Exploring CubaPinar del Río Province

Viñales Valley: tobacco plantations, caves & mogotes

Vallée de Viñales Cuba

Included on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, Viñales Valley is a must-see in Cuba! With its breathtaking landscapes, its traditional tobacco plantations, its caves and its mogotes, it is truly a halt that no visitor traveling Cuba should miss!

Let us guide you through all the wonders of Viñales Valley!

Where is Viñales Valley?

Viñales Valley is located West of Cuba, in the heart of Sierra de los Organos, in Pinar del Rio Province. The town of Viñales is the best (and only) base to explore the valley. It is easy to access both from Havana (180 km, 2hrs30) and from the capital of the province, Pinar del Río (30 km, 45 min).

How to get to Viñales?

Getting to Viñales is fairly easy: the valley is quite touristic so a good few busses and taxis drive to Viñales daily.

A Viazul bus leaves Havana twice a day. The bus fare is 12 CUC per person. That being said, the bus station is quite far out of town and you’ll have to get a taxi to get there. Busses are also often booked out, especially during high season: you should therefore think about booking your tickets quite ahead of time if you want to be sure to have a seat!

Otherwise, you can also get a shared taxi to Viñales. Simply ask your hotel or casa particular to book the taxi for you. The driver will come get you directly at your casa. The drive to Viñales from Havana amounts to 20 CUC per person.

Viñales is the only proper city in the valley and that’s where you’ll find all the tourist infrastructures (casa, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, exchange office, etc.) It’s therefore where you’ll need to head if you’re looking to explore Viñales Valley.

The landscapes of Viñales Valley

The reputation of the Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, is well established. The lush vegetation, the traditional culture of tobacco, and the emblematic mogotes – rock formations covered with vegetations which tower some 300 meters above the ground, make Vinales a must-see in Cuba.

The spectacular karst landscapes, the richness of the local flora and fauna and the vast tobacco fields of the region all contribute to making Viñales Valley a paradise for hikers. Here and there, visitors also come across “Guarijos”, Cuban peasants traveling either on horseback or in a cart.

Speleology lovers will also be on the moon: the region counts a few thousand caves to explore.

Tobacco farming in Viñales Valley

Why is Viñales Valley such a perfect spot for tobacco farming? The soil, with its distinctive red colour, is not only spectacular but also quite fertile. The weather is also particularly favourable for tobacco growing, with very low rainfall (<50mm per month) and a mild climate (23 °C on average) during dry season (when tobacco is grown).

In Viñales, traditional farming techniques are still in use and (almost) everything is done manually, from seeding to harvesting! If local farmers are to be believed, mechanical tobacco farming results in poorer crops. The “guarijos” continue to perpetuate ancestral agricultural know-how. The same goes for the manufacture of cigars.

Exploring Viñales: what to do in Viñales?

Hiking in Viñales Valley

Nothing better than hiking to explore Viñales Valley. Biking, horse-back riding or simply walking: the options are endless! If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try and discover the valley on your own. If you do, remember to bring a map, or even better download an offline map of the region on your phone before your trip.

If you’re afraid of getting lost, there’s also the possibility of exploring Viñales Valley with a local guide. To book a guided tour, you can simply ask your casa particular or go to the agencies Infotur and Cubanacan on Viñales’ main street.

Your exploration of the valley will take you to traditional tobacco farms, mogotes and caves. Put on your sneakers and enjoy!

Exploring the valley’s caves

Grab your flashlight! The emblematic mogotes are not the only geological wonders in Viñales National Park. An entire network of caves also runs through the valley. The Cueva del Indio and the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas are two of the best-known and most easily accessible caves.

– Cueva del Indio

Located 6 km north of Viñales, near the village of San Vicente, Cueva del Indio was discovered by Juan Díaz, a local peasant, in 1920. Rock paintings and archaeological remains discovered inside the cave indicate that it was inhabited during the pre-Columbian period. That’s the reason why the cave it is was named “Cueva del Indio”.

San Vicente river runs through the cave so part of the visit is onboard a motorboat.

Entry fares are 5 CUC. You will also find a restaurant onsite.

– Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas

Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas spreads over 46 km: it is the largest network of caves in Cuba. Located in Moncada, 17km from Viñales, this cave is better preserved than Cueva del Indio. A native mural is proof of the place’s long history. It also served as a refuge for runaway slaves.

A speleologist will lead you through a small part of Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. The visit lasts 1hr30 and amounts to 8 CUC per person. You will also find a small museum onsite (1 extra CUC). If you don’t have a car, you can book an excursion from Viñales (20 CUC).

Visiting the cigar factories

Are you looking to find out everything there is to know about cigar-making ? You’ve come to the right place!

The region is the largest producer of tobacco in Cuba. The guarijos, the local peasants, still practice traditional agriculture (plows drawn by oxen…) They believe that it’s the reason why cigars from Viñales are the best!

Cigar making is a long and painstaking process which local producers will be happy to explain. And you can of course taste their local production! By the way, if you want to smoke like Che Guevara, dip the tip of your cigar in honey!

As for us, we visited a farm which is located a 15-minute walk north-east of Viñales city centre.

Mural de la Prehistoria

The Mural de la Prehistoria is fairly badly named! Located 4 km west of Viñales, this fresco was painted directly on a mogote in the 1960s by Leovigildo Gonzales Morillo (a student of famous Mexican painter Diego Riviera). Its dimensions are impressive: it is 120 meters high and 180 meters long. Commissioned by the Castro regime, this mural was designed to represent the evolution of the island of Cuba (from ammonites … to men).

Vinales - Mural de la Prehistoria

Entry fares are 3 CUC. Otherwise, the meal at the restaurant on-site (15 CUC) includes the admission fee. You can also go horseback riding around the fresco (5 CUC per hour). You’ll find hiking trails leading to the top of the mogote where you’ll have a breathtaking view over Viñales Valley.

Admiring the view from Hotel Los Jazmines

From Hotel Los Jazmines (Carretera a Viñales, Km. 23), located 3 km south of Viñales, there’s an amazing panorama of the valley. Guests can enjoy the view with a drink, and even take a dip in the pool for 7 CUC. The taxi ride from the centre of Viñales amounts to 3 CUC.

If you want to stay at the hotel, the room will cost from 50 to 90 CUC per night.

Find out more: Hotel Los Jazmines

Hotel Los Jazmines Vinales

« Casa de la Caridad », Viñales’ botanical garden

Viñales’ botanical garden will delight nature lovers! It gathers beautiful orchids and fruit trees of all kinds. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Los Acuáticos Community

Located 6 km west of Viñales, Los Acuáticos is a community which was created in 1943 by Antoñica Izquierdo, a peasant who supposeldy discovered that the water of the region has healing properties. Nowadays, only two families still live there.

The area is a paradise for hikers. A 3 hours guided tour (10 CUC) is available for visitors wishing to explore the community and its surroundings. The view at sunrise is breathtaking. You can also book a trip to Los Acuáticos in Viñales.

Excursions from Viñales

Viñales is an ideal base to explore the valley’s surroundings! So, put your backpack on, the exploration continues!

Cayo Levisa

Cayo Levisa is a small heavenly island off the coast of Pinar del Río Province.

Find out more: Cayo Levisa.

Cayo Jutias

If your budget is too tight to go on an excursion to Cayo Levisa or if you still have some sunscreen left, head for Cayo Jutias. This beautiful island is not as exclusive as Cayo Levisa but easier (and less expensive) to access, as it is connected to the mainland by road.

Las Terrazas

Pioneer of sustainable development in Cuba, Las Terrazas is a community which was created in the 1970s in the mountains of the Sierra del Rosario. Classified as a biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site by Unesco, it a paradise for eco-tourism.

Soroa

Soroa is a mountain village located in the heart of the Sierra del Rosario. The climate, characterized by heavy rainfall, enables the growth of particularly lush vegetation and provides water to the waterfalls and the natural pools of the region.

Península de Guanahacabibes

Located in the far west of the island, Península de Guanahacabibes is home to a national park classified as a Unesco biosphere reserve.

It is also where you’ll find María la Gorda, an absolute paradise for divers! It’s a welcome break away from the bustle : few are the tourists who venture so far to the west.

Services in Viñales

Most infrastructures are located along Viñales’ main street:

Banks & currency exchange agencies:

  • Banco de Crédito y Comercio  Salvador Cisneros n°58
  • Cadeca: angle Salvador Cisneros et Adela Azcuy

Transports:

  • Viazul agency: Salvador Cisneros n°63A

City information desk / Excursions & tours desk:

  • Infotur: Salvador Cisneros n°63B
  • Cubanacan: Salvador Cisneros n°63C

Internet:

  • Etecsa : Ceferino Fernández n°3

A Transtur shuttle (5 CUC per day) stops at the various tourist spots in the region. You can buy your ticket directly on the bus.

For more information, check to the Transtur stop on Viñales’ main square.

Our recommendations in Viñales

If you are looking for a casa, we highly recommend Casa Remedio. It is located in a quiet area, a ten-minute walk from Viñales’ city centre. Dinner is an absolute treat (10 CUC/person): ropa vieja, lobster … delicious!

If your budget isn’t too tight, we also recommend Hotel E Central Viñales, located in front of the church on the main square. The hotel opened quite recently, and is still brand new (which, in Cuba, is not necessarily commonplace). Some rooms have a nice view of the main square of Vinales and the small patio is really nice.

Credits:
Amy Goodman – Thiery – François D – David Bacon – Franck Vervial  – Paul Crimi  – Romtomtom – KayugeeCubanacan

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