Although Havana is Cuba’s hottest destination, be sure to make time on your Cuba trip to visit Viñales in the western countryside. Here you’ll quieter, more authentic Cuban culture, world-famous agriculture, fun outdoor activities, and some of the most stunning natural landscapes and rich agricultural history. Here are just some of the reasons why you need to visit Viñales on your Cuba trip!
Although it is possible to visit Viñales on a day trip from Havana, I’d definitely recommend that instead you spend at least two nights here. A day trip won’t allow you to see everything you’ll want to see, or experience that serene, slow-paced farm lifestyle that makes this region so special.
Currency Note: 1 CUC equals about 1 USD. For more information on understanding Cuban currency, exchange, and using international credit and debit cards, read: TRAVELING TO CUBA AS AN AMERICAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW. (The currency information is relevant to you even if you aren’t American!)
1) Experience the Heart of Cuban Culture
Locals will tell you that it’s outside of Havana, in the farms and countryside and small towns, that you’ll really find the heart of Cuban culture. Whereas Havana has more tourists, hotels, city energy, and international influence, in Viñales, you’ll find more authentic, serene, slower-paced Cuban culture and lifestyle. If that interests you (and why wouldn’t it?!) then there’s a good chance you’ll fall in love with Viñales.
Viñales has much less pollution and traffic, generally calmer and friendlier locals, and fewer house-lights which makes for impressively starry nights. Watching the sunrise and sunset immersed in nature, with only the sounds of chirping birds and the click-clack of horses is incredibly peaceful, and a very unique way to experience Cuba.
Because Viñales doesn’t often make it onto travelers’ Cuba itineraries, you also won’t feel like you’re swarmed with tourist crowds all the time, or that locals’ daily lives revolve around the tourism industry. However, you will still find a few other travelers and backpackers, as well as some locals who speak English, so no need to worry about finding things to do or getting around as a foreigner.
And rather than hotels, you’ll most likely stay at a casa particular (or Cuban homestay) while in Viñales, which is the perfect way to get a glimpse into daily home life in the countryside. You’ll be able to interact with your host, and even have home-cooked meals prepared for you — the dinner my homestay host prepared for me in Viñales was one of my favorite meals in all of Cuba, so I definitely recommend taking advantage of this incredible display of Cuban hospitality!
2) The tobacco farms are world famous
Cuban cigars have long been recognized as some of the best in the world, or as one New York Times writer puts it, the “object of seduction . . . a celebratory spoil procured through mysterious back channels.”
Even today, hand-rolled, export quality Cuban cigars still remain a rare indulgence for Americans, even rarer for local Cubans who can’t afford them on their $30/month government salary. But cigar culture remains a kind of art in Cuba, and you won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to experience it first-hard.
In particular, the Pinar del Rio region in Cuba, where Viñales is located, grows some of the best tobacco and produces some of the highest quality cigars on the planet. Even if you aren’t a cigar-smoker, it’s still an unforgettable experience to visit a local farm in Viñales, tour the crops, learn about how the leaves are harvested and dried and sorted, watch a farmer demonstrate the cigar-rolling process, and then even try taking a few puffs of the finished product.
Plus, many of these farms also grow some other interesting crops like cacao or coffee trees, so you’ll be able to learn a bit about these other typical Cuban agricultural products and even try some for yourself. Overall, the experience is at least as much about Cuban culture and history as it is about the crops themselves, and the beautiful landscapes won’t disappoint either.
You can book a tobacco farm tour through your homestay, and they will organize someone to come pick you up with a horse and take you to the farms, as well as some little lakes for an afternoon dip if you have extra time. If you for some reason dread the idea of going on horseback (although this really is the best way to do it, and part of the overall experience, so I encourage you to try it!), there are some farms you can access by car.
A 4-ish-hour horseback riding tour and visit to a tobacco farm should cost around 20-30 CUC in Viñales.
3) see why Viñales valley is a designated UNESCO world heritage site
Aside from miles and miles of farmland, the Viñales landscape is characterized by the many mogotes (narrow, steep-sided hills that jet out of flat plains) that dot the land. Personally, I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in the world, and it really felt like I’d been plopped onto a set of Jurassic Park. It’s no surprise this entire area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can easily spend hours walking among or horsback riding through the mogotes, or catching the sunset from a viewpoint that looks onto the land from above. For recommendations on where to grab a bite to eat or a mojito to sip with a view, read below!
To really soak in those stunning landscape views, book a homestay a bit outside of the town center. My homestay was so peaceful, and my room and breakfast table looked right onto a giant field of grazing cows and horses, with the stunning mogotes in the distance. Some homestays are located in town, but if you want the best views and that immersed-in-nature, wake-up-with-the-birds experience, stay just a bit outside of town.
And although you’ll want to spend a lot of your time exploring the unique Viñales outdoors in nature, the town itself is no less picturesque. Pastel-colored homes, horse-buggies, freely grazing cows and chickens and horses, and quaint restaurants and cafes fill this quiet, charming little town making it truly picture-perfect and unique. Be sure to spend some time wandering the streets in town, exploring the colorful neighborhoods, outdoor market, and old colonial church and square!
4) You’ll have tons of epic outdoor activities at your doorstep.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure to break up your leisurely days in the countryside, head to the mogotes for a scenic hike, bike-ride, horseback ride, or some adrenaline-pumping rock climbing. You can organize horseback riding tours, bike rentals, and rock climbing through most homestays, or head into town and ask around.
Technically, rock-climbing is not permitted by the Cuban government, but there are still many companies that will take you (but keep in mind that your health insurance likely won’t cover you in case of an accident). Rock climbing gear is hard to come by in Cuba, so if you’re interested in participating in the activity, it’s nice to bring some equipment to leave behind, like ropes, caribeeners, etc.
If rock climbing isn’t your thing, there are tons of beautiful hiking and biking trails around the area that can take you to small lakes where you can swim, or scenic viewpoints overlooking the Viñales valley. Bring a head-torch if you plan to take a hike for sunrise or sunset!
5) Walk among Prehistoric caves (and drink cocktails next to stalagtites)
Viñales is also known for the hundreds of cave formations that have been discovered in the area. Some are open to visitors, including the Cueva del Indio (with an underground river, about 10 minutes outside of Viñales) and Cuevas de Santo Tomas (about 30-45 minutes outside of Viñales but a bit more impressive and less touristy) which you can explore on guided tours.
You could also try visiting Palenque de los Cimarrones, which is a restaurant/bar set inside the entrance to a cave that turns into a disco at night on the weekends. Viñales can get a bit sleepy in the evenings, so if you’re looking for something a little different and perhaps livelier, maybe head to Palenque to enjoy an evening sipping mojitos amidst prehistoric underground rock formations.
6) Farm-Grown Meals come with a side of breathtaking views.
As noted above, Viñales has some of the most unique and beautiful scenery in Cuba, so it’s no surprise that many restaurants and bars have popped up that really showcase the valley’s landscapes. And what’s even better is that the food you’ll eat at homestays and restaurants in Viñales is generally locally-grown on nearby farms, so you’ll have some of the freshest farm-t0-table meals anywhere in Cuba!
For lunch, take a taxi just outside of town to visit Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso, and organic hillside farm with a restaurant overlooking the beautiful Viñales landscapes. The 9-course set menu here was incredible, made with ingredients grown on-site, and including fresh herb-filled Pina coladas (served with a bottle of rum to use at your own discretion), fresh soup and salads, veggies, and beautifully prepared fish, pork, and chicken. It’s only about 15 CUC for this true farm-to-table experience.
If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, head to Hotel los Jazmines, a famous hotel perched hillside with amazing views and pretty good cocktails. The food isn’t exactly noteworthy, but it’s a great spot to visit for an afternoon cocktail or tea, or for sunset before you head elsewhere for dinner.
Valle del Balcon is just a 10-minute (or less) drive outside of town, and has beautiful balcony seating areas among the trees with breathtaking views of the Viñales valley below — you’ll feel like you’re dining in a treehouse! Not only is this place great for sunset, but they also serve delicious ropas vieja and mojitos. Meals come with a bunch of extras as well, including soup, salad, veggies, and plantain chips.
TIPS & LOGISTICS
Be sure to read through these tips and logistics to be prepared for your trip to Viñales! Although you can wing it with a lot of things while traveling in Cuba, there are a few important things to note to make sure your Viñales trip is as stress-free as it should be.
where to stay:
I recommend staying at a homestay while in Viñales, to really get a feel for the beautiful, authentic Cuban culture and daily life here. Here are some great options, which you can book on Airbnb!
Villa Paraiso (this is where I stayed, and I can’t recommend it enough! The views were incredible, the host is so sweet and helpful with booking activities, and the home cooked meals were some of the best I had in Cuba)
If you prefer to stay at a hotel, Hotel Los Jazmines is a great option with excellent terrace and pool views of the valley.
Getting to Viñales:
From Havana, get a local tuk-tuk to the Viazul bus station. Here, either you or your tuk-tuk driver can organize a taxi collectivo (“shared taxi”) to take you to Viñales. If you’re doing it on your own, ask around to find taxi drivers, or ask other travelers at the bus station if they’re heading to Viñales and want to split a taxi with you.
Alternatively, you can take a bus to Viñales, which will save you money but take an extra 1-2 hours and leave at set times.
Viñales is about a 2-2.5 hour drive via taxi collectivo, and 12-20 CUC per person (depending on your Spanish language & negotiating skills). By bus, Viñales is about a 3-4 hour journey, and costs about the same as a shared taxi, so I recommend just taking a collectivo and saving some time.
Getting around Viñales:
If you’re staying in the central part of town, or relatively close to it, you’ll be able to explore most of Viñales by foot. The town is small and easily walkable!
If you are staying quite far outside of town, or are looking to head somewhere not within walking distance, you’ll want to either rent a bicycle or take a taxi. Most homestays will be able to help organize a bike rental for you. Otherwise, taxis in Viñales are fairly easy to find, so long as you’re looking for one during the day in the main part of town. Simply wave one down, or more likely, they’ll come stop and ask if you need a ride the minute you step into town.
You can also have your homestay organize a drive for you, but expect to pay a little bit more for this. However, this requires your homestay host and their usual driver to both have cell service, which isn’t always the case, so sometimes it’s just easier to head to town and flag one down on your own.
If you want to head outside of town for a meal or other activity, ask your driver to wait for you to be finished, give him a set pickup time to return for you, or give his phone number to the restaurant and have them call the driver when you’re ready to go back (this only works if the restaurant and taxi driver actually have phones that work, which isn’t always the case).
It won’t always be easy to find a taxi outside of town, so arranging for a return trip from the same taxi driver can save you a lot of headache.
Leaving Vinales was a painful experience for me, so I want to share those details to help you avoid the same problems. The day before I planned to leave Vinales, I organized a taxi collectivo to pick me up at my homestay at a particular time the next morning; when he didn’t show, I walked into town to try to find an alternative taxi collectivo option.
Scam Alert: Although there were many taxi drivers waiting around with their cars, they all refused to drive me because it was past the “standard” 8:30am departure time for taxi collectivos leaving Viñales. They instead asked for 350+ CUC or more to drive my friend and me to Trinidad (where we were headed next), because there were no collectivos available in Havana.
I thought this seemed highly unlikely, so I left and wandered down some side streets away from the group of taxi drivers. I was able to find a private driver who agreed to drive my friend and me to Havana and help organize a collectivo from there to Trinidad. My drive from Viñales to Havana cost 35 CUC per person, which is well over what you will hopefully pay, but we were starting to get desperate.
The drive took only about 2 hours back to the Viazul station, where there were plenty of available collectivos who agreed to take us to Trinidad.
Takeaways: If you organize a driver in advance, have him pick you up well before 8:30am, so if he doesn’t show, you will still have time to find an alternative option. If you have trouble with the organized group of taxi drivers in town (who congregate up the hill just a few blocks away from the center of town), just leave them and go try to find a driver on a side street who won’t be influenced by the group dynamics.
Generally speaking, a collectivo will cost anywhere from 15 CUC to 35 CUC back to Havana depending on your Spanish & negotiating skills, but 20-25 CUCs for tourists is a pretty standard rate.
Stopping in Havana: If you’re heading somewhere other than Havana, you’ll still need to stop in Havana to switch collectivos because only certain taxis can drive in certain regions of the country. It’s not exactly efficient, but is still much more efficient than taking a bus (from Vinales to Trinidad, the bus can take about 8-9 hours). Your driver should be able to help you organize your transfer ride once you’re back in Havana, but if not, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a driver at the Viazul station.
What to Bring:
You’ll need a bit of a different wardrobe and packing list for your trip to Viñales than you will in Havana. Here are some basics that you should definitely bring:
shoes you can hike in
long jeans for horseback riding
something warm for the evenings which can get a bit chilly
your own shampoo and soap (your homestay may not have it)
a swim suit if you plan on swimming in one of the lakes
lightweight, casual clothes for the day (it’s hot during the day, and you’ll probably be more comfortable wearing clothes a bit more understated and casual than you might wear around Havana)
a LifeStraw water bottle so you don’t need to purchase disposable plastic ones (look out for the environment, please!)
and a packable lightweight hat for sunny days outside
a head torch if you plan to take evening or early morning hikes or walks
Viñales was definitely a highlight of my time in Cuba, and I can’t recommend enough a visit to this stunning countryside town. I loved the laid back, authentic Cuban vibes, the stunning scenery, the unique outdoor activities, and the opportunity to spend a few days learning about farm-life in Cuba’s countryside. Be sure not to miss a trip to Viñales during your holiday in Cuba!
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Any questions about visiting Viñales, Cuba? Leave them in the comments below!