Viñales – Relax in Cuba’s cowboy countryside
We spent 3 days in Vinales on our 11 day trip to Cuba in November 2019. Compared to the busy urban life in Havana, we went horse-riding, hiking and cycling in the green valleys, had a great time experiencing the Cuban country life.
Viñales is a great place to stop over for a few relaxing days. A pair of rocking chairs on the porch is a staple for the Vinales. Here all the locals know each other in the town. The small town is surrounded by lush green valleys, tobacco farms and stunning rock formations called ‘mogote’, which gives the valleys UNESCO status. The town has one main street lined up with the restaurants, shops, supermarkets, Casa particular…pretty much everything you need.
Besides retiring on the rocking chairs and chilling out in one of the cocktail bars with live music, it is the surrounding nature that brings people into this small town. The best way to visit these valleys is by horse or on the bike. All the casa owners in Vinales have a cousin, uncle or friend that can rent you a bike or put you on a horse ride tour. ‘Word of mouth’ seems to be the only way to get tourist support if you are not on an organised tour. At least during our visit in 2019, we didn’t find any bike or horse rental shopfront on the main street.
Here are the most exciting things we did in Viñales
Cycling in the one of the green valleys
Cycling is a great way to go around in Viñales. In general, the Cuban countryside in great for bikes, because the roads are fairly well maintained, and have very few traffic. We rented a bike for a day in Viñales and covered several sights on our own. In 2019 the price for renting a bike 10 CUC/ day (we haggled down to 15 for two people) or 5 CUC/hour for horse riding. There are no formal rental places but every Casa owner knows someone who can get you a bike. We got ours just by asking in a cafe alongside the main street. When you get the bike, do check the bike carefully, especially chains and breaks. The bikes are not professionally maintained and can have some broken parts.
Cycle to Mural de Prehistorical
This impressive mural is located quite close to the town and easy to find. It is about a 15-20 min bike ride just outside Vinales town centre in the north. Many horse riding tours can include this on the tour but you might want to use your horse riding tour for some more remote areas. The mural itself is a contemporary artwork made in 1961. You don’t need to come very close to see the mural and pay the entrance fee. Stop a couple of hundred meters away can get you a fairly good view.
Cycle to Village Los Aquatics
After visiting Mural de Prehistorical we carried on bikes along the main road for Village Los Aquatics. It is a very small village on a small hill with an amazing panorama view of the surrounding valleys. After biking for a while on the main road, we turned into the dirt road leading to the villages which soon became bumpy. We had to park the bikes and walk. There was no signage of the village along the dirt road so we were relying on Maps.me and asking the locals. The hike to the hilltop is fairly easy and the view from the top makes the climb all worthy. There is a cafe serving refreshing cold drinks at the top, very much needed after a sweaty hike under the Cuban’s tropical sun.
Cycle to Los Jazmines
Los Jazmines is a hotel on the windy mountain road leading to Viñales from Havana. If you are going from Vinales town centre it is all uphill hard work. But the journey will be nicely rewarded by the breathtaking view of the valleys on the viewing platform near Los Jazmines. It is a popular spot for sunset. There is also a good restaurant Mirador “Balcón del Valle” next to the viewing platform, highly recommended by several people passing us on the way. Sadly we have to give a miss because we didn’t want to venture cycling down back to town in darkness(There is no light on the road). The official Vinales tour office is also just on the road. They run many guided hikes from the office door that can be booked a day in advance.
Take a horse riding tour
Viñales is still a cowboy countryside and horses are definitely part of daily life. You will see them often on the road carrying goods and pulling a passenger carriage. We found that the horses in Cuba are very well trained and taken great care of. They all look gorgeous. The rides are very reasonably priced compared to Europe (6-8 Cuc per hour/pp). It was awesome to ride on a beautiful horse for a couple of hours without breaking the bank.
We went with our Casa owner’s nephew(we were told so) for horse riding in one of the valleys. Our guide explained the produce of the field, took us to several tobacco farms and orchards in simple English. The farm owners showed us how cigars and coffee are produced manually. We can buy unbranded cigars, coffee and local honey from them. We found the cigars are good price(3-5 CUC each). The coffee and honey(8 CUC for 250g coffee bean and 10 CUC for a bottle of honey) were on the pricier side but they were not pushy. Later we found all the horse riding tours were pretty much on the same routine and similarly priced.
Visit the local wood craft market
We found the best souvenirs in Viñales local craft market. Trinidad has a smaller but similar market, but you won’t find any of these in Havana. The craft market is just off the main road, selling beautiful handcrafted wooden items made by the locals. The stands are open approximately from morning 10 am till sundown 6 pm. We were fascinated by the handmade spoons, cigar box, placemats made from mahogany or pine trees. If you like the artists can engrave your names on the spot.
Visit the Saturday evening street market
If you happen to spend the Saturday evening in Viñales, you won’t miss the Saturday night market. It is a tourist food market and not cheap by Cuban standard, but fully represents the vibrant Cuban night scene. From Saturday morning the buzz is already on! Restaurants and stands set up the seatings on the street and turned the area to pedestrian-only. When the night falls the street is full of music, food and drinks. Traditional roasted hogs, Cuban pizza and cocktails were served in the middle of the street. We found the best (and cheaper) food was from the individual street stands rather than the restaurants. You can get a mouth-watering roasted hog sandwich and the creative cocktails for 1-3 CUC. We enjoyed sitting in the town square with our sandwiches and a glass of Pina Colada and watch the street crowds.
Our 3-day itinerary in Viñales
D1 Take the Viazul bus from Havana to Viñales. Walk around the town center in the evening.
D2 Cycle to Mural de Prehistorical, Village Los Aquatics and Los Jazmines
D3 Horse riding tour in Valle de Silencio in the morning. Hike to Mogoto Coco Solo in the afternoon. Visit the street market in the evening.
D4 Taking the Viazul bus back to Havana in the morning
Food and drinks
All the restaurants along the main street are tourist-oriented and similarly priced. Also, most of them offer free wifi if you eat there. Viñales is the most Wifi friendly town we found in Cuba. The food place we liked are
They offer an awesome all-you-can-eat buffet for 10 CUC, with a lot of vegetables, salad and three kinds of rice, though meat dish can’t be refilled. They also suggested us to share one buffet which makes the price unbeatable. Cocktails are decent there too.
It is one of the standard tourist fairs on the main street. We kept going back there because they are very easy going. No matter if we are having a full meal or just having a drink, they give free WIFI. The food is decent and reasonably priced.
Mirador “Balcón del Valle”
Many fellow travellers recommended this restaurant on the main road to Vinales, next to Los Jazmines. Worth trying if you are in the area.
Casa Los Rivera
We pre-booked this Casa on Airbnb. Amanda is a sweet young girl, welcoming and accommodating. She doesn’t speak much English but we managed the communication with Google translate. The breakfast and 1-hour internet were included in the room rate 10 CUC which makes it a very good bargain. Her place is a bit outside the main street and took us a while to find. But the benefit is the place is very quiet.
Ariuska greeted us at the Viazul bus stop. Without an online presence, she is one of the many Cuban women who go to bus stops to get clients. We decided to stay there because she and her husband speak good English. A relief not having to rely on Google translate. The sparkless room comes with an efficient air-con and the biggest breakfast we had in Cuba was for 15 CUC/night. They also arranged our horse riding. We will definitely try their home cooking next time.