Cuba Part II: Exploring Valle de Viñales
Get out of the city for a few days to ride horses through tobacco fields, enjoy pristine beaches, and watch tangerine sunsets
As you plan your own Cuba itinerary, don't skip Valle de Viñales. While Havana is a lively city, Viñales is a quaint town where life moves a bit slower and the locals all know each other. Viñales is the land of tobacco fields and Cuba is known for making the world's best cigars. Only a few hours from Havana, it's worth a visit to see not only how these cigars are made, but to lay eyes on the incredible landscape of this UNESCO World Heritage sight.
What to See by Day
DAY 1: VIÑALES TOBACCO FIELDS & TANGERINE SUNSETS
+ Catch your ride to Viñales from Havana. The bus and colectivo taxis usually leave Havana around 7 or 8AM, so you'll arrive in Viñales by the early afternoon. It should take just about 3 hours. Right when we arrived, we were greeted by our casa mom, Juana. She poured us fresh mango juice and introduced us to her neighbor who spoke English. We asked if we could go horseback riding through the tobacco fields that same day, and then booked a colectivo ride to Cayo Jutías (beach) for our second day.
+ Go horseback riding! We were picked up from the house by Manuel, our guide. I had never been on a horse before so I was terrified at first, but Manuel was very helpful and I managed to not get thrown off! We explored the tobacco fields, a coffee plantation, and trotted all the way to La Cueva de Palmarito, a swimming hole inside of a cave! The ride back was through the sunset, and it was one of the most beautiful skies I experienced in all of Cuba.
+ End your day drinking mojitos on the porch and eat dinner at the casa. We decided to stay in and get a good night sleep before our beach day.
DAY 2: BEACH DAY AT CAYO JUTÍAS
+ Spend the day at the beach. We expected a colectivo taxi to pick us up in the morning, but were surprised when a huge trailer bus stopped at the doorstep and beckoned us in. It was a bumpy ride, but after about an hour, we found ourselves at a perfectly pristine beach with white sand and clear blue water. We spent the entire day at Cayo Jutías drinking coco locos (coconut & rum).
+ Explore town and have dinner at La Cuenca. We went to a few bars near the square and found a few spots for salsa dancing. Viñales is very small with little night life, so it's easy to walk around see everything that's going on.
DAY 3: VIÑALES BIKE RIDE & MURAL DE LA PREHISTORIA
+ Explore Viñales on a bicycle! We rented bikes for three hours from Ecotur, located just a few blocks from the plaza. They don't have a website, but ask around town and you'll be pointed in the right direction. The bikes should cost 1 CUC per hour.
+ Ride through the windy streets of town until you reach Mural de la Prehistoria and spend some time viewing the mural and exploring the grounds there.
+ Continue on to pass the botanical gardens and find viewpoints of the rolling fields. There is a tiny little restaurant at the top of the hill if you ride straight on from the mural.
+ Eat dinner in town or at your casa and then head to the town square around 9:30PM to salsa dance with the locals.
Where to eat
As I mentioned in the Havana post, the food in Cuba still has a long way to go. While there are a number of little restaurants in Viñales, this is the only one I recommend. We opted to have a home-cooked dinner at Juana's for just 7 CUC per meal.
> La Cuenca
La Cuenca is a corner restaurant decorated in black and white. The food was great and with two drinks each, cost around 20 CUCs per person.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of options for accommodations in Viñales. We researched quite a bit and found Hostel Juana, a bright pink casa named after the owner and most welcoming host. She was a phenomenal cook and we ate breakfast and dinner there that rivaled any restaurant we tried in Cuba. I highly recommend checking their availability! They were also able to schedule our horseback riding tour and day trip to Cayo Jutías.
TBP Insider Tips
> As soon as you arrive in Havana, head to a nearby hotel to plan your transportation to Viñales. I recommend visiting the tourism desk at Hotel Saratoga, which was extremely helpful with recommendations and helping us plan our time. You can reserve a colectivo (shared) taxi that will take you to Viñales for about 20 CUC per person, or head to Hotel Plaza Havana and buy a bus ticket for just about 14 CUCs.
> Make sure to pack jeans to wear on the back of your horse! I recommend dark jeans because the light jeans I wore still have dirt stains that won't come out.
> If you get nauseous in cars, I recommend taking some Dramamine or another anti-nausea medication before the ride to both Viñales and Cayo Jutías. Ginger pills also work well.
> Bring sunscreen and bug spray to the beach!
> It's very important to head to the Airport at least 3 hours before your flight out. We spent the back-half of the trip in Viñales (about a 3 hour drive from Havana), so we came back to Havana for our last night and stayed in a house in Vedado. Our Airbnb host coordinated a taxi to the airport in the morning, which should cost 25 CUCs.