A haze of sweet smoke surrounds me as I begin my journey through lush and pristine scenery in search for the perfect cigar. Eventually the smoke clears and I am back in reality but still, I find it hard to stop myself from reminiscing on Vinales. Even for the most jaded of travelers, this dreamlike destination will not disappoint. When the first tobacco producers began to cultivate this land, I doubt they understood that one day this would be a traveler’s paradise. The sweet smell of cigar fills my nose and I find myself puffing the last of my perfect cigar. My steed takes me back to the tobacco plantations passing by limestone ridges etched with caves, Cuban cowboys rolling cigars, and one stunning vista after another. It was hard to believe that I had never thought of coming here before.
Ok so if you’re an American citizen the visa can be complicated because of, yup, you guessed it! Donald Trump. If you are from basically anywhere else, then getting a Cuba Visa could not be simpler.
On your flight to Havana, Varadero etc. you will receive what is called the Tarjeta de Turista which is essentially your Cuban Visa. It is valid for 30 days, but if you’re a Canadian like me then you get 90 days!
Simply fill this card out with your immigration forms and get it stamped. Be wary that if you lose this card you will have to pay a penalty at the airport when you leave. If you run into any trouble in Cuba they also ask for this card so be sure to take care of it.
For American Citizens coming to Cuba, I encourage you to check out the excellent guide my friend Matthew from Expert Vagabond put together called How To Travel To Cuba: A Guide For Americans
Getting to Viñales, Cuba
Getting to paradise couldn’t be easier! Vinales is just a 4-hour bus from Havan or a 6-hour bus from Varadero. Cuba’s main bus line is called Viazul. In Havana, they have their very own inconveniently located office, while in cities like Trinidad and Varadero they are located in the bus station itself.
Viazul is a government-run bus line, they are comfortable modern busses, but bring a jacket as the Cubans opt for near arctic AC conditions on the bus. The Viazul bus stops right in the main square of Vinales, where you will be barraged with Casa Particular Touts.
Casa Particular – Now the Cuban government is allowing Cuban nationals to open their houses to foreigners as guest houses! These are called Casa Particulars. They are the cheapest form of accommodation you will find and often give you a very cultural Cuba Autentica experience. Casa Particulars can be easily recognized by the blue government logo in front of the house.
Check out more on Cuba transport on Uncharted Backpackers Cuba Guide.
Where to Stay in Viñales
With a plethora of hotels, Casa Particulars, and farm stays, you will have no issue finding accommodation in Vinales. None of these accommodations need to be booked ahead, except for one of Lonely Planet’s top choices. If your dead set on a Lonely Planet pick, then do try to book ahead.
For backpackers, flashpackers, and all travelers alike, just simply show up and shop around. Many of the locals whose house is a Casa Particular will wait for your arrival at the bus stop. Don’t ignore these offers as many of them have amazing houses for as low as 15 dollars a night! If the house does not suit your needs then simply decline and move onto the next Casa Particular.
Arriving into Vinales I was met by a local named Ariel. Ariel happened to be a famous singer known by many all over Cuba. His mother cooks incredible food, and his house is located just outside of town surrounded by tobacco fields. He also can arrange any activities you need, and serenade you before one of his big shows! If you would like to stay with him just mention his name to anyone in Vinales and they’ll call him!
Searching for the Perfect Cuban Cigar
I’ll be honest with you, I am a Cuban Cigar Aficionado. Ever since I first tried one I have loved smoking Cigars, especially Cigars from Cuba. Since Vinales is the most famous Cigar Tobacco growing region of the world, I was in heaven.
Now just because the cigar is made in Vinales doesn’t mean it’s the best Cigar! Being in Vinales on your own with an ample amount of time you can walk or Horse Ride to many different Cigar plantations to test out the quality of their craft.
Do not fret if you’re not a Cigar expert or not even wanting to sample this delicacy as just seeing how the top cigars of the world are created is an incredible experience not to miss.
Those who would like to delve deeper into the hazy sweet passion of Cuban Cigars then check out the Cuban Cigar Handbook. It’s an excellent read on the history and types of Cigars.
Vinales Farm Cigars
In the Vinales region, there are dozens of Tobacco growing farms you can visit to try out their brand. The farm cigars tend to be organic and have a lot less nicotine. This means you can inhale them a lot easier. The farmers tend to smoke the cigars the same way Che did, by dipping them in honey before you puff away.
A visit to a farm is essential before you head to the government factories, this way you can appreciate the hard labor that goes into developing the product. Not to mention the farms are situated in some of Cuba’s most jaw-dropping scenery. The farmers often sell unbranded Cigars ranging anywhere from 2-6 USD per cigar.
Cigar Factories in Cuba
After you see the product grown and harvested it’s important to visit the government-run factories to see the product turned into the highest quality cigars in the world. The factories tend to resemble a sweatshop from the 50’s with all the rolling and cigar making still done mostly by hand.
After a tour of the factory, you are usually lead to a Cigar shop where you can pay government prices for the cigars. If you want a guarantee that you receive the most authentic cigar than do pay for this. If you think you have the cigar knowledge under your belt, then try to get some of the workers to sell you cigars after hours, or head back to the farms in Vinales.
Horseback Riding in Viñales
This is the main draw for most when coming to Vinales. The chance to slowly drift past impossibly green tobacco fields, remote Cuban villages and stark limestone cliffs on horseback as the locals have done for centuries. Most of the Vinales residents will point you in the right direction when it comes to finding the “right” Vinales horse tour, but to be honest, whether you go official or not, the Vinales cowboys all tend to do a similar route. This route is breathtaking however!
Valle Del Silencio
One of the more common routes (Not a bad thing!), is the path to the Valle Del Silencio. This route you will pass by plenty of tobacco plantations where you can sample cigars. You will also stop by a coffee and rum plantation, where you guessed it, you can sample more of these local products.
After a few Mojitos, your faithful horse and guide will take you to visit some interesting caves, and you’ll feel like a real adventurer as your horse and you plow down a jungle infested river before you reach the Valle Del Silencio. The valley really is stunning, and as the name puts it “silent”.
Here you can go swimming in the small lakes, sip Mojitos at the valley bar, or take in the hiking trail to a beautiful viewpoint.
For me just simply riding with a Cuban straw hat and Cigar was the highlight. Vinales scenery was just a juicy bonus!
Parque Nacional Viñales
Spreading across Vinales, this limestone peaked national park is home to 25,000 Cubans who live a traditional way of life farming sugarcane, coffee, tobacco, and fruits. This area is quite possibly the most gorgeous landscape in Cuba. Here you can hike, horseback ride, and visit many of the sites on a scooter.
Hiking in Viñales National Park
Horseback riding is fun, but for me, hiking was more exciting. There are plenty of guides around to help you around, but if you’re adventurous then just use Maps.me and create your own hiking trail like I did! The famous Coco Solo and Palmarito Mogotes Hikes were easy enough to navigate on your own. Locals will say a guide is mandatory, but nobody told me to turn around at any point! So go for it.
Coco Solo and Palmarito Mogotes
If you have done the horseback riding you might want to skip part of this hike as the whole loop is around 10km. If you want you can follow my trail which I will show on my Maps.me below.
The trail starts with a pleasant walk through small villages north of Vinales Town. You’ll pass by tobacco plantations that tourists rarely venture to. If the farmers are there, and you have a grasp on Spanish you can drop in and try out some Cigars. The farmers here are a lot more authentic you can say as they farm for work and do not provide tours.
From here you enter Parque Nacional Viñales and hike high up to a cave called Cueva de la Vaca that connects the North and South Valleys. Dropping down into Palmarito you can either turn right and head back to Vinales or continue left up a red soil road to the mural de la Prehistoria for another 5km.
Scooter Riding in Viñales
Horseback riding was fun in Parque Nacional Viñales. And the hiking was rewarding. Riding scooter here and exploring areas that very few tourists make it to, was the highlight of Parque Nacional Viñales for me. Here are a few sights that I visited while driving my scooter through this amazing landscape.
Cueva de San Miguel
The cave itself does not stand out amongst the plethora of caves riddled into these limestone mountains, but instead the fact that Cueva de San Miguel has been turned into a Cuban nightclub/bar! Drop by here in the early afternoon for a quick beer, or come at night when the live Cuban salsa and rumba shakes the cave walls!
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas
About 45 minute scooter ride west of Vinales along a pothole filled road is the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. This is one of the largest caves in the world and the second largest in the Americas! 46km of Cave on eight levels have been discovered, however, only 1km of the cave is opened to visitors on a 90 minute guided tour.
You can see cave frogs, bats, massive stalagmites, and forge your way through pools of water. It’s a great experience and well worth the trip out here!
Mural de la Prehistoria
Making it on the Atlas Obscura, this odd mural of colorful dinosaurs on the side of Mogote Pita is 120m long. Painted by Leovigildo Gonazales Morillo, this bizarre mural is well worth the look considering the amount of time, and danger that the artist went through constructing it.
It’s hard to miss, as you head west to Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas you will see the prehistoric dinosaur signs. Getting within a few kilometers of it you will see the grandeur of this strange mountain.
This was by far my favorite place to visit on a scooter. Heading east from Vinales the road takes you through the Limestone Mountains. Set your Maps.me at the Ancon turn off a few kilometers after the Cueva de San Miguel.
After turning off into the Valle Ancon road you climb high above the mountains to reveal stupendous views of the coffee valleys down below. Arriving the Ancon town feels like you’ve made it to an apocalyptic scene. The town is filled with large, abandoned government schools, and offices.
Locals will approach you and offer to take you to the viewpoints in Valle Ancon. I highly recommend paying the little they ask for as the trails here are unmarked. Exploring the valley you can see some of the most remote areas of Vinales area. Coffee is still grown in these regions, and many of the farmers will be delighted for you to try their brew.
Vinales Useful Information
Locations: Vinales, Cuba
Recommended Guide: Lonely Planet Cuba
Top Tips: Reserve your scooter as early as possible, the entire town of Vinales only has about 15 scooters and they book up fast!
Cuba Guide: Uncharted Backpacker Cuba