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Vinales is a small town located within a lush, green valley in western Cuba. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. It’s just a couple of hours outside of Havana but it couldn’t be more different from the bustling city.
It’s a place to go to escape the city sounds and surround yourself with stunning landscapes. However, Vinales isn’t all about relaxation. There are plenty of incredible activities to take advantage of. Continue reading for the best things to do in Vinales, Cuba.
How to Get to Vinales
Vinales is easily reachable from Havana. The drive is about 112 mi (180 km) and takes about 2.5 hours. There are a few ways to get to Vinales from Havana. The first is to hire a taxi, which is going to be the most convenient and hassle-free option. If you’re with a group, a taxi is going to be your best bet. 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 colectivo. Taxi colectivos are shared taxis and can be found around the bus station or arranged through your casa particular. They charge about $18-25 CUC per person.
The bus is the most budget-friendly option. However, the journey is long and can take up to 4 hours. Viazul offers two buses a day that run from Havana to Vinales. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. A ticket should be purchased in advance and costs $12 CUC. Traveling to Vinales is easy and safe but if you’re unsure of going independently, there are group tours that can be arranged from Havana.
How to Get Around Vinales
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.
How Much Time Do You Need in Vinales?
Vinales can be done as a day trip from Havana but I recommend spending at least two full days there. Three days is ideal. There’s more to do in Vinales than one might think and you’ll miss a lot by just doing a day trip. You’ll also want some time to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Vinales
Most hotels throughout Cuba don’t allow American tourists. I suggest staying at a homestay or casa particular. Many Cubans rent rooms in their homes or entire apartments to supplement their low government salaries. Casa particulars are regulated by the government and legal casa particulars will have a government placard visible outside. Not only are casa particulars extremely affordable (avg. $30 CUC/night), but you will get a taste of real Cuban life.
Many casa particulars can be booked through sites such as Airbnb and Booking.com these days. Cuba Junky is also great and can put you directly in touch with casa owners. Please keep in mind that Cuban families don’t always have access to the internet, so be patient as you await a reply.
I recommend Casa Bernardo y Belkis. Casa Bernardo y Belkis is lovely and has a handful of small apartment-style rooms, some of which are detached from the main house and have private bathrooms. There’s a rooftop patio with incredible views where breakfast is served in the mornings and the house is just a quick walk to town. Bernardo and Belkis were so welcoming and made my visit really special.
Top Things to Do in Vinales:
1. Explore Viñales Town
Vinales town is much more relaxed 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.
2. Hike the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas is the largest cave system in Cuba and the second largest in the Americas. It’s also one of my favorite things to do in Vinales. It’s located about 30 minutes outside of town so a taxi will need to be arranged. The caves can only be accessed with a guide. Tours run throughout the day and last about two hours.
The hike is a moderate one with areas that are somewhat steep. You’ll be provided with a helmet and headlamp but make sure you bring proper footwear. Inside the cave, you will find glittering rock formations as well as bats, frogs, and other small critters. The tour cost is $10 CUC.
3. Boat Through Cueva del Indio
Cueva Del Indio is located about 10 minutes north of town. It was discovered by a farmer in 1920 and has remained a popular tourist attraction over the years. It is very much the opposite of Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas and is anything but tranquil. There are long entry lines that form throughout the day so I recommend visiting early in the morning before the big tour buses arrive.
After a short walk through the cave, you’ll reach a river where you will board a motorized boat. As the boat moves 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 Tomas. The admission cost is $5 CUC.
4. Swim at Hotel Los Jazmines
Hotel Los Jazmines is a charming hotel that offers magnificent views of Vinales Valley. The pink colonial-style hotel sits high on a hill just 10 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 suggest ordering a Piña Colada from the outdoor bar. It’s possibly the best Piña Colada that I’ve ever had and couldn’t have been more perfect on a hot day.
5. 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. The farms have used traditional agricultural methods for hundreds of years.
The cigar-making process is quite extensive. The tobacco is generally grown for about 3 months or until it’s ready to be harvested, at which time it’s moved to a drying house for at least another 3 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.
6. See the Mural de la Prehistoria
A giant mural can be seen painted near the foot of one of the tallest cliffs in Vinales. The roadside artwork was designed by Leovigildo González Morillo, the Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences. The 394 ft (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.
7. Visit El Jardin Botanico de Caridad
El Jardin 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. It is also known for its plastic doll heads that are scattered about.
Rumor has it that the dolls have to do with the practice of Santeria. The garden is almost 100 years old 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.
Have you been to Cuba? What are your favorite 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. To learn more about Trinidad’s beautiful architecture and fun activities, continue to my post, “Top 6 Things to Do in Trinidad, Cuba.”