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Vinales is a small town within a lush, green valley in western Cuba. It’s located just a couple of hours outside of Havana but it couldn’t be more different from the bustling city. Its streets are lined with single-story wooden homes and it has a very traditional Cuban vibe. It’s a place to go to escape the city sounds and surround yourself with stunning landscapes. Vinales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and has become an increasingly popular tourist destination throughout the years. It’s famous for its high-quality tobacco, but even if you aren’t interested in cigars, there are plenty of other activities to take advantage of. In this guide, you’ll find the best things to do in Vinales, Cuba as well as everything else you need to know before visiting.
How to Get to Vinales
Vinales can be easily reached from Havana. The drive is about 180 km and takes about two and a half hours. There are a few ways to visit Vinales from Havana. The first is to hire a taxi. If you’re with a group, this is going to be your best bet. It’s going to be the most convenient and hassle-free option. Depending on your bargaining skills, you can expect to pay around $60-80 CUC. If you’re traveling solo, you will want to find a taxi collectivo. Taxi collectivos are shared taxis and can be found around the bus station or arranged through your hotel or casa particular. They charge about $18-25 CUC per person.
Another option is to take the Viazul bus. There are two buses each day that run to Vinales. The bus will take longer but will also be more budget-friendly. The bus journey can take as long as three or four hours. A bus ticket to Vinales is $12 CUC and it’s recommended that you purchase a ticket in advance. Traveling to Vinales is easy and safe but if you’re apprehensive of going independently, there are group tours that can be arranged from Havana; however many of these are just day tours.
How Much Time Do You Need?
There’s more to do in Vinales than one might think. I highly recommend working it into your trip. Vinales can be done as a day trip from Havana but I recommend spending at least two full days there. Three days would be ideal. You’ll miss a lot by only doing a day trip and you’ll find yourself wanting to take advantage of its relaxed atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Vinales
I highly recommend staying in a homestay or casa particular. Many Cubans rent rooms in their homes to supplement their low government salaries. Casa particulars are regulated by the government and legal casa particulars will have a government placard visible outside. I had great experiences with the casa particulars throughout Cuba and quickly found it was the best option when it came to accommodations. Not only are casa particulars extremely affordable (avg. $30 CUC/night), but you will also get a taste of Cuban life and have a chance to practice your Spanish.
Many casa particulars can be booked through sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com these days. The app, Cuba Junky is also great and can put you directly in touch with casa particulars. Please keep in mind that Cuban families don’t always have access to the internet, so please be patient as you await a reply.
I highly recommend Casa Bernardo y Belkis. It’s conveniently located and just a quick walk to town. Casa Bernardo y Belkis is lovely and has a handful of small apartment-style rooms. Ours was detached from the main house and had a private bathroom. They also have a great rooftop patio with stunning views. I recommend taking them up on their offer for breakfast which is served on the patio. Bernardo and Belkis were so welcoming and made my visit really special.
How to Get Around
Vinales town is small and very walkable. I recommend staying within a few blocks from town. It’s easy to get around and it’s likely that the family at your casa particular speaks a little English and can assist you with transportation and activities. Vinales has a hop-on/ hop-off bus that does a 90-minute continuous loop. The bus departs from Parque de Vinales five times throughout the day and stops at a handful of the main sights. The bus ticket costs $5 CUC for the day.
Another option is hiring a driver for the day. I found a taxi in town and negotiated a rate for the day. The driver took us to all the major sites and turned out to be a great guide. Having our own driver worked out well because it can be difficult to find a taxi once outside of town. It was convenient to have him there waiting for us and probably saved a lot of time.
Top Things to Do in Vinales:
Explore Viñales Town
Vinales town has a more relaxed vibe than many Cuban cities. It’s a great place to have a drink and watch the locals go by on bicycle and horseback. It has some great restaurants and live music can be found nightly. Centro Cultural Polo Montanez is a fun place to visit for nightlife and dancing.
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás is the largest cave system in Cuba and the second largest in the Americas. It’s located about thirty minutes outside of town so you will need to arrange a taxi to get there. The caves can only be accessed with a guide. Tours run throughout the day and take about two hours from start to finish. You’ll be provided with a helmet and headlamp to use but make sure you bring a good pair of sneakers. You will be doing some light hiking and there are areas that are somewhat steep. Inside the cave, you will find glittering rock formations as well as some bats, frogs and other small critters. Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás tops my list of best things to do in Vinales. The cave is incredible and you’ll be able to enjoy some amazing views. Tour cost is $10 CUC.
Cueva del Indio
Cueva Del Indio is located about ten minutes north of town. It was discovered by a farmer in 1920 and has remained a very popular tourist attraction over the years. It is very much the opposite of Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás and is anything but tranquil. There are long entry lines that form throughout the day so I recommend visiting in the early morning before the big tour buses arrive. After a short walk through the cave, you’ll reach a river where you will then board a motorized boat. As you boat through the grotto, you’ll see cave paintings from ancient indigenous cultures and interesting geologic formations. It was a fun experience but if you only have time for one cave, make it Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás. Ticket cost is $5 CUC.
Swim at Hotel Los Jazmines
Hotel Los Jazmines is a charming little hotel that offers magnificent views of Vinales Valley. The pink colonial-style hotel sits high on a hill just ten minutes from town. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon relaxing. Non-guests can purchase a day pass to the pool for a small fee. I highly recommend ordering a Piña Colada from the bar. You’ll get to pour your own rum, however little or as much as you like. It was quite possibly the best Piña Colada that I’ve ever had and couldn’t be more perfect on a hot day.
Tour a Tobacco Farm
The majority of Cuba’s tobacco is produced in Vinales. Tobacco farms are scattered through the valley and a tour is a must-do on your Vinales itinerary. Traditional agricultural methods have been used on the farms for hundreds of years. I originally didn’t have much of an interest in visiting a tobacco farm, since cigars have never really appealed to me but I couldn’t leave without having at least one. The tour was better than expected and I learned a lot about the cigar-making process. I had no idea it was so extensive.
The tobacco is generally grown for about three months or until it’s ready to be harvested, at which time it’s moved to a drying house for at least another three months. Ninety percent of the crop is used for official government cigars and the farmer is then left with the remaining 10%. You’ll have the opportunity to purchase from the farmer at the end of your tour.
Mural de la Prehistoria
A giant mural can be found painted near the foot of one of Vinales’ tallest cliffs. The roadside artwork was designed by Leovigildo González Morillo, the Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The 120 m long artwork took 18 people four years to complete. It depicts the theory of evolution and has images of dinosaurs and humans among other creatures. The bizarre mural is definitely overhyped but nonetheless is a fun little spot. There’s a restaurant on site but there’s really no need to get up close. Make a quick roadside stop for photos and be on your way.
El Jardín Botanico de Caridad
El Jardín Botanico de Caridad is a beautiful botanical garden that can be found a few blocks from the main plaza. Look for an iron gate tucked away next to the road. The garden has over 100 species of orchids, fruit trees, and medicinal plants, as well as plastic doll heads and other oddities scattered about. Rumor has it that the dolls have to do with the practice of Santería. The garden is almost 100 years and is a magical little place. It was cared for by the Caridad sisters for many years and one sister still remains on the property. She will give you a tour in exchange for a donation or you are welcome to a self-guided tour.
How to Get Back to Havana
The best way to get back to Havana is to arrange a taxi with your casa particular or hotel. If you are continuing on to somewhere other than Havana, you can expect to stop in Havana nonetheless in order to change collectivos.
Vinales, Cuba is a truly wonderful place. I really enjoyed its laidback and authentic atmosphere and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my Cuba trip.
Have I missed any fun things to do in Vinales? If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Is Trinidad on your Cuba itinerary? It should be. It’s another great town full of beautiful architecture and fun activities. Read more about Trinidad, in my post, “Top Things to Do in Trinidad, Cuba.”