Updated: Sep 23, 2022
A soft thrumming floats on the warm breeze. It’s hard to tell what it is at first, especially because you hear it before you see it. But when you do, your capacity for real life magic expands. Thousands of tiny dragonflies hover in the shade, zooming in and out of the shadows on an otherwise lazy afternoon. They are just some of the inhabitants that make this place so surreal. This is La Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, set amongst the emerald hillsides of Viñales.
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How to get to La Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso
Not more than 10 minutes east from the center of Viñales, Calle Salvador Cisnero will take you through the small city center and finally uphill towards La Finca. The roads are very well marked and have signs that sprout up every few yards, making it easy to find. Don’t forget, hot spots aren’t a thing here so using your navigation app isn’t going to work. But the roads are so well designated, you don’t really even need a map. The main drag through Viñales is lined with casa particulares, and I would recommend finding one and spending at least two days or so. There are plenty of outdoor activities like some of the world’s most sought after rock climbing, cycling, horseback riding, hiking to waterfalls and more. It’s definitely worth staying a few days.
The agroturismo in Viñales
The organic farm, and its attached restaurant Casa de Confianza, sit atop a hillside overlooking a valley of lush tobacco fields and plateaus called mogotes. If you’ve just come from the screaming streets of Havana, you’ll appreciate the vast difference in pace and scenery. This region is one in which tourists search high and low for, its atmosphere untouched and uncrowded. By the time most people have heard of a secret location, it has been spoiled. This is not the case for La Finca. This is the Cuba you see in your dreams.
The farm is dotted with rows of raised planters, mingling with the natural vegetation that comes with the landscape. This is the best version of farm to table you can find anywhere. There is no set menu at the restaurant, just a number of family-style courses that nobody knows when will end. The dishes depend on the ingredients, not the degrees or classic training behind the chefs. Like most things in Cuba, simplicity is key, and the dishes created are a reflection of the people and often have very little influence from the outside world.
The family who owns the place, runs the restaurant and serves their guests as if they happened to be over for dinner. You can forget about white tablecloths and polished glasses. None of the place settings match, and that gives this place all the more personality. Guests sit at long wooden tables adorned with antiques and worn chairs.
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What to eat at Casa de Confianza
The first course is caldosa, a hearty Cuban stew that’s undoubtedly been simmering for hours. Then, they bring out solitary items like sliced tomatoes, hand-shredded cabbage, peppers, squash, green beans, flexing their vegan muscles. The produce is the best version of itself that I’ve had anywhere in the world. Dense chunks of yuca con ajo, you may know it as the starchy cassava root with garlic, are served alongside crisp cucumbers and bowls of world-famous black beans and over white rice.
Then they bring the meat. It’s slow roasted to fall from the bone. Slabs of pork, one simmered in fragrant broth and the other roasted over an open fire, and chunks of juicy, braised chicken come out on different platters. Cubans have been roasting whole pigs in the ground or over open pits for hundreds of years. It’s one of the most traditional meals they’re known for. Sometimes, the pigs are stuffed with pungent vegetables like onions and garlic or even citrus fruits to infuse flavors into the flesh and then they’re slowly rotated, rotisserie style so the flames lick the skin. The fire crisps the exterior skin and seals in the moisture and smoky flavor of the interior meat, creating a pseudo shell. It’s an all-day operation that requires many patient people taking turns to rotate the pig until finished. Once the skin darkens and begins to crack, you know you’re almost ready to eat. This roasting process cooks the meat slowly and helps maintain the moisture.
Wash it all down with organic, hand-squeezed tropical juices they use to make refreshing cocktails and you’ve got yourself a meal you won’t soon forget. You’ll spend a couple hours here, soaking it all in, taking your time to enjoy Mother Nature and all she has provided for this meal and the lovely people who are serving their guests. Good food, good company and an even better view adds to the relaxed atmosphere. This is truly what lazy lunches are all about.
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A note on Cuban cuisine
Is it more humble than what most culinary adventurers expect when searching for the perfect foodie destination? Maybe. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not entirely deserving of the praise. Cuba gets a bad rap for cuisine, and that’s pretty understandable given the French Laundry’s and La Bernadine’s of the world. But once you recognize their limitation to resources, you start to see how clever the Cuban people really are. In most restaurants around the world, running out of an ingredient is a minor, yet frustrating inconvenience. But when your supplier is also out of the ingredient, it becomes a greater challenge. Shortages are something Cubans live with every day, but that is also what makes the ingenuity of the people far more interesting.
As travelers, maybe we need to redefine our expectations for the sake of authenticity. La Finca’s produce is the epitome of freshness, and despite what some may consider a rudimentary irrigation system, flourishes with very little oversight from a more sophisticated operation. Here, Mother Nature knows best, and they let her do her job. They also let the bounty be the star of the show. You won’t find any sous vide, or anything topped with foam, just pure, unadulterated ingredients, the way God intended them to be.