Only a few sites in Cuba capture the visitor’s attention as much as Viñales Valley does. This marvellous place is located in the western province of Pinar del Río, within the Sierra de los Órganos, one of the sections of the Guaniguanico mountain range, to be precise. Since 1999, Viñales is a World Heritage Site, and a National Park since 2001. Important publishers have recommended Viñales as a top destination for tourists, emphasizing the beautiful countryside and the colorful streets of the village.
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Getting to Viñales from Havana
The valley is about 180 km away from Havana. While traveling from Havana, you will enjoy the different shades of green in the Cuban scenery, only to perceive a drastic change when getting to the valley. The astounding nature and the surrounding silence make the visitor feel like they are the owner of these amazing landscapes.
Maybe arranging a trip with Viazul is the most well-known option to travel from Havana. Nevertheless, a two-step trip could help you to save half of the travel budget. You can take a camión to Pinar del Río and once there, hire a taxi to Viñales.
The garden of Cuba
Viñales Valley is one of the most attractive and renowned areas in Cuba. Also known as the “garden of Cuba”, it has a mind-blowing contrast of the red ground with the green crops. The symbols of the valley are the mogotes, extraordinary round-shaped hills, covering all over the valley’s surface. Their height is of hundreds of metres. Under many of these mountains you can find big caves: some of them are the largest in the whole country. Amongst them, there are the caves José Miguel, Cueva del Indio, and the Great Cavern of Santo Tomás. This latter is nearly on 46 kilometres long, with several galleries and underground water dams.
The geological age of these lands is manifested through its multiple archaeological sites. Several fossil species like the ammonites or even dinosaurs have been found here. The peculiar palma corcho (cork palm) is an endemic tree living since the Jurassic period. Some of the sites are linked to pre-Columbian aboriginal communities and others are related to the fugitive African slaves or cimarrones. There are some constructions with indigenous patterns, such as the vara en tierra (stick in the ground), the typical Cuban hut named bohío and the shack called tobacco house.
Several hotels and casas particulares raise near the town and closer to the roads that lead to the valley. The viewpoint “Los Jazmines” is a place located just after the mogotes area. You will enjoy of the exciting view of the landscape, the hills and a beautiful horizon if you get there at dawn. Some quaint characters looking like human statues wander around the place, creating a cultural atmosphere that merges with the natural. The crystalline outdoor swimming pool of the Hotel Los Jazmines can be seen from the viewpoint.
Land of the best Cuban tobacco
Viñales is characterized for the combination of the spectacular nature and the work of men in minor fruits farming, forage, and essentially the cultivation of tobacco. The traditional growing and production methods employed here for tobacco are acknowledged worldwide. In fact, the habano is recognized as one of the best cigars in the world.
Visiting one of the plantations would help you understand why the system of tobacco cultivation has remained unchanged for centuries. This is one of the reasons for the selection of Viñales Valley as World Heritage.
Things to do in Viñales Valley
The town of Viñales is near the valley. The place is pleasant to see, because of its bright coloured houses with red gable roofs and the rural quiet ambience. In the casas particulares of the town, the homemade meals tend to be delicious. If you decide to stay in one of them, you may experience the daily life of the locals, which is different from the one of people from urban areas. A lovely thing to do would be seating in a house’s portal while having lunch, and watching the local people come and go along the streets and the vintage cars stroll through the village.
The Mural de la Prehistoria (Mural of the Prehistory) is 4 km to the west of Viñales town. It is 120 metres tall and 160 metres wide, hence considered one of the biggest open-air fresco paintings in the world. It is located in the mogote named Pita, and shows the natural evolution of life in the island. Taking a picture beneath the mural is a must for visitors, and climbing to the top of the hill is a challenge for the bold.
You can do potholing at the Carvern of Santo Tomás by booking a guided tour. The National Potholing Centre also offers opportunities for the inexperienced to explore all the cave system. Is worth to enter inside Cueva del Indio, where you could walk by the narrow corridors and take a trip in a guided boat by the subterranean rivers.
Other activities involve canopy tours, hiking and even climbing the mogotes, where you will need a specialized person to lead you. Birdwatching while trekking is possible, as well as horseback riding. Some peasants like inviting you to ride in their horse-drawn carriage, or to take some photos with them.
The whole region comprises some restaurants and snack bars to sample Cuban cuisine and buy beverages and rum, specially the favourite brand of the zone: the Guayabita del Pinar.
If you are keen to earn about agriculture and the art of growing plants, it would be interesting a visit to a plantation to learn how the best cigar is made from the leaf of tobacco. You can get to know everything about the habanos, or even obtain some of them, or smoke one along with a countryman at his very home.