Just a two hour cab ride from Havana, the plan was for two nights in the countryside of Viñales. It was so lovely that two nights turned into three—and I could have stayed longer. This is a small town (about 20,000 people) full of amazing mostly single-story homes. In contrast to Havana, the streets are clean, everything is close together and it actually sleeps.
There’s incredible walking/hiking to the tobacco farms. The limestone mountains—called mogotes or “haystacks”—are stunning. The pride of the famers in their cigar making is impressive; a long, tedious process that even this U.S. tobacco-industry hater thinks pays off in spades with a quality product.
Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, a restaurant at the end of town features an incredible view of the sunset and has one of the best farm-to-table experiences yet (although, there it’s just called ‘dinner’ and costs just $15 CUC, about the same in American Dollars).
One day was spent just enjoying town: a morning run, a pedicure in town ($5 CUCs), a stroll on bicycles provided by the casa particular and an in-room massage (arranged the same day by the casa host).
What else stands out?
- A sense of community. This is true in all of Cuba, but the level of genuine greeting and neighborly chatter seems above and beyond in Viñales. And everyone seems to know each other. Talking with the casa particular host on the patio one morning, I asked for information on a private salsa dance lesson. He yelled from to a woman crossing the street—and within an hour, we had a confirmed appointment for later that evening. So convenient—and less expensive—than booking beforehand online.
- Live music and salsa dancing. This goes hand-and-hand with the sense of community. Nightly in the central plaza, there is live music and it’s a great combination of locals and tourists ($1 CUC cover). Not much on salsa dancing? We took two private lessons in town for just $10 CUCs/person).
- So many casa particulars. A local said there were 4,000 of these in the town. Seems incredible, but believable after walking down just a few roads and seeing all the signs. All of the hosts that we talked to said that opening their homes had been a game changer in terms of finances and they all really work hard to make it a great experience.
- So safe. Again, all of Cuba feels safe—but in Viñales, there’s even more of a sense of that. Walking home after a night out feels safe, well lit and just as friendly as the noon hour.
For me, Viñales will be a ‘must’ on any return trip to Cuba. If you’re just getting started in your planning, check this out for the planning basics.
Anything to add about Viñales? Let me know!