The mountains are beautiful, the farmers grow the best tobacco, and tourists come every day by the busload.
Cuba was once covered by limestone ("karst"). Much of this limestone has eroded away, leaving mountains with steep sides and rounded, jungly tops. The mountains are called mogotes, which means "haystacks." Many mogotes have caves. Several caves are developed for tourists to visit.
The red farmland and unique microclimate produce the best cigars in the world. Some tobacco farms are set up for tourist tours.
Flora and fauna
Start at a tourist office or your hotel or casa particular. Point out something in the guidebook you'd like to see or do, and offer to pay someone to take you there. Or offer to pay for a Spanish lesson or a salsa lesson. Hire a local guide for a few hours and you'll make a friend, and he or she will introduce you to his or her family, and they'll invite you to do more stuff, and you won't be bored the rest of your visit.
But be aware of what's illegal to pay for. You can't pay someone to drive you somewhere, unless it's a licensed taxi. You can't pay for lodging, unless it's a licensed casa particulares (bed&breakfast).
By busViazul runs buses twice a day between Havana (12 CUC) via Pinar del Rio.
There’s an early morning bus to Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Buses arrive and leave opposite of the ticket office near the central town square.
Viazul ticket officeaddress: Salvador Cisneros, 63 AOpen daily. They will book your bus to Havana, and can organize transfers in smaller coaches to Soroa, Las Terrazas and other locations.
By shared taxiYou will likely be offered a collectivo already at the Havana bus station. They run to Viñales for 20 CUC per person.
Transport back can also be found by taxi touts near the Viazul ticket office. One typically inquires at least a day before the intended departure to make a taxi reservation. The driver will then pick you up at your casa. It is easiest to find a transport for morning departures.
Collectivos also run to other destinations such as Cienfuegos (40 CUC) Trinidad (40 CUC or more) if there is sufficient demand. Beware that taxi drivers will sometimes claim to have transport to Trinidad or Cienfuegos, but in fact require a change of vehicle in Havana, which may involve re-negotiating the price for the remaining trip.
Shared taxis for Pinar del RioThese run relatively frequently and depart on demand once the car is full.
Fees and permits
ViñalesThe town is easily walkable on foot. Most amenities such as banks and restaurants cluster on the main street (Salvador Cisneros) and accommodation is found everywhere off this street, esp Calle Rafael Trejo which runs on south parallel to the main street essentially only consists of casas particulares.
There is a green minibus that takes tourists around the valley. For 5 CUC you can ride all day, with stops at the tourist hotels, in the village, at the caves and other sights.
Many sights are in the proximity of the city and not more than 4km away. As such it’s possible to walk, also riding on a bike or a horse may be less strenous esp. considering the often very hot weather. Other sights such as the Santo Tomás cave are further away and out of walking distance.
To get there hire a cab, rent a bike or join an organized tour.
Calle Salvador CisnerosThe main street was named after Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, who was a leader in the war of independence (1868-1878) and later was President of Cuba from 1895 to 1897. Today it’s more and more covered with all sorts of restaurants that cater to tourists.
Casa de la CulturaIn the central plaza, the Casa de la Cultura puts on events every day (or night), including music, fashion shows, and children's events.
The Central plazaAlso on the central plaza is an art gallery and the church. On Saturday mornings there's a farmer's market at the plaza.
Museo MunicipalThe small museo municipal, former home of independence heroine Adela Azcuy.
Parque Nacional Vinales visitor centreThe park covers 150 km² and the visitor centre located close to the hotel Los Jazmines offers information, hiking and guides. (2 km from Vinales). The visitor centre does not have a lot to see, some wall charts with walking routes and a small model of the valley. It is the view that is stunning and from here you can organise your excursions into the valley.
Mural de la PrehistoriaPerhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba. In 1961 Fidel Castro visited the beautiful valley of the two sisters (Valley de Dos Hermanas) 3 km west of Viñales. He commissioned a cliff to be painted with snails, dinosaurs, and a family of cavepersons, in garish colors! There's a restaurant, bar, and gift shop. To be fair, reputedly, the food in the restaurant is excellent and the live music is good. Also there's horseback riding. So consider visiting the mural and doing something other than looking at the mural. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to see the painted mountain cliff, its visible from the road already.
El Palenque de los CimarronesTiny museum as you walk through a smaller cave (Cueva de San Miguel) showing how slaves hid out in centuries past. Restaurant at back with slave show, mostly for bus tours. Cave is best known for its disco at the weekends where all the locals go to hang out. Food also served. (4km from Vinales)
FarmsThere are dozens of tobacco and coffee farms that love to explain the manufacturing process and sell their goods:
Tobacco Farm Casa del VegueroTo learn about tobacco farming, visit this tourist oriented tobacco farm and drying shed. Food also served.
Your casa can very likely organize all these activities for you. It’s probably also possible to do so from the visitor information center.
Beware that if you book through an agent, a commission fee is part of the price, e.g. of an hour horse-riding (5 CUC) only 3 CUC go to the guide and 2 CUC is the commission that your casa makes.
Horseback ridingExplore the valley riding on the back of a horse. No experience is necessary. The paths can be quite rough, but the horses are very capable (the locals call them "semi-automatic") Depending on the amount of time you would like to spend there are several routes that your guide can choose. You will likely explore some of the sights in the area about 2-4 km around Viñales or visit the tobacco-farm. Put on sunscreen in advance, wear long jeans, and bring plenty of water (although on longer trips you will stop at primitive cafes with amazing views).
CyclingThis is another good way to see the valley up close. As it is a valley, it can be a bit hilly and the paths are mainly unpaved tracks, that aren’t fun to ride with anything but a decent mountain bike. Nevertheless, exploring by bike is a great way to explore the valley and Viñales is one of the best places to cycle in Cuba. Bikes can be organized through your casa or rented at various locations in town. Quality of the bikes varies quite drastically, so check your bike before starting and probably shop around a bit, especially if you’re planning to rent for more than one day. See the #Hiking section for some ideas where to go. Cycling tours can also be booked at the travel agents in town.Bike rental locations in town:
- from a desk located in front of the restaurant, Casa Don Tomas
- sometimes on the main plaza
Bike repairAlso rents a few bikes for 6 CUC per day.
BirdwatchingThere's a bird-watching trail starting at the El Ranchón restaurant near the Cuevas del Indio. You can also take guided tours. Ask at the information office near the central plaza.
Tobacco Farm ToursLearn how tobacco is produced. Such tours are often included in horse-riding packages.
- Day trip to Cayo Jutias: 22 CUC for transfer, entrance fee to beach and lunch available with travel agents. Departs 9AM Cayo Jutias is about 60km from Vinales
Day trip to Cayo Levisa: Transfer by coach and boat to Cayo Levisa, 29 CUC to include lunch and 35 CUC for hot lunch. Departs at 8:30AM to take boat at 10AM from Palma Rubia. Cayo Levisa is about 50 km from Vinales
Swimming pools at the hotelsAll three hotels (Los Jazmines, La Ermita and El Rancho) have swimming pools.
Cave swimmingSeveral caves have pools inside. E.g. the Cueva de la Piscina or the Cueva de Palmarito. See #Cave Exploring for details.
Lakes & RiversA nearby lake allows for some swimming. There’s no good shade though if you plan to spend the day there. Horse-riding tours often stop here to let the customers cool down in the lake. There’s also river bathing in Los Resvalosos and La Jagua.
Rock climbingThe focus of rock climbing in Cuba is the Valle de Viñales in the western, mountainous province of Pinar del Río. Overhanging limestone faces on 300-m (1,000-foot) freestanding crags called “mogotes” rise above traditional thatch-roofed Cuban houses, red-soiled farms, and verdant palms and pines. The climbing is superlative, cranking jugs and pockets in chiseled karst limestone on improbable lines through stunning overhangs of stalactites and tufa columns.
Motorbike rentalYou can rent a motorbike (a scooter) for about 20 CUC per day and ride it either to Cayo Jutias or to Cayo Levisa. The road is magnificent and you may even enjoy it more than the beaches. You will need your passport and driving license in order to rent a scooter. There's no need for a motorbike license.
Cueva del IndioAn easy to visit cave well-developed for tourists, featuring a boat ride through the cave. Nearby is a restaurant, gift shop, etc.
Swim in the Cueva de la PiscinaThe cave is only accessible through a trail. It's at the edge of walking distance from Viñales and most visitors come here by bike or horse. You’ll be walked in by a guide until you reach a pool after about 200 m. It’s about 30-m long, you can go swimming inside and the cool water will be a welcome refresh from the hot air outside. The depth of the water varies and there’s rocks reaching up every now and then. The guide has a small light, otherwise the cave is completely dark.
Gran Caverna de Santo TomásThis is the biggest cave in Cuba. Basic tours are two hours and you must hire a guide. Helmets and headlamps are provided, although you might want to bring a more powerful flashlight, if you have one. Also you're required to wear shoes, which is a problem for female Cubans, who seem to own nothing but sandals. The cave is spectacular, especially where the roof has collapsed and you walk into a green jungle paradise sunk into a mountaintop. The cave has 45 km of galleries on eight levels. Also, the town of El Moncada was another of Fidel's ideas, and the streets are laid out to form a C, U, B, and A.
- A great place to use as a home base for caving and exploring the area is the National School of Speleology in El Moncada. The School is located at one of the main entrances to the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. For a low price, you can rent a room or bed, have meals, and guide service. The School is rustic, but for real explorers the location can't be beat. For more information contact Eduardo, the School manager, by phone at 681274.
HikingExploring the area on foot is possible since many sights are within walking distance. Don’t expect to actually hike up to the mogote peaks. There are no paths and allegedly doing so would even be forbidden since it’s a national park area.
The national park building (near the Hotel Los Jazmines) has maps and exhibits showing fourteen excursions.
The main hike everyone does circles around the
Mogote de Valle. From Viñales follow the Calle Adela Azcuy north-west.
Walk through the Cueva de la VacaThe cave is not exciting at all, but it's great that you can pass through the mountain and continue your hike on the other side.. Make a brief stop for shade at the
Ancient large treeIt has some religious history.. Next you’ll continue a bit through the Valle de la Guasasa, can take a refreshing swim in the Cueva de la Piscina and continue further through the valley. it's worth taking a brief detour to the
MiradorIt has a great view on the valleys and offers refreshing fruit juices starting from 3 CUC., before heading into the Valle de Dos Hermanas where you’ll get a glimpse at the awfully painted hill Mural de la Prehistoria.
Passing the Campismo, the now paved road returns to Viñales. Since it’s not that exciting, its worth taking a cab or bus or hitchhiking these last 4km.
You may be able to hire a hiking guides at the Museo Municipal Adela Azcuy (Calle Salvador Cisneros #115) and you can also hire horses for this trip.
Convenience storeThis is the only convenience store or supermarket in town, but it’s rarely fully stocked. Esp. goods like large water bottles run out quickly and you’ll be forced to pay inflated prices for the small bottles here or at restaurants. Larger supermarkets can be found in Pinal del Rio.
Bakeryaddress: Azcuy streetHere you can sometimes buy bread. The small rolls are only given to Cubans with the libreta. Larger bread is sometimes available for foreigners as well.
Fruit carsHere you can buy a cheap and fresh bananas, papaya (fruta bomba) or pineapple (piña).
BanksCash money can sometimes be a scarce resource in Viñales, so it's best to be prepared.
BanksBoth banks next to each other. One has an ATM that’s out of order most of the time. Both allow cash withdrawels with credit card, both banks often have long queues of foreigners.
CadecaCurrency exchange office. Can also do cash withdrawals, but their credit card terminal often breaks. Expect about 30 minutes of queuing time.
If necessary, more banks & ATMs can be found in Pinar del Rio.
BudgetIf you’re travelling on a shoestring there’s some self-catering options. (see the buy section). There are also some cafeterias selling simple sandwhiches or pizza places. Most close before the evening.
There is a bakery that sells sweet bread or cake for pesos at the junction of Adela Azcuy (north) and the main road. Around the same area but again on the main road you can find pizza and sandwich shops (great for breakfast because they also have coffee) all selling for national pesos. But remember that in Viñales peso-venders quickly run out of ingredients so go there early and be fast when there is already a crowd.
RestaurantsIn contrast to most other cities in Cuba, Viñales has a great selection of restaurants, with a variety of food. Almost all restaurants can be found on the main street. Prices don't vary very much. A typical meal with a drink will set you back 8-12 CUC.
La BerengenaLabels itself a vegetarian restaurant despite also serving some meat dishes. The vegetarian food is delicious and fancy though. This seems to have the same menu as the El Romero in Las Terrazas. Lots of space for outside seating is available.
El OlivoThis restaurant serves very delicious dishes on small plates. It's quite famous and visible so it's wise to make a reservation esp. if you want to sit outside.
Balcone del valleThis calm restaurant is named quite correctly as balcony of the valley. You’re literally seating on a wooden balcony constructed over the hill incline. It offers a spectacular view over the valley and is a great place to watch the sunset. They only serve a set multi-course menu of creolean but nonetheless very good and tasty food.
Casa de Don TomásThis state-run restaurant is located in an old building. In the evening there may be live music. If you fancy to sit on the balcony, you’ll likely need to reserve ahead of time. The house dish is a paella (10 CUC). The other dishes are neither very special nor tasty and plates are small.
Patio Central Cultural Polo Montañezaddress: Calle Salvador CisnerosDuring the day a restaurant and snack bar serve food and drinks. At night salsa bands play here. Polo Montañez was a singer world-famous in Cuba.
Patio del Decimistaaddress: Calle Salvador CisnerosA few blocks down from the plaza, a.k.a. the yellow bar. They also have live salsa music.
El Palenque de Los CimarronesThe nearby Cueva de Viñales (Cave of Viñales) has a discotheque built into it. You just can't beat a discotheque in a cave (there's another one in Trinidad). Saturday night there's a cabaret espectáculo followed by dancing. Saturday night they host the hottest nightlife in the province — the place is packed, almost all Cubans.
bar in natureBar that you can reach by horse or by foot. Has great 360 degree view of the nature.
HotelsViñales has three tourist hotels: Hotel Las Jazmines, Hotel La Ermita, and Rancho Horizontes San Vicente. Each is rated three stars. Expect to pay about 50-70 CUC per night, plus meals. The hotels are each located a few kilometers outside of town, which is not conducive to nightlife (Rancho Horizontes San Vicente is within walking distance of El Palenque).
Hotel Los Jazminesphone: +53 8 79 62 05This hotel has one of the best views you'll ever see. In 1960, Fidel said, "Great view! Build a hotel here." It was one of his good ideas. The rooms are nice. The pool is big and clean. Breakfasts are good. Suppers were institutional in 2007 but in 2008 the food improved.
Hotel La Ermitaphone: +53 8 79 60 71Also has an incredible view, especially at sunset.
Rancho Horizontes San Vicentephone: +53 8 79 62 01
The typical default price is 25 CUC per night for a double room (sometimes for up to 4 people), but even in high season it is fairly easy to bargain this to 15 CUC. Breakfast is normally 4 CUC per person, dinner 10 CUC, but it is worth not to eat in the casa every day, since Viñales has a variety of fairly good restaurants.
If you’re coming by bus beware of the tout-crowd that will expect the incoming visitors. There will be 20-50 touts or house owners offering their casas. This can be troubling. The easiest way to get through this is to say you already have a reservation at (any spanish sounding first name will do here)’s house. However, since these people are competing hard and have available rooms, this is also a good place to catch a cheap room. Inspect it first before agreeing on anything though.
If you want a true Cuban experience, stay in Los Jazmines 3-4 km west of town. Los Jazmines is Viñales' hidden gem. In the countryside tucked away there are virtually no tourists, casas with everything they serve being 100% organic and from their own gardens, quiet and the person to person interaction. The city center of Viñales is becoming more and more crowded with the rise of tourism. The town is reasonably small so you’ll never have to walk much more than 15 minutes anyway. There’s a hill to the east of the town and some houses have rooftops with great views.
Few casas have swimming pools, however note that in the dry season, these are typically not in use due to the water scarcity.
Since this can’t be avoided, here’s a list of casas particulares in Vinales:
phone: +53 48 69 5478address: Calle Séptima, No. 22The house is very nice and welcoming, with all amenities. It has 2 double and triple rooms, spacious, bright, good ventilation, air conditioning and private bathroom in each. The house has a large porch, lounge, kitchen, a terrace exquisitely decorated shack that serves delicious meals and a garage to park your car. Cuban friends are welcome and are offered all kinds of services for tourists forget everything and relax. Ideal for tourists looking for quiet and rest.
phone: +53 48 69 5395address: Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 17Magnificent home with all amenities, offers 3 bedrooms, double, triple and quadruple, with air conditioning and private bathrooms. It has a terrace with mountain views, porch, 2 dining rooms and parking. The best Creole food served here Viñales. Ideal for large groups.
phone: +534 8 79 32 61address: Calle Salvador Cisnero, No. 20Wonderful hosts (best mojitos anywhere), great homecooking, a five-minute walk from the town square and bus station.
phone: +53 48 695460address: Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 26It offers one comfortable and clean room with all modern facilities. The room is equipped with an air conditioner, private bathroom and private entrance. It’s possible have breakfast, dinner and salsa lesson with professional teacher.
It is possible to stay in a private house with his Cuban friend. The only requirement is that the Cuban passenger take your documentation to be recorded with his friend tourists.
Papaya Porch (Casa Felicia)In a quiet little hamlet a few kilometers from the centre of Viñales in Los Jazmines. Felicia, José Luis and Nancy are wonderful hosts who enjoy sharing their culture with guests. Here you will be able to enjoy delicious home cooked Cuban meals made with organic ingredients, many of which are grown in their own backyard. At breakfast you will try fruits picked fresh from the property: papaya, plantains, mangoes, limes, guava, mandarines, mamey, oranges and chirimoya. If you arrive at the right time, you might even be lucky enough to try the honey José Luis himself collects from the nearby honeycombs.
Villa Jesusphone: +53 048 68 45 38address: Calle 1 ra Salvador CisnerosVery quiet place view amazing view of the nature. Jesus has a garden with bananas, mango, avocado, etc. Simple room with air conditioning.
Campismo Dos Hermanosphone: +53 8 79 32 23Campismos were built by the government for Cubans to go on vacations. This is not an actual campsite and it's not clear that they'll take non-Cuban guests. This campismo has 54 basic cabins, a restaurant and a big swimming pool, although the water is remarkably green.
- Make a brief stop in Pinar del Rio, Soroa or Las Terrazas before going back to Havana
- Cayo Levisa: The boat dock is about 1 hour's drive away from Vinales, from there its a half-hour boat ride to the island. The island features stunning white sand beaches and there are diving facilities available.
- Cayo Jutías is the closest beach to Viñales, 60 km on mountain roads. You can book a roundtrip to the beach from Viñales for 15 CUC at the major local travel agencies (such as Infotur). There are two roadsbefore you leave Viñales ask which road is better. In 2008 the road via Minas de Matahambre was good, and the road via the Baños de San Vicente was bad.
- To escape the mass tourism head south to the small cuban fishing village Puerto Esperanza and relax at the coast.
There is a commons category 'Viñales Valley'