Traveling in Cuba was a unique adventure that we finally got to experience in 2016, after years of the country being closed to tourism. We spent 3 weeks exploring Cuba, but of all the destinations we visited on that trip, Viñales was definitely one of the highlights.
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Located just 2.5 hours west of Havana, Vinales is a perfect spot for a day trip from Havana and an ideal destination to spend a couple days exploring the area.
And since most of the activities in Viñales take place outdoors, it’s a great destination for an eco-conscious traveler looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Havana.
Best Time to Visit Viñales, Cuba
In Cuba, the dry season is between December and May. Weather-wise, this is the best time to visit Viñales as you’ll avoid the heavy rains. However, it is the main tourist season so you’ll see the most crowds during this time.
The rainy season lasts from June to November and at the end of the season, there is an increased risk of hurricanes. If you don’t mind trading possible rain for fewer tourists, visit between June and early August. Late August to October sees the greatest risk of hurricanes, so avoid visiting Viñales Cuba during these months.
Top Things to do in Viñales Cuba
Go Horseback Riding
Horseback riding is one of the most popular activities to do in Viñales and no visit would be complete without it, as it allows you to explore the region beyond the main town. Horseback riding in Viñanes was a big highlight of our time in the valley!
Horseback riding is ideal for this area because the muddy fields can make for some hard walking, but horses have no trouble with it. Best of all, it’s a fun way to get a fresh perspective on Viñales.
Once you meet your local guide, you’ll saddle up to start your ride, traversing red dirt roads beside rows and rows of tobacco plants. Along the way, you’ll pass farmhouses and secaderos, the houses where the tobacco is dried.
You may even get a chance to stop at the lake for a swim if the weather is good. Most importantly, you’ll have ample time to take in the peaceful scenery while on horseback.
We booked our horseback tour directly with our Casa Particular hosts, but if you are planning to visit Vinales during the high season, we recommend that you book ahead.
Visit a Tobacco Plantation and Smoke Cigars
Cigars are Cuba’s most famous export and whether you’re a smoker or not, a visit to a tobacco plantation and cigar factory is an interesting peek into the country’s history and culture. Your guide will show you around the plantation, explaining the tobacco plant cultivation and harvesting process and answering any questions you might have.
Next, you’ll see the inside of a secadero and see how the cigars are rolled. Try one of them for yourself, or get a box to bring home.
One fantastic thing about the plantations is that many of them are eco-farms. Besides tobacco, a good portion of them harvest organic produce and use strong sustainability practices.
If your horseback riding tour doesn’t include a visit to a tobacco plantation, make sure to plan a separate one yourself!
Prebook your Tobacco Plantation tour here.
Visit the Underground Caves of Viñales
There is a dizzying network of underground caves waiting to be explored in Vinales, Cuba. The most famous one, La Cueva del Indio, is flooded with water, so you have to take a boat trip through the subterranean tunnels to reach it
If you want to visit a more remote cave, try La Cueva de Palmarito. You’ll need to hike or ride a horse for nearly 10kms (6 miles) to reach it, but you’ll be rewarded with an awesome place to swim (and you’ll likely have it all to yourself!)
If you’re a true fan of the caves, don’t miss Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás. Although it’s the largest cave system in the entire Caribbean, most of its 45 km of underground tunnels are not open to the public. Still, it is worth a visit for a couple of kilometres. Just make sure to hire a guide, as it is required in order to enter.
If you like to hike, there are plenty of opportunities to do so in the Viñales Valley. The mogote hills are what gave the region UNESCO protection open to visitors.
The most popular hike is the ascent to Los Aquáticos, an eco-village perched on top of a mountain that can only be reached on foot or on horseback. For a truly unforgettable experience, trek to Los Aquáticos at sunrise.
Much of the Viñales Valley National Park is uncharted as far as trails go, so make sure you are prepared and able to navigate yourself once you enter the jungle. If you’re uncomfortable with this, consider going on a guided hike.
See the Mural de Prehistoria
The most famous landmark in the Viñales Valley is the Mural de Prehistoria, a giant painting on the face of a limestone wall. Artist Leovigildo González Morillo designed the concept, inspired by the paintings of Diego Rivera. The mural depicts scenes from the theory of evolution and is a visually beautiful attraction worth checking out during your time in Vinales
Pack a little picnic and enjoy the views while relaxing on the grassy knoll with the locals.
Where to Stay in the Viñales Valley
Hotels in Viñales, Cuba
While there are only a few hotels in Viñales, Cuba, there are some simple and comfortable options. Try the Hotel La Ermita for a lovely option with a standout swimming pool.
Casa Particular, Viñales
What Viñales lacks in hotels, it certainly makes up for in guesthouses, or Casas Particulares. These most certainly offer the best options for Viñales accommodations.
The atmosphere in these Casas Particulares is unrivalled. The locals are cheerful and friendly, ready to welcome you into their homes and feed you some of the best food you’ll find in Cuba. They’ll be the perfect place to relax after a day exploring the Viñales Valley.
There are over 300 Casas Particulares in the valley, leaving you no shortage of choices. Today, the majority of them can be booked on Airbnb.
Although many travelers, especially those traveling outside of the high season, rely on word of mouth and end up at Casas recommended by locals upon arrival in Vinales. That’s exactly what we did and although this strategy can be a bit of a hit or a miss, we enjoyed going with the flow and not really knowing where we will end up every night.
If want a piece of mind, prebook your Casas on AirBnB. Sign up here to get up to $35 off on your first booking!
Where to Eat and Drink in Viñales
Balcón del Valle
If you’re feeling adventurous, head to this local Cuban restaurant with no menu. At Balcón del Valle, simply choose fish, chicken, or pork and wait to be surprised!
Perhaps the most unique restaurant in Viñales Cuba, Tres Jotas serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For a true taste of Cuba, try the pig roast or the prawns fresh from the river.
Diner at Casa Particulares Viñales
As tasty as any restaurant may be, a home cooked meal made just for you by your Cuban hosts will be quite hard to beat. Meals might include vegetable soup, grilled fish, cassava root, rice, and beans. Keep your eyes peeled for fresh tropical fruits as well such as pineapple, mango, and papaya – they’re delicious!
The meals we had in our Casa Particular were always much better than anything we grabbed in local restaurants. Not only were they cheaper and tastier, but they also provided additional income to our host family. We are all about supporting the local hosts, so for us, it was a no brainer to eat at Casa Particulares daily.
How Much Time Do You Need in Viñales?
While some people only visit Viñales Cuba as a day trip from Havana, staying in the valley a little longer is great if you want to spend extra time exploring and getting to know the area.
We would highly recommend staying at least one or two nights in the Viñales Valley. There’s no shortage of fun activities in the area and staying only for one day would mean you’d miss a lot of them. In addition, staying in a Casa Particular in Viñales is half the fun.
You don’t want to miss the experience of making friends with your local hosts, trying some homemade meals, and relaxing on a porch or rooftop with fresh tropical fruit juice in your hand.
Have you visited Vinales while in Cuba? What other activities or tips would you recommend to other travelers planning a trip here ?
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