Updated: Sep 23, 2022
There are lots of picturesque places to visit in Cuba, so you may be wondering why you should visit Viñales. First, and foremost, Viñales is one of the most beautiful places to visit in all of Cuba. It seems like no matter where you go in the area, the incredible vistas are postcard worthy. So, what is Viñales, Cuba known for? A few things, but mainly this region is known for its vast rolling acres of plush green tobacco fields and agriculture. It feels like you’ve stumbled upon the Garden of Eden, so naturally, it’s a favorite stop while traveling through Cuba. Despite its popularity, it’s not so overrun by tourists that you feel like you’re in a commercialized, culturally hollow version of the country.
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Why you should visit Viñales
Tobacco is perhaps Cuba’s finest export. A Cuban cigar is as synonymous with an elite lifestyle accessory as James Bond with that liquid mercury, Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. Sends shivers up your spine just thinking about how delectable it is. Cuban tobacco is rare, it is hard to get, and it has become such a well-known dynasty around the world that even those who don’t smoke cigars know how special it is to try one. This is the heart of where all that comes from. The people and the topography are unlike any other place on the island.
But it’s important to realize the fracture between the glossy images of those who enjoy the cigars, and those who produce them. Many of the purveyors in the region are poor and often lead back-breaking lives to keep afloat and provide for their families. They rarely have the means to leave the region for either a lack of resources or time away from their crops. And yet, they are responsible for weaving the very fiber that put Cuba on the map. This is important from a historical context.
And of course, the natural vistas. The sheer beauty of this tropical setting is unmatched; it is Mother Nature at her finest. With the expansive hillsides and lush mogotes, it is a natural wonder that exceeds any expectation of what you see on the average Google image search result. The agricultural region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and it is without a doubt worth seeing.
Where to stay in Viñales
Depending on the experience you’re looking for, this small town has a handful of highly-rated casas particulares (private guest houses) and hotels you may be interested in. Both will give you an entirely different experience. The casa particulares will give you a better sense of how the Cuban people live and how incredible their hospitality is. This is an opportunity to help the Cuban people directly, enjoy warm cultural exchanges and often times a delicious home-cooked meal as well. It’s more personal, more authentic and something you will likely never forget.
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However, if you would prefer a little more anonymity, Hotel Los Jazmines is perched atop a hillside that overlooks the Sierra de los Organos mountain range. The colonial accommodations are basic but clean and comfortable, with a beautiful pool deck that would be tough to beat in terms of the views. The breath-taking 180-degree vistas can be seen from several of the rooms that all have small verandas or Juliet balconies. The views are reason enough to stay at this hotel in Viñales.
Where to eat in Viñales
Viñales is small, so there aren’t a ton of restaurants like you’d find in places like Havana. But you’re in luck because though there are few, they are pretty highly rated. Because this area is rich in agriculture, there is no shortage of fresh produce and ingredients to choose from. Something that is a bit of a luxury in Cuba. If you have vegans or vegetarians in your group, they’re going to love eating in Viñales, where platters of fresh, ripe fruit and crisp vegetables are the norm.
Our favorite restaurant in Viñales is La Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. Just as the name suggests, it really is paradise with its wrap-around porches, lush terraced gardens and views you won’t even believe are real. The restaurant sits on an expansive organic farm overlooking the valley and is the epitome of a farm-to-table experience. This was one of the best meals we had in Cuba and an experience we’ll never forget.
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If you want another tree-top option, Balcon del Valle will make all your “Swiss Family Robinson” dreams come true. The tables are on a deck that has been built around towering trees jutting up through the floor. It is extremely unique and unlike any other restaurant in town because it feels like you’re in a treehouse. While we recommend going for one of the most magical sunsets you’ll see in Cuba, they also have a good selection of hot breakfast items. Something Americans will appreciate. For a little extra pep in your step, order a carajillo (it’s Cuban coffee with rum).
Located at the base of a towering mogote along Carretera El Moncada, Restaurante El Cuajani is a little off the beaten path but worth the quick taxi ride. The chef worked in Spain for a few years, so the cuisine is a little more elevated than what you’d typically get at a Cuban restaurant. The menu is based on what’s in season and we highly recommend you ask the warm and welcoming servers which dishes are their favorite. If you’re up for a stroll through the garden, the staff will take you on a tour to see where they source their ingredients each day.
What to do in Viñales
There are many, many beautiful places to see nearby that are off the beaten path or nearby. But let’s get real about something: you may not be comfortable just wandering into the great unknown, and that’s ok. The good news is, if you are adventurous, Cuba is a safe place to explore on your own. The other good news is, if you still want to have an experience that is authentic but a little on the safer side, there are plenty of things to do in Viñales. This region in Pinar del Rio is home to world-class rock climbing, hiking, cycling, aquatic caves and horseback riding. It’s a great location for adventure travel of all types. If you want to tour an indigenous subterranean cave that has a pretty cool boat ride at the end, we recommend the Cueva del Indio.
If you’re a foodie who’s into agritourism, the region is rich with farm-to-table experiences where you can tour the grounds. The locals are extremely knowledgeable on the processes of organic farming, irrigation systems and soil restoration. This is, after all, their livelihood. What’s surprising is how much they can achieve with so little. It really makes you wonder how much we overcomplicate things once you see the engineering geniuses that have been created with little more than spare parts and ingenuity.
And of course, the tobacco tours. Cuban cigars are easily found all over the country, but there’s something special about getting them straight from the source. Ask any of the locals where to find cigar rollers and they’ll point you in the right direction. Our experience came from asking our server during lunch. The location was so far off the beaten path, he couldn’t really tell us how to get there, so he hopped on his bike and led us to the farm. Again, Cuban hospitality at its finest. It is fascinating to watch the process of rolling cigars from start to finish, and it’s not an experience you want to miss.