Vinales is where you go to see the real Cuba. This part of the country isn’t putting on a show for tourists — it’s authentic and pure. Locals rock back and forth in rocking chairs on their patios, farmers till their crops with ox and cart, and tobacco leaves are grown and dried on the farms here.
All of this happens at the base of towering limestone mogotes, which jut out of the ground, dominating the little wooden homes below. Give yourself a minimum of three days to explore this unique area. (To see our video and story of our time spent in Vinales, click here.)
Where to Stay
Practically every home in this little town rents out a room to tourists. It’s possible to arrive and wander around looking for a casa yourself, or to accept the offer of one of the families pushing business cards in your face when you step off of the bus. However, we suggest booking your room ahead of time to avoid the hassle. Check out HostelsClub.com for rooms in Vinales.
Casa Boris y Mileidi is a good option. It’s run by a friendly couple, whose son speaks some English. The dinners and breakfasts here are very good, the home is very clean and they are knowledgeable about the area. Rooms start at $10 a person, which is a very good deal.
Where to Eat
Eating meals at your casa particular is always the best choice. You’ll receive a table full of food, with one main protein (seafood or chicken) and many side dishes, including rice, beans, cooked vegetables, salad, plantain and a drink. This is the best way to try authentic, home-cooked meals in Cuba. The food at Casa Boris y Mileidi was very good. Outside of the casas, we recommend El Olivo Restaurant. The owner is Cuban, but lived in Italy for many years. The pastas are delicious and range from $4-$6.
Top Sights and Activities
Everything in Vinales could be considered a must-see! It’s such a picturesque area. Don’t miss these top sights: Santo Tomas Cave Located a little over 9 miles west of the town of Vinales, this is the biggest cave in Cuba, and the second largest in the area of the American continent. There are almost 29 miles of galleries on 8 levels! You must enter here with a guide and you’ll be given a headlamp and helmet.
Los Islenos Farm is a great place to go and learn about the production of tobacco. Yasel is one of the family members here and he speaks excellent English. We stumbled upon this farm when just wandering through the Valle de Silencio, ask around and you’ll find it.
This is a tiny key located 40 miles northwest of Vinales. It’s actually attached to the mainland by a causeway, making it easy to get there. The sand is pure white, the water is clear and calm and the twisted mangroves are an added bonus. There’s a restaurant, bathroom, bar and a dive shop here. You can go on a dive, go snorkeling or rent kayaks and pedal boats.
Rent a Motorbike
There’s no better way to explore this valley than by renting a scooter! Many of the sights that you’ll want to see are surrounding the actual town of Vinales, and this is the best way to see them. Take the bike anywhere and everywhere! Vinales is the perfect place to find your own private spot and enjoy the views.
The farmland in the valley is the best place to go hiking. There are paths meandering through the base of the limestone peaks and through local farms. Venturing through these areas isn’t a problem, and in fact, many locals will come out of their homes to speak with you and offer you some fresh juice and probably a cigar. It’s polite to give them some small change or a small gift. Everyone you meet in this area will wave at you as you pass, give you a big smile and help with directions if need be.
As the sun makes its descent behind the towering mongotes, people gather at various lookout points to snap the perfect picture and enjoy the setting with a beer and a cigar. If you have your own mode of transport, it’s easy to find the perfect, serene spot all to yourself.
Costs and Budget
• Meals at your casa will cost between $7 and $10 and I can almost guarantee you that you won’t be able to finish all of the food on the table. Make sure to ask your casa in the morning, or even the night before, that you would like to have supper there.
• Meals at a restaurant cost between $4 and $10 and most are of good value in Vinales.
• Accommodation is around $10 a person.
• Renting a scooter costs $25 a day.
• A horseback riding tour is $25 for a 4-hour trip.
• Visiting the Santo Tomas Cave is $10 a person (including guide and gear).
If you only visit one place in Cuba, make it Vinales! This little town and surrounding valley is a highlight of any trip to Cuba. For more information on Cuba, check out our Ultimate Guide to Independent Travel in Cuba.
By Nick and Dariece, Travel Pulse
September 14, 2015