Viñales: Cubas most beautiful natural scenery
Viñales is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cuba, and is almost a must-see for anyone visiting the country. It is the striking limestone hills that give the region its typical appearance, reminiscent of some countries in Asia. The region offers breathtaking landscapes and stunning natural beauties that are among the most beautiful in the entire island. To explore the nature, travelers can choose from a variety of exciting attractions and activities.Viñales is almost a must-see when touring Cuba.
The small village of Viñales is located amidst the mountains of the Sierra de los Organos, about 30 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Pinar del Río. Viñales refers not only to the town itself, but also to the surrounding valley, the Vale de Viñales. Like in other parts of the province, one of the best tobaccos in the world thrives on the fertile red valley soils, therefore Viñales is also known as the Valley of Tobacco..
The village, with a population of almost twenty thousand, has been for a long time firmly in the hands of farmers, who in addition to the cultivation of tobacco also engaged in traditional agriculture.
Nevertheless, in recent years tourism has become very important, with the result that many residents are now directly or indirectly involved in the tourist sector. Due to this development the village has unfortunately lost some of its original charm. Nowadays, the center of the village is dominated by guesthouses and restaurants that cater to tourists.
Fortunately, the many beautiful places that can be explored in the untouched nature of the hilly countryside could be preserved.
If you plan a visit to Viñales it can be recommended to stay overnight. If you travel on a tight time budget, you can visit the main important sights in a whole day.
A brief look at the history of the Valley
The interesting landscape originates from the geological era of the Jurassic. About 160 million years ago, subterranean rivers had eroded the limestone to such an extent that a huge cave system had been formed.
These caves were supported by narrow columns of harder rock. The continued process of erosion caused the caves to eventually collapse. The result of this development are the limestone hills (so-called cone karst mountains) called mongotes.
For a very long time, Taino Indians settled in the area. European colonization settled quite late, at the beginning of the 19th century. The first settlers were farmers from the Canary Islands, who initially cultivated vines until they realized that tobacco was the plant that grew especially well on the soil of the valleys. The name Viñales, derived from viñedo (vineyard), is a remnant of the intended wine cultivation.
Among the most important sights in Viñales are a number of viewpoints that are ideally visited early in the morning at sunrise. For those who can't make it early, it's advisable to come in time for sunset, rather than at the hot noon hour.
Among the most important sights are also various caves, which can be explored with or without a guide. The following overview briefly presents the most important sights.
Caves in Viñales:
- Cueva de los Murciélagos
The Cueva de los Murciélagos is located only about 2 kilometers from the center and can be reached walking. You will reach the tunnel-like cave after a rather steep climb. The steep wall is a popular meeting point for climbing. The cave itself is not very interesting, but at the back of the cave there the visitor can enjoy a fantastic view of the valley behind the cave. The entrance is free.
- Cueva del Indio
Located just over 5 kilometers north of the center, lays one of the most visited sights in the region, the Cueva del Indio. The cave once served as a shelter for indigenous groups and was rediscovered as late as 1920. In addition to interesting rock formations, the cave also has an underground river. Visitors first walk and then are taken outdoors in small motorboats along the underground river. The entrance is 5 USD.
- Cueva de San Miguel
About halfway between Viñales and the Cueva del Indio you will find the Cueva de San Miguel. In front of the cave exists a restaurant. In the entrance area of the rugged cave, there is a bar under an overhanging cliff, which becomes a popular nightclub on Saturday nights. The entrance fee to the cave is 3 USD.
- Cueva del Palmarito
The Cueva del Palmarito is a beautiful stalactite cave that is accessible for approximately 250 meters. In the depth of the cave is an underground pool in which you can swim. The cave, located about 5 kilometers northwest of the town, can be reached by horse-drawn carriage or on foot. The entrance fee of 2 USD includes a guide.
- Cueva de Santo Tomás
The Cueva de Santo Tomás is the most important and, with a good 46 kilometers of extension, also the largest cave system in Cuba and classified as a national monument. The cave is located about 17 kilometers west of Viñales, on the outskirts of the village of El Moncada. Parts of the cave can be explored, but only in the company of a guide. Special points of interest include various dripstone formations, historic murals and a stunning viewpoint. Sturdy shoes are recommended, as you have to climb a steep 100 meters. The visit to the cave is exciting and in comparison to the other caves also not very much touristic. A guided tour can be made for 15 USD per person.
Nature & Agriculture in Viñales
- Botanic garden
At the northeast end of the village lies a small but noteworthy botanical garden. The area is a nice and quiet place to rest and refresh yourself. Besides the diverse plants, it has also a small restaurant. It is possible to get a guided tour in English for a small donation. The entrance is free.
- Tobacco plantation
At the southwestern end of the village there is a tobacco and coffee plantation, whereby the main focus is clearly on tobacco. Visitors get an insight into the cultivation and processing of the precious plant to the finished cigar. You can also purchase the final product. There is a small café, where you visitors can try the coffee grown on the plantation.
- La Casa del Veguero
At the Casa del Veguero, everything is about the production and processing of tobacco that is grown in the valley. Visitors will enjoy an interesting explanation of the full production process. One also has the opportunity to taste cigars and drink rum or coffee at the same time. The establishment is quite touristic and purposeful. The establishment is touristy and aims quite strongly at the sale of the tobacco goods. It is located about one kilometer southwest of the village.
Lookouts in Viñales
- Mirador de Valle de Viñales
The Mirador de Viñales is located about 3 kilometers southwest of the center. At the Mirador there is a small information center which provides the most important information about the area. From the balcony of the facility you can enjoy a magnificent view of the landscape.
- Horizontes Los Jazmines
About 3 kilometers southwest of Viñales lies the Hotel Los Jazmines. From its terrace of the hotel you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view over the landscape. For those not staying at the hotel, there is a bar called Piña Colada Bar. It is possible to walk from the center of the village in about half an hour. If you come very early in the morning you may see a breathtaking sunrise, but beware: early in the morning it can be fresh.
- Hotel La Ermita
A little less away than the Hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines lies the Hotel La Ermita, that also has a pleasant bar with wonderful panoramic views. The complex can be reached from the center of Viñales within a 20-minute walk.
- Los Acuaticos
The Los Acuaticos viewpoint is located about 5 kilometers west of Viñales. It can be reached by horseback or on foot, in a good hour hike across the fields
Among the most popular activities in Viñales are horseback riding and hiking. But also vacationers who are looking for some thrills can have a good time. The different offers can be taken from the overview.
- Hiking Trails
There are several hiking trails in Viñales. Guided hikes are offered at the Sitio del Infierno. They start in the morning (8:45) or at noon (14:30). The walking distance is about seven kilometers, which can be mastered in around two to four hours. Along the way, beautiful views of the valley, nature and especially endemic birds can be enjoyed. While visiting a traditional farm, it is possible to get an insight into the life of a typical Cuban household
- Bike Tour
The most important sights can be visited on individual or guided tours by bicycle. The tour runs along the Mural de la Prehistoria (mural painting) and the Palenque de Cimarrones, where you get insights into the Afro-Cuban religion and the history of slavery. In addition, the Casa del Veguero, where the production of cigars is explained, and the Cueva del Indio are visited. The price for a four- to five-hour trip is 20 USD, which includes a lunch.
- Horseback Riding
One of the most popular activities among tourists is horseback riding. Riding on horseback is a wonderful way to explore the beautiful nature. The price is 5 USD an hour. Tours are available starting with two hours. The longer five-hour tour included a cave tour, a visit to a coffee farm, a short visit to a viewpoint, and finally you have the opportunity to swim in a lake. On hot days it is recommended to start early in the morning or alternatively late in the afternoon.
On the walls of the picturesque limestone cliffs rock climbed is available. There are several walls with different levels of difficulty. Prices for one day including equipment and supervision start from approximately 20 USD.
- El Fortin Canopy Tour
Just over 5 kilometers west of Viñales, it is possible to slide across the landscape on a steel wire. From a 35-meter-high tower you go down the hill through the treetops. The slide is suitable for families, as it is not particularly steep. The price per person is 10 USD.
Eat & Drink
In the locality there are many private family restaurants that cater to the needs of visitors. Accordingly, the price level is pretty high. Most of the places are located along the main street Salvador Cisneros.
In the surroundings of the village there are a number of nice restaurants nestled in the beautiful nature, some of which offer phenomenal views and are well worth a visit.
Some of those restaurants are located on organic farms and produce their own ingredients. A dinner at one of these establishments can be a wonderful experience, especially as the sun sinks into the picturesque landscape.
Worth a visit:
- The Balcon del Valle is a traditional restaurant in a wonderful location with a great panoramic view. Typical Cuban dishes are offered at reasonable prices. The few tables are placed on the slope between trees on a wooden terrace. This creates almost the feeling that you are floating above the valley. From Viñales, the restaurant can be reached on foot in a good half an hour. As in general, a visit at sunset is highly recommended.
- The Agroecological Sunset Restaurant is located about 20 minutes walk outside the center of the village. Around the restaurant is the beautiful countryside. The restaurant offers a very pleasant service and serve delicious meals. The restaurant is also very popular among travel groups, especially for lunch.
- The charming Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso serves fresh organic food grown on the farm. The view from the terrace is fantastic. A Cuban coffee is served at the end of the meal, accompanied by a cigar. A menu is about 15 USD per person. The finca is located a little northeast of the center. It takes a good half hour to walk there, a cab should not cost more than 5 USD.
- About a 15-minute walk north of the center lies Raul's Finca. The path to the Cueva de los Murciélagos leads across the property. The finca hosts the Cueva De La Vaca Restaurant, which serves good food. You can also get an impression of the agriculture that is practiced on the finca - including the omnipresent cultivation of tobacco.
- The small Casa Verde family restaurant, is located on a hill near the hotel Horizontes Los Jazmines. The restaurant has only a few tables on a small terrace.
- La Casa de Don Tomas Restaurant is located in the center of Viñales. It is situated in a two-story historic wooden house, which is among the oldest buildings of the town. In the restaurant you can enjoy your meal in a nice atmosphere. The food is decent, the prices a bit high according to Cuban standards.
- A stone's throw from the central Parque José Martí you will find the lovingly managed Mogote Café. The atmosphere at the small Café is charming, the staff is very friendly and they often play live Cuban music. You can sit on the covered terrace, from which you have a spectacular view of the Valley. Despite the central location, you sit in the restaurant in the midst of beautiful nature, and also the cocktails and food are good.
Shopping & Stores
There are several small supermarkets in the center of Viñales, which usually have the most important goods on sale. Not far from the central square there is a simple state-run bakery. At the eastern end of town is a gas station and a small branch of a Cuban fast food restaurant (Rapido). Not far from the center, on Calle Ceferino Fernandez, a souvenir market is held in the daytime. In Viñales you can also purchase cigars as well as coffee beans. It is advisable to buy cigars directly from a farmer on a finca.
As in all of Cuba, however, store offerings are often severely limited, so most travelers will eat at the one of the many restaurants or at the guest house.
Due to the small size of the town, the nightlife in Vianels is quite limited. The central meeting place for night owls is the cultural center Polo Montañez. In the small cultural center, local musicians often play and visitors like to shake a leg.
Worth mentioning is also a interesting nightclub located in a stunning cave. On weekends, it can be worth to visit the Bar at the Cuevas de Viñales, where locals and visitors party until well into the night.
The most important destinations from Viñales are two small islands located on the north coast, about an hour's ride away. The Cayos Levisa and Cayo Jutías are two beautiful green islands with dreamlike Caribbean beaches. While Cayo Levisa can only be reached by ferry, there is a road to Cayo Jutías, so that you can practically drive to the beach with your rental car.
- Cayo Jutías
About 50 km northwest of the Vinales Valley lies the Cayo Jutías. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway. The 5 km long dream beach makes the small island a popular excursion destination. There are also mangroves and a lively underwater world to explore. The Cayo is uninhabited, but there is a restaurant, bar and toilets. However, it is better to bring enough water and some food. On the beach you can rent a sunbed and umbrella for 2 CUC.
From Vinales, Cayo Jutías can be reached by shared cab for 15 USD per person and round trip. Typically, you set off around 8am and leave the beach around 5pm. The rides can also be booked at most casa particulares, but you may pay a small surcharge (5 USD). The ride is quite uncomfortable and takes about 90 min, because the road is in an adventurously bad condition. Private drivers are available for 60-80 USD. If you come with your own rental car, you can find a guarded parking lot for a fee (2 USD).
Particularly if it has rained, you should take precautions against mosquitoes. It is also advisable to wear sufficient protection against the sun. If you want to explore the underwater world, you can make good use of snorkeling equipment (can be rented at the beach).
- Cayo Levisa
If you are on the hunt for lonely beaches, you should visit the paradisiacal Cayo Levisa. On the small island surrounded by mangroves, lays one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, that is also known as a snorkeling and diving paradise. The ferry to Cayo Levisa departs from Palma Rubia, an hour's drive northeast of Viñales. Departures are twice daily at 10 am and 6 pm. The return trip is at 9 am and 5 pm. Identification is required for the crossing. The one-way fare is 10 USD. Travelers who come by rental car can park the vehicle at the pier. It is also possible to take a boat trip to a coral reef for snorkeling.
Day trips can be made from Viñales: One leaves around 8 am, and ll come back around 5 pm. The excursion can be arranged at the tourist office in Viñales for a fee of 40 USD per person. On the island you will get a lunch buffet, free beach chairs and umbrellas, and changing rooms and showers.
Those who want to stay longer can reserve a room at the state-run Hotel Cayo Levisa.
There are a total of four state-owned hotels in Viñales, three of which are located just a bit outside the center. These three hotels have pools, but they are primarily for decorative purposes. The room furnishings are also decent at best. Another state-owned hotel has recently opened in the middle of the center. In addition to the general advantages of a hotel, it is especially the location that speaks in favor of an overnight stay in one of the hotels in Viñales. If you are just looking for a clean room, you will find a variety of casa particulares, which almost always offer better value for money. When choosing an accommodation, one should consider various general information. In the following overview, the hotels and selected casas are presented.