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Viñales

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Western Cuba : Pinar del Rio : Viñales
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Viñales valley, from the Hotel Los Jazmines

Viñales is a beautiful and lush valley in Pinar del Río province of Cuba, with a population of around 10,000. It's about 26 kilometers north of the city of Pinar del Río, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This article also covers the town by the same name.

Viñales is said to be Fidel Castro's favorite place in Cuba. The mountains are beautiful, the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world, and tourists—who come every day by the busload—are allowed to mingle with the Cubans and spread money in a nice even sugar-coating.

Understand

History

Landscape

Mogotes

Cuba was once covered by limestone ("karst"). Much of this limestone has eroded away, leaving mountains with steep sides and rounded, jungly tops. The mountains are called mogotes, which means "haystacks." Many mogotes have caves. Several caves are developed for tourists to visit.

The red farmland and unique microclimate produce the best cigars in the world. Some tobacco farms are set up for tourist tours.

Flora and fauna

Climate

People

Start at a tourist office or your hotel or casa particular. Point out something in the guidebook you'd like to see or do, and offer to pay someone to take you there. Or offer to pay for a Spanish lesson or a salsa lesson. Hire a local guide for a few hours and you'll make a friend, and he or she will introduce you to his or her family, and they'll invite you to do more stuff, and you won't be bored the rest of your visit.

But be aware of what's illegal to pay for. You can't pay someone to drive you somewhere, unless it's a licensed taxi. You can't pay for lodging, unless it's a licensed casa particulares (bed&breakfast).

Get in

Viazul [1] runs buses twice a day from Havana and Pinar del Rio. They also run buses to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

Fees/Permits

Get around

A green minibus takes the tourists around the valley. For about 5 CUC you can ride all day, with stops at the tourist hotels, in the village, and at the caves and other sights.

See

Children's talent show
Farmer's market

The main street, Calle Salvador Cisneros, was named after Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, who was a leader in the war of independence (1868-1878) and later was President of Cuba from 1895 to 1897.

In the central plaza, the Casa de la Cultura puts on events every day (or night), including music, fashion shows, and children's events.

Also on the central plaza is an art gallery and the church. On Saturday mornings there's a farmer's market at the plaza.

Mural de la Prehistoria

The Mural de la Prehistoria

Perhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba is the Mural de la Prehistoria. In 1961 Fidel Castro visited a beautiful valley a few kilometers west of Viñales. He commissioned that the cliff should be painted with snails, dinosaurs, and a family of cavepersons, in garish colors!

There's a restaurant, bar, and gift shop. To be fair, the guidebook says that the food in the restaurant is excellent and the live music is good. Also there's horseback riding. So consider visiting the mural and doing something other than looking at the mural.

Do

Birdwatching

There's a bird-watching trail starting at the El Ranchón restaurant near the Cuevas del Indio.

Rock Climbing

See [2]. Escalada En Cuba [3]

Motorbike Rental

You can rent a motorbike (a scooter) for about 20 CUC per day and ride it either to Cayo Jutias or to Cayo Levisa. The road is magnificent and you may even enjoy it more than the beaches. You will need your passport and driving license in order to rent a scooter. There's no need for a motorbike license.

Tobacco Farm Tours

Cave Exploring

Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás
  • Cuevas del Indio The Cuevas del Indio ("Indian Caves") is five kilometers north of Viñales. The cave is well-developed for tourists, with lights and a boat tour. The price is 5 CUC. Nearby is a restaurant, gift shop, etc.
  • Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás For real caving, drive 15 kilometers west to the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomás, near El Moncada. This is the biggest cave in Cuba. Basic tours are two hours and you must hire a guide. Helmets and headlamps are provided, although you might want to bring a more powerful flashlight, if you have one. Also you're required to wear shoes, which is a problem for female Cubans, who seem to own nothing but sandals. The cave is spectacular, especially where the roof has collapsed and you walk into a green jungle paradise sunk into a mountaintop. The cave has 45 kilometers of galleries on eight levels. Also, the town of El Moncada was another of Fidel's ideas, and the streets are laid out to form a C, U, B, and A.

A great place to use as a home base for caving and exploring the area is the National School of Speleology in El Moncada. The School is located at one of the main entrances to the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. For a low price, you can rent a room or bed, have meals, and guide service. The School is rustic, but for real explorers the location can't be beat. For more information contact Eduardo, the School manager, by phone at 681274.

Hiking and Horseback Riding

Viñales National Park excursions information #2

The national park building (near the Hotel Los Jazmines) has maps and exhibits showing fourteen excursions (see the photos below). The main hike everyone does circles behind the mogotes closest to the town. You can hire horses for this. You may be able to hire a hiking guides at the Museo Municipal Adela Azcuy (Calle Salvador Cisneros #115).

Cocosolo-Palmarito hike

Cocosolo-Palmarito
Time: 5 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 8 km
Start: Hotel La Ermita
End: Mural de la Prehistoria y Campismo Dos Hermanas

Cueva del Cable hike

Cueva del Cable (Cave of the Cable)
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Length: 10 km
Start: Rancho San Vicente
End: Hoya de Jutia

San Vicente-Ancón hike

San Vicente-Ancón
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty: Low
Length: 5 km
Start: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
End: Ancón

Maravillas de Viñales hike

Maravillas de Viñales (Wonders of Viñales)
Time: 5 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 6 km
Start: 2 km from Moncada
End: 1.5 km from Moncada

El Pinar y Su Encanto hike

El Pinar y Su Encanto (The Pine and His Charm)
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Length: 2.8 km
Start: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
End: Hotel Rancho San Vicente

Entre Valles y Montañas hike

Entre Valles y Montañas (Between Valleys and Mountains)
Time: 5-6 hours
Difficulty: Low-Medium
Length: 10.8 km
Start: Hotel La Ermita
End: Hotel La Ermita

Viñales National Park excursions information #4

Tradiciones Campesinas (Traditional Countryside)
Time: 7 hours
Difficulty: Low-Medium
Length: 7 km
Start: Intersection of the road Capón and the Viñales-Puerto highway
End: Comunidad República de Chile

Del Infierno al Paraíso (From Hell to Paradise)
Time: 6-7 hours
Difficulty: Very high
Length: 8.6 km
Start: Resolladero río El Novillo
End: Mural de la Prehistoria

Tradiciones de Viñales (Traditional Viñales)
Time: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 5.7 km
Start: Hotel Los Jazmines
End: Hotel Los Jazmines

Viñales National Park excursions information #5

Los Paisajes en al Valle (The Landscapes in the Valley)
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 7.6 km
Start: Intersection of the Viñales road and the La Ermita Hotel
End: Intersection of the Viñales road and the La Ermita Hotels

En el Corazon del Valle (In the Heart of the Valley)
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 11 km
Start: Viñales Museum
End: Farm House in Viñales

Del Mirador al Valle (The View of the Valley)
Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 4 km
Start: Hotel Los Jazmines
End: The town of Viñales

De la Mano del Guajiro (Of the Hand of the Peasant)
Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Low
Length: 4 km
Start: Viewpoint at Sitio del Infierno
End: Primary School El Sitio

Viñales National Park excursions information #6
Viñales National Park excursions information #7
Viñales National Park excursions information #8

Buy

Eat

The restaurant at the Patio Centro Cultural Polo Montañez (on the central plaza) is good. There's a restaurant where the locals eat on the street heading north, towards the Cuevas del Indio. It's a typical Cuban restaurant, serving pizza and spaghetti, with remarkably slow service. There's a little store selling snacks and ice cream on the main street, across from the plaza.

Drink

The discotheque in the cave
  • Patio Central Cultural Polo Montañez, Calle Salvador Cisneros (off the central plaza, between the Casa de la Cultura and the church). During the day a restaurant and snack bar serve food and drinks. At night salsa bands play here. Polo Montañez was a singer world-famous in Cuba.
  • Patio del Decimista, Calle Salvador Cisneros. A few blocks down from the plaza, a.k.a. the yellow bar. They also have live salsa music.
  • El Palenque de Los Cimarrones. The nearby Cueva de Viñales (Cave of Viñales) has a discotheque built into it. You just can't beat a discotheque in a cave (there's another one in Trinidad). Saturday night there's a cabaret espectáculo followed by dancing. Saturday night they host the hottest nightlife in the province — the place is packed, almost all Cubans.

Sleep

Hotels

Viñales has three tourist hotels: Hotel Las Jazmines, Hotel La Ermita, and Rancho Horizontes San Vicente. Each is rated three stars. Expect to pay about 50-70 CUC per night, plus meals. The hotels are each located a few kilometers outside of town, which is not conducive to nightlife (Rancho Horizontes San Vicente is within walking distance of El Palenque).

  • Hotel Las Jazmines, +53 8 79 62 05. This hotel has one of the best views you'll ever see. In 1960, Fidel said, "Great view! Build a hotel here." It was one of his good ideas. The rooms are nice. The pool is big and clean. Breakfasts are good. Suppers were institutional in 2007 but in 2008 the food improved.
  • Hotel La Ermita, +53 8 79 60 71. Also has an incredible view, especially at sunset.
  • Rancho Horizontes San Vicente, +53 8 79 62 01.


Casa particulares

If you're hoping to socialize with Cubans, not elderly Canadians, stay in town at a casa particulares (licensed bed & breakfast). Every other house in Viñales is a casa particulares and homeowners are adding rooms as fast as they can scrounge up concrete blocks. Expect to pay 25 CUC per night (based on double occupancy), plus meals, which will be better than the hotel food.

  • Villa El Rinconsito, Calle Séptima, No. 22, +53 48 69 5478 (), [4]. The house is very nice and welcoming, with all amenities. It has 2 double and triple rooms, spacious, bright, good ventilation, air conditioning and private bathroom in each. The house has a large porch, lounge, kitchen, a terrace exquisitely decorated shack that serves delicious meals and a garage to park your car. Cuban friends are welcome and are offered all kinds of services for tourists forget everything and relax. Ideal for tourists looking for quiet and rest. 10-15 CUC.
  • Villa Cándida Tatio, Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 17, +53 48 69 5395 (), [5]. Magnificent home with all amenities, offers 3 bedrooms, double, triple and quadruple, with air conditioning and private bathrooms. It has a terrace with mountain views, porch, 2 dining rooms and parking. The best Creole food served here Viñales. Ideal for large groups. 15-20 CUC.


  • Casa Ernesto y Marlen, Calle Salvador Cisnero, No. 20, +534 8 79 32 61. Wonderful hosts (best mojitos anywhere), great homecooking, and a convenient location a five minute walk from the town square and bus station. http://casa-ernesto-y-marlen.posterous.com/
  • Casa Grether Carlos, Calle Orlando Nodarse, No. 26, +53 48 695460 (), [6]. It offers one comfortable and clean room with all modern facilities. The room is equipped with a air conditioner, private bathroom and private entrance. It’s possible have breakfast, dinner and salsa lesson with professional teacher. 15/20 CUC. (22.611986,-83.710697)

It is possible to stay in a private house with his Cuban friend. The only requirement is that the Cuban passenger take your documentation to be recorded with his friend tourists.

Camping

  • Campismo Dos Hermanos, (near the Mural de la Prehistoria), +53 8 79 32 23. Campismos were built by the government for Cubans to go on vacations. This one has 54 basic cabins. The swimming pool is big, although the water is remarkably green. There's also a restaurant.

Stay safe

Get out

Viazul [7] runs daily buses to Havana and Pinar del Rio Trinidad.

  • Cayo Levisa The boat dock is about 1 hours drive away from Vinales, from there its a half hour boat ride to the island. The island features stunning white sand beaches and there are some watersports available. There does not appear to be any coral reefs close to the island, so snorkling is not recommended.

Cayo Jutías is the closest beach to Viñales, 60 km on mountain roads. There are two roads—before you leave Viñales ask which road is better. In 2008 the road via Minas de Matahambre was good, and the road via the Baños de San Vicente was bad.



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