Viñales Valley is one of those unreal landscapes that is engraved with fire in the eyes of those privileged ones who get to contemplate it. It is located in the westernmost and also most rural province of Cuba, Pinar del Río.
We assure you that when you see mogotes (hummocks) for the first time, a sense of freedom will take hold of you. And 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 flood your sight. If we said that Cuba is trapped in time, Viñales seems to have directly returned to it. Plows of oxen and free-ranging chickens on the main avenue are the daily life of this town.
It was our favorite place of this trip to Cuba, and 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 long 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 reveal their unique shapes are priceless.
In this one-day route in Viñales that we propose, you will discover two of the most symbolic caves and end up refreshing in the pool with some of the best views of the entire valley. Stay at sunset and enjoy a unique twilight.
TRAVELING THE 241 ROAD AMONG HUMMOCKS
The first part of this route will be done through highway 241 that goes from the center of Viñales to the Cueva del Indio. From the center of the city, the shapes of the hummocks are appreciated in all directions. Along this road you will pass by several Mogotes that will transport you to another world.
These rock formations are not common, they are karstic terrain elevations with rounded and isolated shapes present in some areas of the Caribbean. While they usually are not that high, they are difficult to be climbed on foot. In fact, Viñales is a place 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 mogote is unique, with different shapes and characteristic lines. Green and magical are the common exponent.
Cueva del Indio
Another peculiarity of the hummocks is that these formations are often hollow inside, 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. Nevertheless, the biggest attraction of this cave is the San Vicente river that runs through within. At the end of your visit in the cave, you will cross part of the river in a small boat.
When a villager discovered the cave in the 20s, different cave paintings and archaeological remains were found inside. Scientists determined that the cave served as housing for the aborigines who inhabited the island before colonization and hence the origin of its name.
Just outside the cave is in itself a spectacle, with sights such as Indian tepees and an atmosphere that 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. It takes approximately half an hour to get here by bicycle. While there are some slopes along the way, most of the route is flat with a maximum elevation change 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 and smaller than the Cueva del Indio. However, at the end of the tour you will find a musical performance that talks about the history of Cuba. It is a fire and drum dance that tells you the life of the Cimarrones, African slaves who managed to escape from the sugar mills and hid in the mountains. Being that there are many caves in the hummocks, Viñales was an ideal place to hide.
These secret societies that formed lived in constant danger of being captured by ranchers who even trained dogs to chase them. With such, they planted seeds of tolerance, equality and plurality that still persists in Cuban society.
At the exit of the cave is a restaurant named Palenque de los Cimarrones. Palenque are 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 at the restaurant are some of the best on this visit.
At the exit of the cave you will have to skirt round a mogote to return to the entrance.
The ticket price is 5 CUC (although in this cave I think you could also pay in CUP which is much cheaper) and it opens from 9:00 to 17:30.
SUNSET AT the hotel los JAZMINES
After 20 minutes of pedaling from the Cave of San Miguel, we arrive back at 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 Los Jazmines Hotel. It is at the end of an incline, but once again it is definitely worth it to put in the ride and effort.
At this hotel you can find a pool overlooking the valley. The price for afternoon access is 3 CUC and you will see that it is a site mostly frequented by locals rather 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 is ideal to do on your first day in Viñales. If you only have one day to explore this area, I recommend you to combine this route with some other places that we will recommend in the following sections.
2nd day in viñales – DAWN IN THE AQUATICS – NIGHT TREKKING
If you feel that primal need to climb the hummocks after admiring them from their base, then you have no choice. This is the adventure you need.
Of all the excursions we did in Viñales, the one where we have the best memories will always be seeing the sunrise in the Aquatics. Wandering and without knowing 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. Making 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 would succeed. We were told the only chance to get to this place was during 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 be worth the effort. Here, we will reveal the secrets of this adventure.
Our idea was to do this trekking on our own. The son of our private house, who worked as a tour guide, told us that he had never climbed the Aquatics nor did he know how to do it. You really do not need a guide to get to the Aquatics at dawn. Now, do the following 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 you are in Viñales:
- Arrange with a taxi driver to pick you up from your private house at 3 a.m. and take you to the Campismo dos Hermanas. Your adventure will begin there.
- Bring enough water and snacks. The tour can last all morning.
- If you are like us and 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 a 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 trek, the road seemed to fade away at times or go in a different direction than the one marked on the application. Do not pay attention to anything that is not on ME. Follow the GPS landmark, even if it seems that you’re getting off track. We got lost several times by not trusting the application path.
We were about to give up at one point. The application sent us a direction where a river cut through without letting us cross it. However, the path we arrived at continued and we thought that ME was wrong.
After being lost for more than half an hour, 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 hang on to. I doubt we would have seen it in broad daylight without ME’s help.
We doubted that we could arrive before dawn, so we climbed the hummock in a hurry. From Campismo Dos Hermanas, it takes about 50 minutes. However, since you will be starting in the dark and need time 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 tinted orange. Spending at least one sunrise here during your stay in Viñales might be a lifetime experience for you too.
BUT WHAT IS EXACTLY THE AQUATICS?
We were told that in the 30s, the Virgin appeared to Antoñica Izquierdo, a very poor peasant, to cure her children who were seriously ill. In return, the Virgin asked her to heal other sick people using only 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 at the aquatics, we had breakfast at the home of one of these families. We also asked all sorts of questions to get to know a little better about the customs of these inhabitants who are so removed from city life.
THE BEST VIEWS OF VIÑALES
Nonetheless 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, after passing the house of the second Aquatics family you will arrive at a kind of agricultural farm where you can see the best views of the valley from there.
It was a shame not to have known about this place sooner, as we would have loved to see the sunrise from here. It only took 15 more minutes to get here from the Aquatics.
In the complete Guide to planning your trip to Cuba, we mentioned that we regretted not taking our tent to Cuba, twice. Undoubtedly, one of them was here. After being able to admire the views from here, we knew it was a mistake to not be able to enjoy the experience of getting up to these views.
A farmer who was taking care of a taro field told us he had not seen many people out there and that if we continued walking a little more, we would arrive at a cave with a small inland lake. After we got there, how could go without checking it out?
His directions were: “Follow the path for 10 minutes, jump the animal fences, 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, along with a rock path to the entrance of the cave.
Without a doubt it was an authentic adventure, the nature in this virgin area was huge. It seemed that we were in another world when we finally found the entrance to the cave.
We did not carry flashlights, and after jumping through a couple of rocks that gave us access and a sense of the water inside, we decided it would be better to swim in the part of the lake that is outside the cave.
Here we were in a paradise unbeknownst to maps, accompanied by shrimps that inhabit this lake of icy waters, millions of snails that did not fit in the palm of our hand, and Dani and me.
THE MURAL OF THE PREHISTORY
After freshening up, we set out to redo the path we had traveled in the dark. The distances seemed shorter in broad daylight. Even though the night before was a puzzle, this time, the walk was quite simple.
I perfectly remember the feeling of disbelief to see the places that we had already walk through during the night. Were we really just here, so close to the hillock and the reservoir?! Instead of feeling that we retraced our steps, it seemed that we were traveling a new path, especially when we find ourselves before the Mural of 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. One of the vertical walls of the Pita hill was painted in 1959, in striking colors and drawings that represent the biological evolution of species in Cuba. Among others, the Cuban aborigines and some extinct species that once inhabited the island also appear on the mural.
Right in front of the mural is Campismo Dos Hermanas, where the taxi driver left us more than 10 hours ago. In this camping area there is a way to rent a cabin or a tent directly.
Although Cuba has changed a lot in recent years, tourism for locals and foreigners remain much divided. The majority of hotels only accepted foreigners while the campsites were designated for local tourism. Therefore, most of the people here are locals even though things are changing. If you like to camp, it’s a great way to mingle with Cuban people.
In addition, the restaurant at the campsite was very cheap. We paid only 1.5 CUC for a spaghetti dish.
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 organic ingredients that they grow in their garden, where you can also walk through.
It also has a lookout tower where you can see amazing views across the valley, especially at sunset.
Cocktails are served at the bottom of the tower. I had the best pina colada of my life here, and they call it a special anti-stress cocktail. In addition to rum, pineapple juice, and coconut milk, it is prepared with 5 medicinal herbs: peppermint, mint, holy grass, anise and basil.
After sunset, we had dinner on this farm and the portions were huge. The price of the menu is fixed: 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
- Chicken thighs
- Veal in sauce
- Tuna with onions
- Egg Custard
We felt bad that they gave us food as we if we were a group even though there’s only two of us. So, we returned half of the dishes before even touching them. 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 sites we tried during the trip.
3rd day in viñales – Finca de Raúl Reyes and Cueva de la Vaca – the Cuba of the Guajiros
We recommend this route to get to know in depth the most rural of Cuba, that of the Guajiros, as the peasants are called here. You can ride your bike here but for the rest of the journey from Finca de Raúl Reyes, you will need to do it on foot. One morning is enough for this activity.
Here we leave the KML:
Finca de Raúl Reyes
In Viñales there is a big business in coffee and tobacco plantation visits 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 for 4 days.
Normally, these excursions are offered by guides that take you to the plantations. However, they will take you to certain plantations where prices of these products are more expensive and the guides get a commission when their customers buy something. This is very typical, especially in the so-called Valle del Silencio, which we did not visit.
Raúl Reyes is an exception. This humble farmer does not ask for anything in exchange for his time explaining life in the countryside and his work in cultivating tobacco and coffee.
We thought he was very kind to let us explore his plantations and see 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 at unsurpassed quality. We thought it was much more authentic than the other plantations, where the main goal is sell as much as possible to tourists.
To give you an idea of the prices at the Finca de Raúl Reyes, we paid 4 CUC for a half-liter bottle full of roasted coffee beans. 5 normal cigars or 10 small cigars for 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 as well as mamey juice (a fruit that we did not even know existed) for 1 CUC each while we laid down in a hammock.
Once ready, we decided to ascend to a viewpoint, leaving our bicycles at the Finca de Raúl Reyes.
The road is not well marked. The indications are in the KML file attached above.
The road branches off which takes you to a reservoir. If we continued straight, we would go up a hill that ends in panoramic views of the valley. By diverting to the right, we arrived 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 stop you, but so that the animals do not escape. Do not feel bad jumping over them because you are not entering anywhere that is restricted.
Following the path up the hill, you will have the entire valley behind you. Do not expect a viewpoint sign indicating that it is a viewpoint. From there, the views are very beautiful.
From here you will see the start of a lot of climbing routes as we could see in the bolts placed on the walls of the hummock.
Cueva de la Vaca
Walking along the reservoir back at the path, we reached 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 at the end of the cave. In addition, we heard a lot of bats who started to fly when we pointed around with a phone flashlight.
After a few minutes of indecision, hesitating whether to go through it or turn around, we heard voices coming from the back of the cavern and soon after we saw flashlights. A couple who came back told us that it was completely safe to cross the cave so we did it and almost in the dark.
The views on the other side were nothing spectacular since everything was covered with weeds and nothing interesting was seen. Nonetheless, 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 one, 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 pre-arranged and we paid for a round trip, we did not use the return portion. The history and all the complete information about this beach are included in this post about Cayo Jutías.
It is probably the most extravagant Botanical Garden you will see in your life. we recommend the visit as it is free (although they ask for a donation) and is located right in the center of town.
I do not know if the plants we saw had anything special. Regardless, the dismembered dolls that decorated the plants stole 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 to be the one in Trinidad, anywhere 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
Even after spending 4 days in Viñales, we left other things and places noted in our list for next time when we return. Without a doubt, one of these places is the Cueva del Palmarito. From what we were told, it has an incredible natural pool inside. To enter you will have to use a flashlight since you will be completely in the dark. The price of admission is 2 CUC.
Cueva de Santo Tomás
However, of all the caves in Viñales, the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás is the most important. It is 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 frequented by tourists such as Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. Therefore, you have to go through Havana to make a connection to Viñales which takes up more time and costs more. If you are in one of these eastern cities, I recommend that you use a shared taxi.
These shared taxis, even if you change your car once you go through Havana, do not enter the city, which saves you a lot of time. In addition, the cost ends up being cheaper than hiring two independent trips to make the stopover in Havana. We paid 30CUC for the complete trip between Trinidad – Viñales that lasted more than 6 hours.
As they commented, the taxi drivers arrange with the taxi driver who sells the trip between Viñales – Trinidad. When the cars pass 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 will be squashed in. Without a doubt, this was the most uncomfortable trip of my life and I arrived in Viñales with a muscle contraction. 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 get on the plane to return, I did not have it in me for another shared taxi ride, so we decided to take a bus from Viazul. They had talked pretty badly about these buses to us. However, they were very comfortable, punctual, and fast. The price was 12 CUC.
OUR ACCOMMODATION IN VIÑALES
We do not recommend our private house in Viñales for the reason I told you in this post.
They tricked us and tried to sell us bottled water from the tap. I understand that it was a particular case and that in most of the houses, the owners worry about the comfort and health of their guests, but in any case, I recommend buying the best insurance to travel to Cuba or even one-way travel insurance, if you’re going to be traveling for a long time.
However, I suggest that you consider any private houses in the center of Viñales that has a roof terrace. This is quite common in town and you can enjoy breakfast with great views. Also, I would suggest to eat at least one dinner at your private home. Being that it is 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.