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 runs buses twice a day between Havana (12 CUC) via Pinar del Rio. There’s an early morning bus to Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Buses arrive and leave opposite of the ticket office near the central town square.
- Viazul ticket office, Salvador Cisneros, 63 A (on main street opposite town square). Open daily and as well as booking your bus to Havana, they also can organize transfers in smaller coaches to Soroa, Las Terrazas and other locations.
You’ll likely be offered a collectivo already at the Havana bus station. They run to Viñales for 15 CUC per person. Transport back can also be found by taxi touts near the Viazul ticket office. One typically inquires at least a day before the intended departure to make a taxi reservation. The driver will then pick you up at your casa. It's easiest to find a transport for morning departures. Collectivos also run to other destinations such as Trinidad (35 CUC) if there’s sufficient demand. Beware that taxi drivers will sometimes claim to have transport to Trinidad or Cienfuegos, but in fact require a change of vehicle in Havana, which may involve re-negotiating the price for the remaining trip.
- Shared taxis for Pinar del Rio (at the south junction of the main street). These run relatively frequently and depart on demand once the car is full. 1 CUC.
Entrance to the valley is free. Some attractions like the Cueva de la piscina will charge a fee though.
The town is easily walkable on foot. Most amenities such as banks and restaurants cluster on the main street (Salvador Cisneros) and accommodation is found everywhere off this street, esp Calle Rafael Trejo which runs on south parallel to the main street essentially only consists of casas particulares.
There used to be a green minibus takes the tourists around the valley. For about 5 CUC you could ride all day, with stops at the tourist hotels, in the village, and at the caves and other sights. As of 04/2015 this bus is no longer present.
Many sights are in the proximity of the city and not more than 4km away. As such it’s possible to walk, also riding on a bike or a horse may be less strenous esp. considering the often very hot weather. Other sights such as the Santo Tomás cave are further away and out of walking distance. To get there hire a cab, rent a bike or join an organized tour.
- Calle Salvador Cisneros. The main street 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. Today it’s more and more covered with all sorts of restaurants that cater to tourists.
- Casa de la Cultura. In the central plaza, the Casa de la Cultura puts on events every day (or night), including music, fashion shows, and children's events. cover charge typically ~1 CUC.
- The Central plaza. Also on the central plaza is an art gallery and the church. On Saturday mornings there's a farmer's market at the plaza.
- Museo Municipal (further down the main street). The small museo municipal, former home of independence heroine Adela Azcuy.
- 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.
- Mural de la Prehistoria. Perhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba. In 1961 Fidel Castro visited the beautiful valley of the two sisters (Valley de Dos Hermanas) 3km 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, reputedly, 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. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to see the painted mountain cliff, its visible from the road already.
- 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)
There are dozens of tobacco and coffee farms that love to explain the manufacturing process and sell their goods:
- Tobacco Farm Casa del Veguero (½km from Vinales). To learn about tobacco farming, visit this tourist oriented tobacco farm and drying shed. Food also served.
Your casa can very likely organize all these activities for you. It’s probably also possible to do so from the visitor information center. Beware that if you book through an agent, a commission fee is part of the price, e.g. of an hour horse-riding (5 CUC) only 3 CUC go to the guide and 2 CUC is the commission that your casa makes.
- Horseback riding. Explore the valley riding on the back of a horse. No experience is necessary. Depending on the amount of time you’d like to spend there are several routes that your guide can choose. You’ll likely explore some of the sights in the area about 2-4km around Viñales. Put on sunscreen in advance and bring plenty of water. 5 CUC per person & hour.
- Cycling. This is another good way to see the valley up close. As it is a valley, it can be a bit hilly and the paths are mainly unpaved tracks, that aren’t fun to ride with anything but a decent mountain bike. Nevertheless, exploring by bike is a great way to explore the valley and Viñales is one of the best places to cycle in Cuba. Bikes can be organized through your casa or rented at various locations in town. Quality of the bikes varies quite drastically, so check your bike before starting and probably shop around a bit, especially if you’re planning to rent for more than one day. See the #Hiking section for some ideas where to go. Cycling tours can also be booked at the travel agents in town. 1 CUC per hour, 5 CUC per half day, 10 CUC for a full day. Bike rental locations in town:
- from a desk located in front of the restaurant, Casa Don Tomas
- sometimes on the main plaza
- Bike repair. Also rents a few bikes for 6 CUC per day.
- Birdwatching. There's a bird-watching trail starting at the El Ranchón restaurant near the Cuevas del Indio. You can also take guided tours. Ask at the information office near the central plaza.
- Tobacco Farm Tours. Learn how tobacco is produced. Such tours are often included in horse-riding packages.
- Beaches. There are day trips to the beaches Cayo Levisa, Cayo Jutias and Maria la Gorda. Sample prices:
- 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
- Swimming pools at the hotels. All three hotels (Los Jazmines, La Ermita and El Rancho) have swimming pools. Entrance fee for one day: 7 CUC (includes a 6 CUC voucher for the poolside bar).
- Cave swimming. Several caves have pools inside. E.g. the Cueva de la Piscina or the Cueva de Palmarito. See #Cave Exploring for details. from 2 CUC.
- Lakes & Rivers. A nearby lake allows for some swimming. There’s no good shade though if you plan to spend the day there. Horse-riding tours often stop here to let the customers cool down in the lake. There’s also river bathing in Los Resvalosos and La Jagua.
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.
- Cueva del Indio (6km north of Vinales). An easy to visit cave well-developed for tourists, featuring a boat ride through the cave. Nearby is a restaurant, gift shop, etc. 5 or 10 CUC per person.
- Swim in the Cueva de la Piscina (likely the same as Cueva del Palmarito) (4km north of Viñales in the Valle de la Guasasa). The cave is only accessible through a trail. It's at the edge of walking distance from Viñales and most visitors come here by bike or horse. You’ll be walked in by a guide until you reach a pool after about 200m. It’s about 30m long, you can go swimming inside and the cool water will be a welcome refresh from the hot air outside. The depth of the water varies and there’s rocks reaching up every now and then. The guide has a small light, otherwise the cave is completely dark. 2 CUC per person.
- Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás (15 kilometers west of Viñales 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. probably at least 10 CUC.
- 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.
Exploring the area on foot is possible since many sights are within walking distance. Don’t expect to actually hike up to the mogote peaks. There are no paths and allegedly doing so would even be forbidden since it’s a national park area. The national park building (near the Hotel Los Jazmines) has maps and exhibits showing fourteen excursions.
The main hike everyone does circles around the Mogote de Valle. . From Viñales follow the Calle Adela Azcuy north-west. Walk through the Cueva de la Vaca. The cave is not exciting at all, but it's great that you can pass through the mountain and continue your hike on the other side.. Make a brief stop for shade at the Ancient large tree. It has some religious history.. Next you’ll continue a bit through the Valle de la Guasasa, can take a refreshing swim in the Cueva de la Piscina and continue further through the valley. it's worth taking a brief detour to the Mirador (viewpoint). It has a great view on the valleys and offers refreshing fruit juices starting from 3 CUC., before heading into the Valle de Dos Hermanas where you’ll get a glimpse at the awfully painted hill Mural de la Prehistoria. Passing the Campismo, the now paved road returns to Viñales. Since it’s not that exciting, its worth taking a cab/bus or hitchhiking these last 4km.
You may be able to hire a hiking guides at the Museo Municipal Adela Azcuy (Calle Salvador Cisneros #115) and you can also hire horses for this trip.
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.
- Convenience store (near the central plaza). This is the only convenience store / supermarket in town, but it’s rarely fully stocked.
Esp. goods like large water bottles run out quickly and you’ll be forced to pay inflated prices for the small bottles here or at restaurants. Larger supermarkets can be found in Pinal del Rio.
- Bakery, Azcuy street (north-east of the main street). 7am-. Here you can sometimes buy bread. The small rolls are only given to Cubans with the libreta. Larger bread is sometimes available for foreigners as well.
- Fruit cars. 8am-5pm. Here you can buy a cheap and fresh bananas, papaya (fruta bomba) or pineapple (piña).
Cash money can sometimes be a scarce resource in Viñales, so it's best to be prepared.
- Banks (on the main street north of the town center). Both banks next to each other. One has an ATM that’s out of order most of the time. Both allow cash withdrawels with credit card, both banks often have long queues of foreigners.
- Cadeca (on the main street, south of the central square). Currency exchange office. Can also do cash withdrawals, but their credit card terminal often breaks. Expect about 30 minutes of queuing time.
If necessary, more banks & ATMs can be found in Pinar del Rio.
If you’re traveling on a shoestring there’s some self-catering options. (see the buy section) There’s also some cafeterias selling simple sandwhiches or pizza places. Most close before the evening, so make sure you get food in time.
There is a bakery that sells sweet bread or cake for pesos at the junction of Adela Azcuy (north) and the main road. Around the same area but again on the main road you can find pizza and sandwich shops (great for breakfast because they also have coffee) all selling for national pesos. But remember that in Viñales peso-venders quickly run out of ingredients so go there early and be fast when there is already a crowd.
In contrast to most other cities in Cuba, Viñales has a great selection of restaurants, with a variety of food. Almost all restaurants can be found on the main street. Prices don't vary very much. A typical meal with a drink will set you back 8-12 CUC.
- La Berengena. Labels itself a vegetarian restaurant despite also serving some meat dishes. The vegetarian food is delicious and fancy though. This seems to have the same menu as the El Romero in Las Terrazas. Lots of space for outside seating is available. mains around 6 CUC.
- El Olivo. This restaurant serves very delicious dishes on small plates. It's quite famous and visible so it's wise to make a reservation esp. if you want to sit outside.
- Balcone del valle (Outside the city, close to Hotel Los Jazmines). This calm restaurant is named quite correctly as balcony of the valley. You’re literally seating on a wooden balcony constructed over the hill incline. It offers a spectacular view over the valley and is a great place to watch the sunset. They only serve a set multi-course menu of creolean but nonetheless very good and tasty food. multi-course menu for 8 CUC.
- Casa de Don Tomás. This state-run restaurant is located in an old building. In the evening there may be live music. If you fancy to sit on the balcony, you’ll likely need to reserve ahead of time. The house dish is a paella (10 CUC). The other dishes are neither very special nor tasty and plates are small.
- 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, ☎ .
Tourism in Viñales is skyrocketing and as such accommodation options are increasing by the minute. Everyone who can afford it is building another guest room in their house as quick as they can. In fact, nearly every house you’ll see in Viñales is a casa particular. In 2015 there were more than 300 of these. As such, competition is very tough, which makes it easy for travelers to get a good deal. The typical default price is 25 CUC per night for a double room (sometimes for up to 4 people), but even in high season it’s fairly easy to bargain this to 15 CUC. Breakfast is normally 4 CUC per person, dinner 10 CUC, but it’s worth not to eat in the casa every day, since Viñales has a variety of fairly good restaurants.
If you’re coming by bus beware of the tout-crowd that’ll expect the incoming visitors. There will be 20-50 touts or house owners offering their casas. This can be troubling. The easiest way to get through this is to say you already have a reservation at (any spanish sounding first name will do here)’s house. However, since these people are competing hard and have available rooms, this is also a good place to catch a cheap room. Inspect it first before agreeing on anything though.
It’s usually wise to stay near the center as this will avoid you unnecessary walking. However the town is reasonably small so you’ll never have to walk much more than 15 minutes anyway. There’s a hill to the east of the town and some houses have rooftops with great views. Few casas have swimming pools, however note that in the dry season, these are typically not in use due to the water scarcity.
Since this can’t be avoided, here’s a list of casas particulares in Vinales:
- Villa El Rinconsito, Calle Séptima, No. 22, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
- Campismo Dos Hermanos (near the Mural de la Prehistoria), ☎ . Campismos were built by the government for Cubans to go on vacations. This is not an actual campsite and it's not clear that they'll take non-Cuban guests. This campismo has 54 basic cabins, a restaurant and a big swimming pool, although the water is remarkably green.
- Make a brief stop in Pinar del Rio, Soroa or Las Terrazas before going back to Havana
- 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 diving facilities available.
- 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.