Cuba: Day Trip to Viñales

This is one of a series of articles about our trip to Cuba. Click here for a list of all the Cuba-related articles.

After a week in Havana, we were ready to get out of the city for the day. Viñales is a World Heritage Site, and one of the few places that can be visited in a day trip from Havana. You easily spend longer there, and there are tons of casas particulares. Our driver told us that 80% of the homes in the town of Viñales are casas particulares, paladares (restaurants in private homes), or both.

Our Airbnb host arranged private transportation and told us our driver would pick us up at 8am: he was right on time. He introduced himself as Danny. ”Español? English okay?” “Español está bien” we replied. “Que bueno! Hablan español!” We’d heard that about daily while we were in Havana.

We started on the 2.5 hour drive with Danny filling us in about landmarks along the way. The AC was on but the sun shone in through the back window, warming me in the back seat. While Mark and Danny chatted, I drifted off to sleep. Mark later told me that keeping up with Danny’s Cuban Spanish completely wore him out.

As we headed west on the autopista, Dani point out sugar cane and rice fields. He also noted the model and year of many of the old cars going by: I wouldn’t call his knowledge encyclopedic, but it certainly was extensive. He also commented on the music he was playing, which started with Latin pop standards and then moved into 80s pop. Viva la revolución, and guilty feet have got no rhythm.

We turned off about half way between Havana and Viñales and drove up through a complex of rental houses and a hotel to a restaurant with a spectacular view. Danny told us we were looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, and that sometimes you could see the Yucatán from there. Later, as I puzzled over my map, I had no idea where we were. Fortunately my phone knew exactly where we were when I took this photo:

View from near Soroa, about half way between Havana and Viñales
View from near Soroa, about half way between Havana and Viñales

Off to the next stop: Hotel Los Jazmines. It had beautiful views, an adequate band, tourist busses, three stalls of crappy souvenirs, and a hotel lobby with really fast WiFi.

View of the Viñales Valley from Los Jazmines
View of the Viñales Valley from Los Jazmines

Next we drove through the town of Viñales to the odd Mural de la Prehistoria. Danny told us the piña coladas were great, but the whole place was too touristy. No, thanks. Time to move on.

Mural de la Prehistoria in the Viñales Valley
Mural de la Prehistoria in the Viñales Valley
Piña coladas and cigars at a tobacco farm in Viñales
Piña coladas and cigars. Mark’s trip was now complete.

Next the tobacco farm. Much to my surprise, this turned out to be our favorite stop. While we were waiting for another group to finish their part of the tour in the drying barn, Danny took us over to see the roosters. Well, the fighting cocks. Has there ever been a clearer demonstration of machismo than two cocks fighting to the death? The prize fighters had their feathers removed to toughen their skin. The owners proudly pointed out last week’s champ, which had killed his competitor. Okay, time to move on.

We got the first part of our tobacco tour, with an explanation of how the plants are grown, cut, and dried. The leaves all have different numbers based on their location on the plant. This farm prided themselves on using only organic fertilizer and no chemicals.

As we walked to the bar for part two of the tour, Danny said they would make piña coladas without powdered milk (I have no idea why everyone here seems to make them that way) . Sold! It was the best piña colada I’ve ever had. (It had better be. While most place charged 3 CUC, these guys charged 5.)

We saw the demo of how the cigars are rolled, and Mark got his free trial. I even took a puff. I hate cigarettes, but the cigar wasn’t bad. Much to my surprise, Mark bought a dozen cigars. I guess it’s silly to come to the heart of Cuban cigar land and not buy some.

Exiting La Cueva del Indio
Exiting La Cueva del Indio

Next we headed to the Cueva del Indio. I’d read about it, but it was cooler than I expected. It’s a pretty short walk down into the cave, then a boat ride through the rest. It was only about 20 minutes, but worth the 5 CUC per person.

Time for lunch. We went to a paladar specializing in local Cuban cuisine, Casa Bárbaro. For 12.50 CUC per person, you get a huge amount of food, including fruit, cabbage salad, cucumber salad, black beans and rice, more black beans, more rice, squash, sweet potato, and a drink. Even I was satisfied.

We hopped back in the cab and I promptly fell asleep again. I slept for most of the drive. We got back to the apartment after 6pm. It was a long day and in spite of how much I slept, I was exhausted.

It was the most expensive and touristy day of the trip, but totally worth it.

This is one of a series of articles about our trip to Cuba. Click here for a list of all the Cuba-related articles.

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