park your car. Cuban friends are welcome and are offered all kinds of services for tourists forget everything and relax. Ideal for tourists looking for quiet and rest. 10-15 CUC.
- Villa Cándida Tatio, Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 17, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Magnificent home with all amenities, offers 3 bedrooms, double, triple and quadruple, with air conditioning and private bathrooms. It has a terrace with mountain views, porch, 2 dining rooms and parking. The best Creole food served here Viñales. Ideal for large groups. 15-20 CUC.
- Casa Ernesto y Marlen, Calle Salvador Cisnero, No. 20, ☎ . Wonderful hosts (best mojitos anywhere), great homecooking, and a convenient location a five minute walk from the town square and bus station. http://casa-ernesto-y-marlen.posterous.com/
- Casa Grether Carlos, Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 26, ☎ , e-mail: CasaGretherCarlos@gmail.com. It offers one comfortable and clean room with all modern facilities. The room is equipped with a air conditioner, private bathroom and private entrance. It’s possible have breakfast, dinner and salsa lesson with professional teacher. 15/20 CUC.
It is possible to stay in a private house with his Cuban friend. The only requirement is that the Cuban passenger take your documentation to be recorded with his friend tourists.
More Casas Particulares
- Trip to Vinales. The most comprehensive booking and information site for Vinales with succinct and up to date information on all there is to see and do in Viñales.
- Campismo Dos Hermanos (near the Mural de la Prehistoria), ☎ . Campismos were built by the government for Cubans to go on vacations. This one has 54 basic cabins. The swimming pool is big, although the water is remarkably green. There's also a restaurant.
- Cayo Levisa The boat dock is about 1 hours drive away from Vinales, from there its a half hour boat ride to the island. The island features stunning white sand beaches and there are some watersports available. There does not appear to be any coral reefs close to the island, so snorkling is not recommended.
Cayo Jutías is the closest beach to Viñales, 60 km on mountain roads. There are two roads—before you leave Viñales ask which road is better. In 2008 the road via Minas de Matahambre was good, and the road via the Baños de San Vicente was bad.