Viñales Valley is one of those unreal landscapes that is engraved with fire in the eyes of those privileged ones who can contemplate it. It is located in the westernmost province of Cuba, Pinar del Río, and also in the most rural.
We assure you that seeing their mogotes (hummocks) for the first time, a sense of freedom will take hold of you. And it is that these limestone karstic formations could have perfectly served as inspiration for the Avatar scenarios.
The Cuba of the Guajiros will leave you speechless. Extensive traditional tobacco and coffee plantations will beautify your sight. If we said that Cuba is trapped in time, Viñales seems to have directly returned to it. Plows of oxen and loose chickens on the main avenue are the daily life of this town.
It was our favorite place of our trip to Cuba; So with all the admiration that we have for this valley, we have created this Guide of best things to do in Viñales.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN VIÑALES in 4 days
1st day in viñales – Cueva del Indio and Cueva de los Cimarrones – BICYCLE ROUTE
Visiting Viñales by bicycle is a must.
On one hand, distances are too large to be done by walking. However, traveling by car or taxi reduces the visibility, and making it impossible for you to feel Viñales through the window.
Our recommendation is that if you really want to live the Valley of Viñales, you should know every hill. We assure you that the sights will be well worth it and that the effort is not as much as it seems. Breathing the surrounding plantations and letting the hummocks disclose their unique shapes is priceless.
In this 1 day in Viñales, that we propose, you will discover two of the most symbolic caves and you will end up refreshing yourself in the pool with the best views of the whole valley. Stay at sunset and you will enjoy a unique twilight.
TRAVELING THE 241 ROAD AMONG HUMMOCKS
The first part of this route will be done through the 241 road that goes from the center of Viñales to the Cueva del Indio. Although from the center of the city the shapes of the hummocks are appreciated in all directions, Across this road you will pass by several Mogotes that will transport you to another world.
These rock formations that we have already named are not common. These are karstic terrain elevations with rounded and isolated shapes present in some areas of the Caribbean. Although they usually have little height they are difficult to be climbed on foot. In fact Viñales is a point where numerous climbers come from all over the world in search of walls that challenge their climbing skills. That is why Viñales Valley has become the cradle of sport climbing on the island.
Each one of those is unique, with different shapes and characteristic lines. However the green and magic are the common exponent.
Cueva del Indio
Another peculiarity of the hummocks is that these formations often hosts inside cavities resulting in numerous caves.
The Cueva del Indio (Indian Cave) is undoubtedly the most visited cave in Viñales. The price of the ticket is 5 CUC.
The stalagmites and stalactites inside are amazing. But nevertheless, the biggest attraction of this cave is the San Vicente river that runs in its interior. Part of it is sailed in a small boat at the end of the visit.
When a villager discovered the cave in the 20s, different cave paintings and archaeological remains were found inside. The scientists determined that the cave served as housing for the aborigines who inhabited the island before colonization and hence this was the origin of the name.
At present, outside the cave is itself an spectacle, including Indian tepee and all the possible atmosphere to put us in right place. The visiting hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
This is the furthest point we will see on our bicycle route through Viñales. Approximately by bicycle it takes half an hour to get to it from the center. Although it is true that there are some slopes most of the route is flat, with a maximum drop of 100 meters.
Cueva de san miguel and palenque de los Cimarrones
Although the Cueva de San Miguel (Cave of San Miguel) does not have the attraction of a boat trip on the river, we assure you that it is very worthwhile.
The interior is less impressive than the Cueva del Indio and even smaller. However, at the end of the tour you will find a musical representation that talks about the history of Cuba. It is a dance of fire and drums that tells the life of the Cimarrones; the African slaves who managed to escape from the sugar mills and hid in the mountains; being Viñales an ideal place to hide due to the caves of the hummocks.
These secret societies that were formed, living in a constant danger to be captured by the ranchers and trained dogs that chased them, planted a seed of tolerance, equality and plurality that still persists in Cuban society.
The exit of the cave is at the restaurant Palenque de los Cimarrones. Palenque is called the constructions that the fugitives made to take refuge in the mountainous areas.
Here you can taste typical dishes of the slaves, whose star ingredient was rice. In addition the views of the restaurant are some of the best of this visit.
At the exit of the cave you will have to skirt a mogote to return to the access of it.
The ticket price is 5 CUC (although in this cave I think you could also pay in CUP, being much cheaper) and it opens from 9:00 to 17:30.
SUNSET AT the hotel los JAZMINES
After 20 minutes pedaling from the Cave of San Miguel we will arrive back to the center of Viñales.
If you want to relax after your bike ride and enjoy one of the best sunsets in the valley, I recommend that you do not get out of the saddle and pedal another 30 minutes to the Hotel los Jazmines. It is at the end of a slope but once again the ride and effort is definitely worth it.
In this hotel you can find a pool overlooking the valley. The price of afternoon access is 3 CUC and you can see that is a site mostly frequented by locals than tourists.
We recommend that you grab a table near the railing to enjoy the last rays of sun touching the valley.
This bicycle route seems ideal to be done on your first day in Viñales. If you only have one day to explore this locality I recommend you combine this route with some other places that we will recommend you in the following sections.
2nd day in viñales – DAWN IN THE AQUATICS – NIGHT TREKKING
If after admiring the hummocks from thir base, you feel that primary need to climb one, you have no choice. This is the adventure you need.
Of all the excursions we made in Viñales, the one we did to see the sunrise in the Aquatics will always be the one with the best memories. Wandering without knowing very well if we were on the right route; discovering that the road involves crossing a river by passing over a tree trunk; losing yourself until you almost give up and eventually arriving before the first rays of the sun appear behind the hummock. It was an unforgettable experience. Doing our way back in broad daylight with all the things that we lost in the dark, make this Trekking among the three best adventures that we have lived to date.
This trekking was also a bit of a challenge for us since nobody in the village thought we could succeed. We were told the only chance to get to this place was with daylight and with a local guide. For that reason it was even more special, since we knew deep inside that the views and experience would worth the effort. Here we will reveal the secrets of this adventure.
Our idea was to do this trekking on our own. In addition, the son of our private house, who worked as a tour guide, told us that he had never climbed the Aquatics and he did not know how to do it. You really do not need a guide to get to the Aquatics at dawn. Just before the trip:
- Download the Mapswithme application on your mobile.
- Download and save the following KML route in your dropbox:
- Open the file through dropbox from your mobile. You will get a dialog box where you have to select open with the Mapswithme application (Maps.me or Me for friends)
Once in Viñales:
- Agree with a taxi driver to pick you up from your private house at 3 a.m. and take you to the Campismo dos Hermanas. There your adventure will begin.
- Bring enough water and snacks. The tour can last all morning.
- If, like us, you want to see the sunrise from the top of a hummock, you will have to start the route completely in the dark. Do not forget to bring the flashlights or headlamps, they are essential.
GUIDED BY MAPSWITHME
I admit that I did not know about the existence of this application until a few weeks before our trip to Cuba. At first I thought it was a kind of Google Maps without the need of an internet connection.
However, the application exceeded all expectations. In addition to the roads and paths that you can find on Google Maps, Maps.me contains trails and points of interest that do not appear on Google. Among them, the trail to the Aquatics.
Another thing that surprised me is that MAPS.ME ALWAYS WAS RIGHT.
During our trekking sometimes the road seemed to fade away, or go in a different direction than the one marked by the application. Do not pay attention to anything that is not ME. Follow what the GPS landmark, even if it seems that you’re getting out of the way. We got lost several times by distrusting the application path.
At one point we were about to give up. The application marked us a direction that the river cut without letting us cross it. However, the path we arrived at continued and we thought that ME was wrong.
After being more than half an hour lost we decided to pay attention to ME and found that there was a trunk that served as a bridge to cross the river, with a wire to hold the arms. I doubt we would have seen it in broad daylight without ME’s help.
We doubt that we could arrive before dawn, so we climbed the hillock in a hurry. From the Campismo Dos Hermanas it takes about 50 minutes. However, being a night route and the time you need to get oriented, consider about 2 hours.
The trekking is 3 km one way. It is not really complicated, except for the challenge of orientation.
And by just a few moments we reached the aquatics before sunrise. The views from here are amazing, especially when the valley is orange-tinted. Spending here at least one sunrise during your stay in Viñales might be a lifetime experience for you too.
BUT WHAT IS EXACTLY THE AQUATICS?
We are told that in the 30s, the Virgin appeared to Antoñica Izquierdo, a very poor peasant, to cure the little of her children, which was seriously ill. In return the Virgin asked her to heal other sick people with the only use of water. Thus, this lady became known as “La Curandera de los Cayos”; and the set of individuals who put their faith in it, The Aquatics. This religion worships God and water and does not allow its practitioners to go to the doctor. They could only be healed using water.
Today there are only two families of Aquatics living in the mountains of Viñales. However, as we could see, they may remain true to their beliefs to stay as an important attraction for tourists.
After seeing the sunrise in the aquatics we had breakfast in the house of one of these families. We also asked all sorts of questions to get to know a little better the customs of these inhabitants who are aliens to the city life.
THE BEST VIEWS OF VIÑALES
However, there are still better views than those from the Aquatics. The path to reach them does not appear in Google Maps or Maps.me. But do not worry. The KML file that you have downloaded has the path and you can get there with the help of ME.
If you keep going up the mountain and after passing the house of the second family of aquatics you will arrive at a kind of agricultural farm from where you can see the best views of the valley.
It was a shame not to have known this place before as we would have loved to see the sunrise from here. It only took 15 more minutes from the Aquatics.
In the complete Guide to planning your trip to Cuba we mentioned that we regretted twice not taking our tent to Cuba. Undoubtedly one was here. After admiring these views we knew that it was a mistake not to enjoy the experience of waking up sorrounded by this.
A farmer who was taking care of a field of taro told us he had not seen many people out there and that if we continued walking a little more would arrive at a cave with a small inland lake. After having arrived there, were we going to go without checking it?
His indications were: “Follow the path for 10 minutes, jump the fences of animals, and when you find a palm tree turn to the right.”
It took us a long time to find the path and the palm tree (this route is also in the KML), but in the end we found it and a rock path to the entrance of the cave.
Without a doubt it was an authentic adventure. Besides, the nature in this virgin area was huge.
It seemed that we were in another world and finally we found the entrance to the cave.
We did not carry flashlights and after jumping a couple of rocks that gave access and sense the water inside, we decided that it would be better to swim in the part of the lake that is outside the cave.
There we were, a paradise that knows no maps; simply accompanied by the shrimp that inhabit that lake of icy waters, and millions of snails that did not fit in the palm of our hand, Dani and me.
THE MURAL OF THE PREHISTORY
After freshening up and down the hill at full speed we set out to redo the path we had traveled in the dark. In broad daylight distances seemed shorter. Even though the night before had been a puzzle, this time the walk was being very simple.
I remember perfectly the feeling of disbelief to see the places we had walk during the night. Have we been really here, so close to the hillock and the reservoir?! Instead of feeling that we were returning to our feet, it seemed that we were traveling a new path, especially when we found ourselves before the Mural of the Prehistory, which had previously been just another shadow of the night.
The Mural of the Prehistory is one of the largest frescoes in the world. On one of the vertical walls of the Pita hill was painted in 1959, in striking colors, some drawings represent the biological evolution of species in Cuba. Among others, the Cuban aborigines and some extinct species that once inhabited the island also appear.
Right in front of the mural is Campismo Dos Hermanas, where the taxi driver left us more than 10 hours ago. In this camping there is a way to rent directly a cabin or a tent.
Although Cuba has changed a lot in recent years, the tourism of locals and foreigners was much divided. The majority of hotels only accepted foreigners while the campsites were destined for local tourism. Therefore, and despite the fact that things are changing, most of the people here are local. So if you like to camp, it’s a great way to mingle with cuban people.
In addition the restaurant of the camping was very cheap. A plate of spaghetti cost us only 1.5 CUC.
Finca Agroecológica el Paraíso
If you want to finish the day in the best possible way, then you have to go to Finca Agroecológica el Paraíso. All the dishes of this restaurant are made with the organic products that they grow in their garden, through which you can walk.
It also has a lookout tower from where you have amazing views across the valley, ideal especially at sunset.
Also at the bottom of the tower they have a bar where they serve cocktails. Here I took the best pina colada of my life. They call it a special anti-stress cocktail and in addition to rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk is prepared with 5 medicinal herbs: peppermint, mint, holy grass, anise and basil.
After sunset we had dinner on this farm and the amount of food was huge. The price of the menu is closed: 10 CUC and 8 CUC for the vegetarian menu.
Some of the dishes included on the menu are:
- Chips of Malanga
- Tostas de Yuca with Guacamole
- Tostones with tuna
- Mixed salad
- Cooked pumpkin
- Vegetable soup
- Cooked sweet potato
- Thigh of chickens
- Veal in sauce
- Tuna with onions
- Egg Custard
We felt bad that for two people they gave us food like if we were a group. So before touching the dishes we returned half. We still very much recommend going to this restaurant. The views from the terrace are spectacular; the quality of the food was difficult to match with any other site we tried during the trip.
3rd day in viñales – Finca de Raúl Reyes and Cueva de la Vaca – the Cuba of the Guajiros
This morning’s route is recommended to get to know in depth the most of the Guajiros rural Cuba, as the peasants are called here. You can make a bike ride but the rest of the journey from the Finca de Raúl Reyes, you will need to do it by walk. One morning is enough for this activity.
Here we leave the KML:
Finca de Raúl Reyes
In Viñales there is a big business with the subject of visits to coffee and tobacco plantations, and the sale of cigars, etc. Visiting one of these plantations is something that we had to recommend in this guide of things to do in Viñales in 4 days.
Normally for these excursions are usually offered guides that take you to the plantations. However, these will take you to certain plantations where the prices of these products are more expensive and where a commission is taken when they get their customers to buy. This is very typical especially in the so-called Valle del Silencio, which we did not visit.
Raúl Reyes is the exception. This humble peasant does not ask for anything in exchange for his time explaining the life in the countryside and his work, the cultivation of tobacco and coffee.
We thought he was very kind, letting us explore his plantations and the tobacco leaves drying house; so we asked him to sell us a souvenir to take it to Spain. The prices were very good and the quality unsurpassed. We thought it was much more authentic than the plantations of which I have spoken before, where the main goal is selling to the tourist as much as possible.
To give you an idea of the prices of the Finca de Raúl Reyes, a half-liter bottle full of roasted coffee beans cost us 4 CUC. 5 normal cigars or 10 small cigars 5 CUC. Other foreigners we met told us that they paid 50 CUC for 10 cigars; 5 times more than the price we paid.
In addition, the site is very beautiful and relaxing. We ordered some lemon and sugar cane juice and mamey juice (a fruit that we did not even know existed) for 1 CUC each and we lay down in a hammock.
Once prepared we decided to ascend to a viewpoint, leaving the bicycles in the Finca de Raúl Reyes.
The road is not well marked. The indications are in the KML file attached above.
The road opens to reach a reservoir. If we continue straight we will go up a hill where we have panoramic views of the valley. By deviating to the right we will arrive at the Cueva de la Vaca, as we will tell you in the next section.
The way to the viewpoint is very simple but you have to know in advance that the existing fences are not to cut your way, but so that the animals do not escape. Do not feel bad jumping them because you are not entering anywhere where there is a restriction in the way.
Once you know this and follow the path up the hill, you will have the entire valley behind you. Do not expect a viewpoint with a sign indicating that it is a viewpoint. Simply from there the views are very beautiful.
From here start a lot of climbing points as we could see in the hooks placed on the walls of the hummock.
Cueva de la Vaca
Receding the path and walking along the way that borders the reservoir, we reach the Cueva de la Vaca (The Cow Cave).
According to our map, the cave had an exit on the other side of the hill, but we did not see a ray of light from the end of the cave. In addition, we heard a lot of bats and when we pointed with the phone flashlight, they started to fly.
After a few minutes of indecision, hesitating whether to go over it or turn around, we heard voices coming from the back of the cavern and soon after we saw lights from flashlights. The couple who came back told us that it was completely safe to cross the cave so we crossed it almost in the dark.
The truth is that the views on the other side were nothing spectacular since everything was covered with weeds and nothing interesting was seen. However it was funny going under all those placidly sleeping bats.
4rd day in viñales – OTHER THINGS TO DO
I strongly recommend that on your 4-day trip to Viñales book at least one day for the first of the activities we propose below in this section.
You can do the other things at any time during your visit to Viñales.
If you visit Viñales, it is essential to go to Cayo Jutías.
Without a doubt, it is the most beautiful, wild and natural beach we saw in Cuba.
To go from Viñales, the best option is to hire a shared taxi. To look for it, ask the Cubans who are in front of the Viazul office one day before the excursion.
It takes about an hour and a half to get to the beach since the roads are not in good condition. The price is 15 CUC per person round trip. Although it was organized and we paid the round trip, we did not return. That history and all the complete information about this beach is included in this post about Cayo Jutías.
It is probably the most extravagant Botanical Garden you will see in your life. As it is free (although they ask for a donation) and it is right in the center, we recommend the visit
I do not know if the plants we saw had anything special. Anyway, the dismembered dolls that decorated them stole all the scene.
HOUSE OF MUSIC
We also recommend that you visit the Casa de la Música de Viñales, which is held at the Polo Montañez cultural center. Although our favorite remains the Trinidad anywhere it is good to enjoy live music and a dance show.
It is open from 9pm to 1am every day and the price is 2 CUC during Friday and Saturday and 1 CUC the rest of the week.
Cueva del PALMARITO
Despite spending 4 days in Viñales we left other things we noted in our list for the next time when we return. Without a doubt one of these places is the Cueva del Palmarito. From what they told us, it has an incredible natural pool inside. Of course, to enter you will have to use a flashlight since you will be totally in the dark. The price of admission is 2 CUC.
Cueva de Santo Tomás
However, of all the caves of Viñales, the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás is the most important. Being the largest cave system in Cuba and the second largest in America.
Your visit should be done with guidance and with the use of helmet and flashlights. The price of admission is 1 CUC.
We could not visit it because they told us it was closed for restoration after a small landslide.
TRANSPORTATION TO VIÑALES
Viñales is in the other direction of the points usually visited by tourists such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. Therefore, you have to go through Havana to make a connection to Viñales. This increases the time and the price. If you are in one of these eastern cities, I recommend you use a shared taxi.
These shared taxis, even if you change your car once you go through Havana, do not enter the city; saving you a lot of time. In addition, the price ends up being cheaper than hiring two independent trips to make the stopover in Havana. To us, the complete trip Trinidad – Viñales cost us 30 CUC, being more than 6 hours of travel.
As they commented, the taxi drivers agree with another taxi drivers who has sold the trip, Viñales – Trinidad. When the cars are passing through Havana, passengers change their cars and taxi drivers can return to their homes every day.
However, prepare to suffer. Taxi drivers usually sell the service to 4 passengers, so those who go back seem squashed in. Without a doubt this trip was the most uncomfortable of my life and I arrived in Viñales with a muscle contracture. I do not know if there would have been a chance to negotiate for no more than two travelers in the back.
Back to Havana, where we would take the plane back, I did not have the body for shared taxis so we decided to take a bus from Viazul. They had talked to us pretty badly about these buses. However, they were very comfortable, punctual and fast. The price was 12 CUC.
OUR ACCOMMODATION IN VIÑALES
We do not recommend or private house in Viñales following the reason I told you in this post. However, I suggest you choose any private house in the center of Viñales that has a roof terrace. This is quite common in the town and so you can enjoy the breakfast with great seesights. Also I would suggest to take dinner at least once in your private home. Being on the countryside, the ingredients are more varied than in cities and you can enjoy good local food on your roof.
Here’s the map with all points of interest listed in this Guide of Things to Do in Viñales.