Viñales is a beautiful valley in the west of Cuba and a World Heritage Site of Unesco. The striking karst landscape of the Viñales Valley is notable for its mogotes, a series of tall, rounded hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley. It is also significant for its cultural associations, particularly its traditional agricultural practices in growing tobacco. Because mechanical methods of cultivation and harvesting lower the quality of tobacco, time-honored methods such as animal traction are still used. The lush landscape is largely rural in character. Most of the buildings scattered over the plain are simple, built of local and natural materials and used as homes or family farms.
The village of Viñales, strung out along its main street, has retained its original layout and
there are many interesting examples of colonial architecture, mostly one-story wooden houses with porches.
The valley is home to an original culture, a synthesis of contributions from indigenous people,
Spanish conquerors and African slaves who once worked the tobacco plantations.
Historic Center of Viñales
The town is centered around the main church and the square in front. Here you find the few shops, the artisans’ market, quite some bars and restaurants, the Polo Montanes Cultural Center with life music and dance in the evenings. From here you walk in less than 5 minutes right into the countryside. Many locals rent rooms in their houses in the center and it is a real hotspot for travelers from all over the world who mingle with the locals and form a surprising cosmopolitan mix.
In the months of December till April it is tobacco season and you see everywhere the plants in the fields and the local farmers attending them. Tobacco production in Cuba is more then an economic activity: it is a tradition passed on through generations, a passion for quality, a life together with the changes of the weather and the opportunities of nature.
Inside the mogotes or mountains of Viñales it is full of caves that the erosion of wind and water have created over millions of years. Many are hidden but some are accessible and quite big and some have even rivers inside. You can find special rock formations and relics of the Indians who lived inside them as well as from runaway slaves from colonial times.
In the west of Cuba there are quite some beaches that can be reached from Viñales. In the north you have keys like Cayo Jutia or Cayo Levisa with white sand beaches and great snorkeling opportunities. In the most western tip, there is the Peninsula of Guanahacabibes with great beaches at Maria La Gorda, as well one of the best diving spots in the Caribbean.
The City of Pinar del Rio
Pinar del Rio is the biggest city of the western part of Cuba. You probably go here to visit the local cigar factory. You see here how the Cuban cigars are processed entirely by hand. Take some time to see the main street with its typical eclectic architecture of the Cuban provinces in bygone times.
Horseback riding in the Valley
Experience the valley like the locals: on the back of a horse you stroll through the fields with the mogotes wherever you see in the landscape. You pass by the tobacco and many other crops. You stop at one of the farms and enjoy some “guajiro” hospitality. They might offer you some farm-made cigars that have a production process of their own thanks to fermentation by guava leaves and rum. For the less adventurous you can always just hike.
The Tobacco Route
Nearby Viñales you find the region of Vuelta Abajo. Here according to all experts grows the best tobacco in the world. In the months January to April you can do a route that shows you the process of growing tobacco till the smoking cigars. You visit a tobacco farm in Vuelta Abajo like Hoyos de Mena with a full tour of this top tobacco farm. You visit the center where they pull out the main vein of the outside leaves and ferment the inside leaves. You visit a genuine cigar factory like in Pinar del Rio or Consolacion del Sur. Of course there is possibility to buy cigars in shops or directly from the farms.
Authentic farmers food
Viñales is a great place to discover some authentic Cuban cuisine. It’s all about products from the land. Sometimes literally coming straight from the garden. Try Finca Paraiso on the hill outside the village with an unforgettable view over the valley. Or the Finca Coco Solo with the typical green surroundings of tobacco fields and mogotes.
You find nice artisans work in a small street opposite the main square. They use mainly materials coming from the surrounding nature to make decorative artefacts, musical instruments or just simple souvenirs reminding you of the area.
You can visit in the valley the Palenque of the Cimarrones. It is a natural cave going through a mogote that ends up in a closed area surrounded by other mogotes. Here runaway slaves or cimarrones made a small village set off by sticks (a Palenque) in the 19th century. It is now like a museum and also a restaurant serving Cuban food. Though the tobacco industry never used a lot of slave labor this mountainous area was known for being a great hideout for slaves running away from the big sugar plantations in other areas of the island.
There is great nightlife in the center of Viñales around the main square. There is the Cultural Center Polo Montanes with life performances and dancing opportunities every night. In the main street you’ll find several bars open long after midnight.
Buggy Safari through the Valley
Every day leave from the central square the buggy safari that takes you through the valley to spaces you’d never reach on your own. Buggies are small open jeeps with option of self-drive. The tours are guided and they have them in half or full day. It’s a great fun way to get the valley.
Zip Line Adventure
Just outside the village you have a zip line or canopy tour. Fully protected you hang on cables and glide over the top of the trees to get an unusual view over the valley. The track is nicely led out with several stops and fully guided and secure.
Hike to the Acuaticos
One of the nicest hikes in the valley is to the village of the so-called acuaticos or water people. They were a group of religious people who settled in a remote area of the valley in the 30ies, believing a source they found there had healing water. They lived very reclusive for many decades but very recently dispersed. The views they have over the valley are amazing and they can only be reached by a strenuous uphill hike.