An Essential Guide to Viñales, Cuba
¡Bienvenidos a Viñales, Cuba! Both a town and valley in the province of Pilar del Río, Viñales is known for its karst formations and jungle landscape. Mere hours from the bustling capital of Havana, it really feels like you’ve entered a completely new destination! If you’re planning to include it in your Cuba itinerary, here’s all you’ll want to know.
After starting my trip in Havana, my Cuban Adventures tour took us to Viñales for two days to enjoy the cooler air and greener views. Still at the beginning of our trip, we were eager to fit quite a lot in those two days from cave trekking to salsa dancing.
Looking back as much as I enjoyed everywhere we visited in Cuba, I really loved Viñales. Consider it added to my, “Places I’d disappear to write my novel” list!
Disclosure: My tour with Cuban Adventures was gifted. However, I paid for everything else out of pocket and all opinions are my own. They kindly gave me a discount code should you want to book a tour as well; just use SAM01 to get 5% off.
Quick Cuba Travel Tips
- For Americans: Yes, we can visit Cuba! Here’s a breakdown of what you should be aware of if you do.
- Getting in: Chances are you’re arriving at Jose Martí. You can grab a taxi from the airport; though my tour had pre-booked us one to make it easier.
- Stay in Touch: Order a tourism SIM card ahead of time on the ETECSA website. You can also buy wifi cards in person once you arrive, but they only work in certain areas and for an hour at a time.
- Where to Book Activities: When it comes to booking activities, most sites surprisingly don’t have anything listed. Cuban Adventures has different day tour options in Havana, but otherwise I’d talk to your guide or casa owner for recommendations.
- Getting Around: Walking! Every city and town we visited, we just walked. Bring comfortables shoes – I had my Hokas with insoles and Birkenstocks.
Why Visit Viñales
If there’s one thing that my trip to Cuba taught me, it’s that for such a small country, the landscape can change frequently in only a few hours. Viñales is worth the visit for anyone hoping for some more karst mountains, mogotes, and lush valleys. It actually reminds me a lot of Phong Nha and Ninh Binh in Vietnam.
For those looking for those quick reasons to come, here’s the bullet list to show your friends:
- lush mountain landscapes
- traditional cigar farms (and other agriculture)
- opportunity for trekking/hiking
- plenty of caves to visit and explore
- cooler weather especially at night
- colorful, one-story buildings (vernacular architecture)
What to Do in Viñales, Cuba
Stop by the lookout at Hotel los Jazmines
For one of the best views of the Valle de Viñales, stop by Hotel los Jazmines, a pretty pink hotel that I think is actually okay for Americans to stay at (it’s not on the banned list).
Next to the hotel is a lookout area and you get some of the best views in the whole area. Just be careful of those black statues – they’re not statues! Seriously, they’re so good, we all thought they were until they jumped up and scared Millette.
Hike to a cave in Viñales National Park
This was something we all signed up for accidentally and while it was quite a muddy experience, I’m glad we wound up experiencing a Viñales cave. Basically what we did was link up with a guide who took us into the park from the main part of town. We hiked up and through this cave before descending on the other side and then trekking to a cigar farm. Unfortunately for us, it rained the morning of our trek, everything was pretty muddy, and I was basically crawling down to make sure I didn’t break anything.
Our guide’s name was Yuda, and I highly recommend her! She’s one of two female park guides, and she was lovely and helpful the whole time.
Visit a cigar farm
Like I said, we visited a cigar farm after our muddy cave trek. I’d say unless you’re seriously battling a nicotine addiction and want to avoid tobacco altogether, you should try to visit one of these farms. Cigars are a huge part of Cuban history and economy, so it’s interesting to see how they’re made and meet with farmers who make them (ours was named Raul).
NOTE: For any Americans, this is your time to buy cigars! Currently, we cannot buy government-owned brands, but we’re allowed to buy artisan cigars directly from farmers as this falls under “Supporting Cuban People.” This is what Yummet told us, and what I said to the border agent in Miami, and he seemed fine with that explanation.
Take a salsa class
After our first night out where none of us knew how to salsa but badly wanted to dance, we all decided to spend an hour of our afternoon the next day learning. Yummet set us up with Mamachua, who teaches in the square with the church. She was such a fun teacher, and we had way too much fun learning some basic moves and trying to keep up.
Stroll along Calle Salvador Cisneros
Viñales is a pretty small and quiet town, so if you want to walk around, you’ll mainly see colorful, one-story casas. All the main businesses are located along Calle Salvador Cisneros and it’s the liveliest area in town. When we first arrived, we just spent an hour wandering around while Yummet told us more about Viñales and pointed out different landmarks. (Fun fact: there’s a Masonic Lodge here).
Check out the outdoor market
Also near Salvador Cisneros is a little outdoor market. I’m not sure what their operating hours are exactly, but this is a fun place to do some souvenir shopping.
Go dancing at Jardín Arte Sano
The place that inspired our desire to learn how to salsa! We came here our first night, and had way too much fun. No matter the space or the crowd, Cuban bands are lively. Jardín Arte Sano is sort of down an alley on the side of a restaurant and almost has an island vibe decor. The dance floor is small and right at the front near the bar while there are a bunch of tables to sit around. It took us a little while to get up the courage to dance, but we had so much fun once we did. We also realized quickly we should learn some basic salsa steps.
Spend the evening at Finca Agroecológica El Paraíso
If there’s one place you should visit in Viñales, it’s Finca Agroecológica El Paraíso (or Paradise Ranch). Every blog post about Cuba probably recommends coming here and the popularity is well deserved. The story behind the ranch is interesting on its own. Its founder, Rachel, came here with her father to build a farm. Through many years of trial and error and many people thinking them crazy, Rachel managed to turn Paraiso into the first organic farm in Cuba. (I found this video which goes into the story more).
Before dinner, we came to help out on the farm for a bit before trying their famous anti-stress cocktails and sitting down for the most delicious meal I had in the entire trip. While eating, Rachel came by to chat with us and had so many funny stories to tell. I think the absolute funniest was that she was invited to the White House back in the day but last minute Obama had to meet with the Chinese president so canceled their meeting. She paid him back when he later came to Cuba and said she was too busy to host him.
Where to Eat in Viñales, Cuba
Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso
We ate so well in Cuba, but this meal at Paraíso had to be the best by far. The above is just a few of the dishes we had, and everything was so full of flavor, my mouth was literally watering. It’s the kind of food you just let sit in on your tongue for a second to just fully taste it.
La Casa del Mojito
We found the very charming La Casa de Mojito totally by accident! As we were starting our trek into the park, the rain began coming down pretty hard. The owner beckoned us in so we could wait for the worst of it to pass before we continued on. He was so nice, we decided to pop back in for lunch after we finished. It turned out to be an excellent call because the menu, which offered only a few dishes, was tasty and he even had free Wi-Fi! Definitely get the lamb if you come.
3J Bar Tapas
Curious to learn more about mojitos, we stopped by 3J Bar Tapas for a little lesson and demonstration! I had a non-alcoholic one that was delicious, and we hung out on the porch enjoying them. While we went to another restaurant for dinner just so we could try different places out; 3J does offer food too if you want to eat here!
I’ll be honest – the main reason we ate at Cubar was because they advertised having the best peso exchange rate in town and most of our group needed some CUP stat. I got the lobster spaghetti and thoroughly enjoyed it, and some others in our group got pizza which was actually really nice.
Also they do, in fact, offer the best exchange rate in Viñales!
Adding Don Tomás as Yummet recommended it to us but we didn’t get a chance to eat here ourselves. If you go, let me know how it was!
Where to Stay in Viñales
Viñales is home to a ton of casas particulares, and you can see signs on just about every house near the main street. We stayed at Casa Neyda, which is owned by the loveliest couple who has the cutest kid! If you’re not going on a tour, you can try looking at Booking and Hotels.com for different casas.
FAQ on Viñales, Cuba
Viñales is inland in the western part of Cuba.
It’s a little over 180km (111 miles) and 3 1/2 hours driving.
I’d say at least 2 full days so you have time to enjoy the town and do some trekking/hiking!
And that’s my quick little guide to the beautiful Viñales, Cuba. I really loved visiting this area, and it’s definitely on my “to return” list in the future. If you have anything to add or have questions, just comment below!
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