Hopping in a beautifully-distressed classic Ford, the two and half hour journey from Havana to Viñales began. Slowly the city streets faded to open roads, where distressed buildings were traded for rolling fields.
Windows rolled down, reggaeton played in the background, and a cool breeze filled the car. It was hard not to wonder what would come of the two nights booked in Viñales. The final turn brought us to a sign that said Piñar del Río’s, opening up to the famed sight of the valley. Spotted with tobacco farms and limestone monoliths jetting skyward, the postcard moment seemed surreal.
Checking into our booked casa particular, a warm welcome affirmed that we were in good hands. Our quaint room inside a brightly-colored house felt like home, somewhere that would be satisfactory for two night’s sleep. Getting a quick lay of the land, our host graciously walked us into town, pointing out the best restaurant with a picturesque view down the street.
A few strolls around town, a cold beer and connecting to the WiFi, our stomachs started to rumble, reminding us that it was time to eat. Walking to the end of town to El Campesino, where our hosts had recommended, down a short driveway posted with a sign, it opened up to a breathtaking view. Snagging one of the last tables, a beautiful presentation of food was laid out as the sun started to fall over the dreamy valley. Arriving home, our host asked if we would be interested in Cuban cigars, and of course we couldn’t pass on the opportunity — we had, after all, come to Viñales for the tobacco farms. Getting a crash-course on the wide range of cigars, it was a few hours spent around the table talking tobacco, history, and a window into the local’s life. It was the perfect way to start the journey in Viñales.
The morning came, as did the adventure of horseback riding into the valley. Picking up our horses ($25 CUC for 5 hours), our guide led us into the valley. We stopped for a view, snapped a few photos, and continued the journey into the tobacco farm we would be visiting. It was incredible to see the process of producing cigars — an intricate method rooted in longstanding traditions. The excursion continued on to caves, and then finished with a lunch overlooking the valley. With dust-covered clothes, a shower and a cold drink on the patio was timely after the day’s adventure.
With the end of the day nearing, we hopped into a taxi for an iconic view over the valley. From Hotel Los Jazmines, you have one of the most magical vistas, where you look right into the heart of Viñales. Watching the sun touch each last limestone monolith, we returned for a home-cooked meal at our casa. The onset of nighttime brought a new energy to town, and in this case, live music beckoned us into a night of dancing.
The journey to Viñales brought you into Cuba’s wonderful outdoors that felt a world away from the bustling city life of Havana. Viñales has this certain sweetness in the air that brings to life a place rooted in traditions ripe for those looking for something different.
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