WHY WE VISITED VIÑALES TWICE DURING OUR TIME IN CUBA
After a week of strolling the hectic Havana streets, we headed a few hours West to explore a small, charming town called Viñales. This entire region is the heart of Cuba's infamous tobacco farming with vibrant green fields as vast as the eye can see. Within minutes of arriving into town, our taxi driver reeled us into a quick but informative tobacco tour where we learned the entire process of cigar making.
[Side note]: These tobacco tours are free to experience, but most foreigners usually purchase a pack of cigars after. It's usually cheaper buying in bulk on these kinds of tours compared to purchasing from any cigar store across the country. They normally charge $4 per cigar, but make sure to bargain lower if you purchase a large amount.
The following day, we decided to rent bicycles for 5 CUC and explore the valley on the outskirts of town. Within fifteen minutes of riding, we were suddenly surrounded by the rugged karst mountains that Viñales in known for. The road weaved between towering rock walls, small farm huts, as well as horses and cattle scattered all around us. After about thirty more minutes, we reached El Mirador, a stunning lookout with 360 degree views of the mountains in every direction. A cute hut with stone seating rests at the top alongside a small restaurant with epic views of the valley.
While enjoying the view and gulping down our water, we met a local farmer who asked if we were interested in riding his horses throughout the farmland below us. We were stoked!! Corinne and I jumped on his horses and the three of us took off! Within minutes, we were literally galloping down the dirt road. I had one hand holding onto my heavy camera and the other holding on to the saddle for dear life. We soon entered into the lush farmland and Miguel explained the history of the area and explained about the crops that he maintains throughout the year. He grew up in this valley and continues to thrive in this area as he happily farms, rides horses, and raises his family. After making our way through two deep river crossings, up and down several gulches, and listening to Miguel sing Cuban love songs for an hour, we eventually made it back to El Mirador with just enough time to peddle back to town and return our bikes.
[Side note:] Ask the family that you're staying with to rent bicycles. Most likely, they will know someone who will you rent you some bikes for a few hours or the entire day if you choose. The charge was 10 CUC for the entire day or 5 CUC for 3 hours. Also, there are numerous places in town to experience horseback riding, but we suggest heading to El Mirador and asking a local to take you around the area. This location is in the heart of the entire National Park and the most beautiful for riding horses.
One of my favorite adventures of the trip was discovering a hidden cave in the side of the mountain. It was also located near El Mirador and only took me about thirty minutes to reach the entrance from the lookout. I asked a local where to begin and followed a winding dirt trail through the crop fields, down into a steep gulch, and scurried up the side of the mountain. The trail ended at the cave entrance but was extremely daunting to go inside. I carefully crawled along the slope and climbed down an old, wooden ladder to the base of the cave. With only a small iPhone flashlight, I crept deeper and deeper and eventually allowed my eyes to adjust. All around me were towering walls. An eerie feeling came over me as if I was in massive ancient cathedral.
Vinales was truly one of our favorite destinations of our entire trip! We stayed in this town twice in the beginning and at end of our time in Cuba. It's the adventure capital of the country with so many unique opportunities to experience. I would suggest giving yourself at least three to four days to fully experience the surrounding area, as well as kicking back on the rocking chairs and watching local life pass by.