The title says it all. When we woke up the next day in the casa particular and went up on the roof where our breakfast was served, the Vinãles landscape hit us like a meteor. Staring at the mountains, the clouds of turkey vultures and the fog unfolding over the tobacco plantations, gave us this strange feeling as if we were waiting for a dinosaur to appear from afar.
Speaking of meteorite, we found out (in a bit we’ll tell you how it happened) that 65 million years ago when a meteorite hit the earth causing the dinosaurs disappearance and burying most of the lands, Viñales region kept some of the prehistoric geological formations. Fantastic, isn’t it?!
That Viñales is an iconic traditional tobacco area and a UNESCO World Heritage site you willl learn once you google it. Though what makes Viñales really really authentic are the dome-like outcrops, known as mogotes up to 300 m high. Few other places in the world have these limestone karsts, like China, Vietnam or Slovenia.
Highlights of our stay in Viñales
The town doesn’t say much, it is quite touristic in fact, so we tried to stay away from the centre as much as possible.
Nevertheless, the rural surroundings are promising. Here is what you could do if you stayed 3-4 days in Viñales:
Horse riding through tobacco plantations
Our first time riding a horse, so you can imagine the excitement. More thrilled was I (Diana) when I met my horse, similar to Pippi’s horse (remember?). Yes, and he was a cute and well-behaved little fellow.
We recommend the tour, because you can get a true taste of the farm life. You will learn a great deal about how the tobacco is made. Our local guide, a farmer and convinced Fidelista (as he proudly called himself) told us about the process: they plant the seeds in October, after one month and half they move the plants to a large space with 20-25 cm in between each other. After 3-4 months the leaves grow up to 1,5 m high. Then come other 3-4 months of drying the leaves, the moment when our guide nostalgically commented: “the time to dry the tobacco is the saddest moment for farmers, because 90% of it goes to the state.”. As one may imagine, people in the region live mostly from agriculture, earning about 15CUC (=15€) a month.
We’ve also learned how coffee comes to life, how to roast it, the type of seeds…Afterwards, we tasted it at the nearby bar’s terrace overlooking the plantations fields while listening to a live folk Cuban band.
To book the tour ,head to the local tourism information office in the city centre.
Critical thinking lesson in the municipal library
As we were walking in the suburbs of Viñales, we stumbled upon the local library. A teacher was passionately giving, what it looked like, an extra curricular lesson on astronomy. The audience were two kids of no more than 11-12 years old. Children asked, teacher replied. Teacher questioned, kids wondered. As they saw us standing up for the past 10 minutes, fascinated by the lesson and the moment itself, a school representative invited us to seat. We were standing in front of one of the most passionate and interesting teachers we’ve met in our lives.
As a post-cuban travel note: where we usually felt most comfortable during our journey in Cuba was in schools and libraries. The teachers always welcomed us without expecting anything in return.
The turquoise beach in Cayo Jutias
Seeing the mix of blues, greens, and whites of the Carribean water for the first time (Diana) was overwhelming.
Many tourists flock to both Cayo Jutias and Cayo Levisa, but we only managed to go to Cayo Jutias, which luckily was not as touristic as expected, at least for December.
Getting there: The experience of travelling one hour and a half in a noisy Lada with loud reggaeton is also quite something. The best way to get to Cayo Jutias is by taxi colectivo that you can take from the city centre. The driver will wait for you by the beach for as long as you wish to stay. Make sure you negotiate in advance. (If you’re a good negotiator, not like us, you could get a deal of 15 CUC per person).
Go to Miradouro Casa Verde and swim in the Jasmin hotel pool overlooking the Viñales Valley
With stunning views of the Viñales Valleys, this miradouro was our escape of the city buzz, our quiet intimate time with the nature. We rested our eyes for one hour before going to the nearby Jasmin hotel pool to do literally nothing for another hour. Sightseeing at its best!
Visit to the Botanic Garden
A very green experience in a serene and hidden place. In this heavenly garden we learned about the hundreds of plant, fruit, and tree species you can come across in Cuba. We also got to taste for the first time a holy mamey juice. 🙂
Mojito at Finca Raúl Reyes
We came here at the recommendation of a fellow travel couple we meet at the beach. They said that at his farm, Raúl serves the best mojitos. And so he did. The place, a tobacco plantation, is idyllic and it stays about 1 km north of the city centre. Besides, here you will have the chance to meet one of the region’s mascot – Jutia, which they also happen to eat…:(