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Everyone who goes to Cuba visits Havana, but not too many take the three-hour taxi or bus ride west of the city to explore Viñales, one of the country’s most beautiful towns, best known for its limestone hills and tobacco farms.
Start your Cuban adventure by taking a ride in one of the taxi colectivos — shared taxis — that leave from the Viazul bus station in the center of Havana. You’ll find dozens of taxi drivers waiting outside the station, so just pick which classic car you like best, negotiate the price and hop right on in. I paid $15 each way and got to ride in a beautiful 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air. Prices can vary enormously depending on the driver and the vehicle, but remember, everything in Cuba is negotiable. You can also take a bus from the Viazul station for a few bucks less, but come on, wouldn’t you rather cruise around in style?
Here are five reasons you should visit Viñales on your next trip to this incredible island nation.
1. Nature Lovers Can Experience Cuba’s Countryside
Venture outside the busy city of Havana and you’ll be rewarded with Viñales’s beautiful mogotes (limestone hills), vibrant natural colors and endless rows of meticulously groomed tobacco fields. Explore Cuba’s largest cave system in the Cuevas de Santo Tomas, stroll through the Jardin Botanico de Viñales or hike through the heart of Valle de Viñales on a fun guided tour. To experience the best of Viñales, you should spend the majority of your time outdoors in its rich, natural environment.
2. You’ll See Cuba’s Tobacco Fields Up Close
Cuba is famous for producing the best cigars in the world, so with a visit to Viñales you’ll have the opportunity to sample the finest tobacco directly from the source. Take a guided tour through the farms to learn how the cigars are made from start to finish.
Purchasing them directly from the farm will save you loads of money compared to shopping in the touristy areas back in Havana — I paid $3 per cigar for a bundle of 15.
Every time I light up one of my Cuban cigars, it breathes in smoother than silk — dip the tip of it into some honey first for a more traditional Cuban smoking experience.
3. You Can Stay With a Cuban Family in a Casa Particular
More than 80% of the homes in Viñales open their doors and offer accommodation to tourists via casas particulares. Once you arrive, simply knock on any door that has a sign with a name on it and ask if any rooms are available. The standard price for a room is usually around $25 per night — if you’re traveling with friends, you can split even that cost up to four ways. I thoroughly enjoyed staying in a casa particular because I had wonderful conversations with the family over home-cooked Cuban meals at a table overlooking the lush valley. It was a great way to practice my Spanish and learn about their daily lives — you’d be amazed to see how the culture in the countryside differs from the bustling city life of Havana.
4. You’ll Feel Like a Boss Cruising the Countryside in a Classic Car
Wearing a Cuban hat, puffing on a hand-rolled cigar and touring Cuba’s countryside in a classic American automobile is a recipe for an unforgettable experience. The engine will purr as you pass the picturesque tobacco fields and limestone hills on your way to Cuba’s coolest town. Of course, touring Havana in a cherry-red Buick convertible is magical, but if you’re looking for an even more authentic Cuban experience, head west for a beautiful three-hour drive to rural Viñales.
5. Go for a Horseback Ride Through Cuba’s Countryside
My absolute favorite part of visiting Viñales was being guided through the hills on a horse named Charlie — for $12, I had full access to a nearby national park and tobacco fields. If you want to do it, too, keep an eye out for signs in town that say “excursion a caballo” (“horse excursion”) and book your tour a few hours in advance, although if you’re lucky, you may still be able to score a spot even minutes before the tour leaves. You’ll visit a local farm to see the cigar-making process from start to finish, and have the chance to smoke a freshly rolled stogie once you saddle up. You can also take a dip in a natural lake and explore shallow caves. Most excursions also offer a tour of the nearby coffee plantations and include the chance to sample local rum. I recommend penciling in a full day and doing it all — time it just right and you’ll end the tour at sunset, trotting along with a splendid view over the valley.
Have you visited Viñales? Tell us about your experience, below.
Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Woodhouse via Getty Images.
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