After spending two weeks traveling the magnificent island of Cuba I can 100 percent without a doubt say that my favorite destination was Viñales.
The tiny village set in the Viñales Valley is a unsuspecting candidate when paired up against larger Cuban destinations such as Habana or Cienfuegos (my second favorite in Cuba) but is surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island that are impossible to beat.
If you are planning a trip to the island here are the must-see sites in Viñales.
Horizontes Los Jazmines Lookout
Set next to the Hotizontes Los Jazmines hotel is a breathtaking lookout over the valley. One of the best views of the Viñales Valley that makes for the perfect photo op.
If you’re staying in a casa particular yet wanting to go for a swim the Horizontes Los Jazmines hotel is also said to let tourists use their pool for a small fee.
Mural de la Prehistoria
The Mural de la Prehistoria was designed in 1961 and took four years to complete. The images represent the theory of evolution.
Now in front of the gigantic mural is a small restaurant and a gift shop. Worth a quick stop to see the psychedelic piece.
Riding horses through the tobacco fields
My absolute favorite activity (as well as many other visitors to Cuba) is riding horses through the tobacco fields. We had our host at our casa particular invite a guide come to our casa to lead us just down the road to the tobacco farm.
Here there were barns filled with hanging tobacco leaves. One of the men explained the incredibly long process of producing cigars. During this explanation we of course were able to smoke a cigar which he had us dip in locally grown honey.
We watched an older man with a uniquely weathered face roll the cigars. Then, of course, we purchased a few packs for ourselves which I now have stowed away in my new humidified cigar box for moments of celebration.
From here we met back with our original guide who gave us horses to ride for the next few hours. My beauty was named Mojito.
Our next stop was at small outdoor restaurant-like atmosphere where we learned about the process of creating rum. We got to taste test a rum called Guayabita del pinar which only has 10,000 bottles produced every year. If heaven were an alcohol, Guayabita del pinar would be it. It tastes as if you’re drinking honey only much more enjoyable and not quite as sticky!
Of course we bought one each. Only two can be sold per person due to their limited quantities. We also purchased a water-bottle full of natural honey produced right there in the Viñales Valley.
We mounted back onto our horses and rode out to lunch. A restaurant far out on the trail reached only by horseback (for travelers anyway). The open-air restaurant filled us with chicken that I would often offer bits of to the needy cat begging at my feet. Of course I accompanied my lunch with mojitos inspired by my horse.
This stop also had a nearby lake that visitors can swim in, so wear a swim suit under your clothing and bring a towel in your backpack if you plan to jump in! Perfect for a hot day of horseback riding after sipping on mojitos.
From here we rode a little further into the valley to one of the mogotes. Inside we were given a tour of the odd shapes with the cave including a rock shaped like Fidel Castro. The tour was given in Spanish but luckily the couple who arrived at the same time offered to translate for us as they were from Spain and also spoke English.
The cave was our last stop on our tour. After departing we rode our horses back through the tobacco fields to the road leading us to our casa particular.
Cueva del Indio
One of the other draws to the Viñales Valley is the boat ride through one of the many caves inside the mogotes. The inside is breathtaking and it is an incredible feeling to emerge by boat out into the Cuban jungle.
Do be prepared, the line can get excruciatingly long and winds its way inside the hot and humid cave. Be sure to keep a bottle of water on you!
Though I did not participate in this one personally, I was lucky enough to befriend a group of both local and traveling rock climbers while in Viñales. They informed me that the Viñales Valley has the best rock climbing in Cuba as the valley is covered in mogotes. For any rock climbers visiting the island this should be their number one activity.
Palenque de los Cimarrones
Have you ever wanted to eat at a restaurant inside a cave? Then you have found your destination. Grab a drink inside the cave then head inside to find the hideouts of the slaves on the island (Yes, Cubans did enslave people just as the Americans did) many years ago.
You emerge from the cave to one of the most breathtaking sights you will likely witness on your trip. That is, after getting past the performing man sticking fire down his pants to the sound of drums. A beautiful outdoor bar and restaurant is set between multiple mogotes and looks utterly magical.
You have the option to ride a horse and carriage back to the parking lot or walk. We opted for the horse and carriage, though I would not pick it again (and refused the rest of the trip) as the horse did not look like he was enjoying himself and I worried for his health.
Once a year for a week a carnival takes over Viñales. I was lucky enough to be there for it (March 23rd-25th). The streets are filled with food vendors, people selling trinkets, and endless inexpensive beers and cocktails.
The city is vibrant and everyone dances their worries away to the live music in the middle of the street. Always check to see if you can schedule your trip during events such as this, it gives an entirely different experience!
Have you visited Viñales? What was your favorite part of the village?