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.
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
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).
Viazul  runs buses twice a day from Havana and Pinar del Rio.
They also run buses to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Share Taxis Run daily from outside Havana's national bus station. 7-15 CUC can be haggled but maybe easier to pay 5 CUC to Pinar del Rio where you can catch another share taxi for 1CUC to Viñales. [2016-Jan]
Guided Tours Can be booked from a tour desk inside the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel (address: Calle Neptuno) in Havana. Group tours from several tour companies leave daily in front of the hotel at 07.30 am. The tours visit a cigar and rum factory Pinar del Río. In Viñales you will go to the Cueva del Indio, the Mural de la Prehistoria, a tobacco farm and the viewpoint next to the Horizontes Hotel. Lunch is included. Expect to be back in Havana between 02.00-05.00 pm. Price: 59 CUC p.p. [2016-Jul].
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.
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 bull and horseback riding. So consider visiting the mural and doing something other than looking at the mural.
There's a bird-watching trail starting at the El Ranchón restaurant near the Cuevas del Indio.
Escalada En Cuba 
Prices are 20CUC per day including all gear and guide. [2016-01]
Motorbike or Bicycle 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.
Bicycles are 1CUC per hour or 8-10CUC per day. People rent off the street but the best bikes are at Casa de don Tomas
Tobacco Farm Tours
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 and consists of 5 minute walk with a boat ride through the cave lake to exit. Really cool, but with how busy this place gets I waited 40 minutes in line for the boat-ride. High season in Cuba is mental. 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 (offers were as low as 3CUC/hr). You may be able to hire a hiking guides at the Museo Municipal Adela Azcuy (Calle Salvador Cisneros #115).
Time: 5 hours
Length: 8 km
Start: Hotel La Ermita
End: Mural de la Prehistoria y Campismo Dos Hermanas
Cueva del Cable (Cave of the Cable)
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Length: 10 km
Start: Rancho San Vicente
End: Hoya de Jutia
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Length: 5 km
Start: Hotel Rancho San Vicente
Maravillas de Viñales hike
Maravillas de Viñales (Wonders of Viñales)
Time: 5 hours
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
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
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
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
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
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
Length: 11 km
Start: Viñales Museum
End: Farm House in Viñales
Del Mirador al Valle (The View of the Valley)
Time: 3 hours
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
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
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.
Finding affordable food is a struggle. Visit one street south of main, parallel, to find peso pizza from someone's door, the best coffee shop (red building) across from a well-stocked 24h canteen.
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.
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.
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.
- Casa Lolita, Calle Adela Azcuy, No. 29, ☎ +53 548 62 779 ([email protected]). One of the highlights of my trip was finding this humble Casa just off the main drag. It has one shared room with 2 double beds. Nothing fancy but perfectly comfortable, clean, and complete with fan, AC and en-suite. There is a nice front patio and a very filling breakfast is served daily in their living area. The host, Odalys, is the most genuine and kind host I came across during my month in Cuba and that's why I rate this place so much. She is very open and talkative and always has time to chat with her guests about this or that. I made a great bond with her and her husband Macho during my stay there and it was quite sad to leave at the end of it all. This place does not offer any other optional extras such as paid for lunches and dinners, tours etc, and thus none of the "encouragement" to take part in such activities, which I often found to be the case in other Casa Particulars I stayed in - Anything extra (such as the inivitation to dinner on my last night), was always out of kindness. Ideal for budget independent travellers or a small group/couple looking for something that's no-frills but with a real homestay feel and brimming with personal character and warmth. 10-15 CUC.
- Villa El Ranchon (Casa Ignacio y Raiza), KM 1 Carret. Pto Esperanza (.50m from the Police Station), ☎ +53 52 56 8002 ([email protected]). Two very nice rooms in a quite area, close to the town centre. Each room has a private entrance with two comfortable beds, full private bathrooms with 24 hour hot water, super cold air conditioning, towels. There is a very nice private patio with beautiful views. The rooms are very comfortable and clean. The hosts are Ignacio and Raiza. Raiza is a marvelous cook, her food is very delicious. She can provide you with breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you so desire. You have no need to organize and schedule tours prior to arriving in Vinales. Ignacio can help you make all arrangements once you arrive. He is very familiar with the tourist attractions and services in the area. Ideal for couples, or for families and friends. "Highly recommend this casa. Great breakfasts and the lobster dinner is to die for. The hosts were very helpful and kind" Sheri , Boulder Colorado, USA
- Villa El Rinconsito, Calle Séptima, No. 22, ☎ +53 48 69 5478 ([email protected]), . 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 ([email protected]), . 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 ([email protected]), . 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)
- Casa Miguelito y Pedro Miguel (Casa Maria y Pedro), Calle Rafael Trejo, No. 11-A ([email protected]), ☎ +53-48-793329 ([email protected]). Very good rooms in a quite area, close to the town centre. Hosts are Maria and Pedro. The rooms are very comfortable and clean. Private bathrooms inside. Maria can cook delicious breakfast (~4CUC), lunch and dinner (~8-10CUC). Maria works for the Viñales national park, and Pedro works for Cubataxi - so they are well familiar with the tourist attractions and services around. Ideal for couples, or for couples + child. Pedro is also fluent in Russian. "excellent, value for money accommodation. Good Food and wonderful hosts" Ntsoaki , South Afica 20-25 CUC.
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.
- 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.
Viazul  runs daily buses to Havana and Pinar del Rio Trinidad.
Camiones Run from 8am to 5pm to Pinar del Rio for 2 pesos (nacionales!) from main plaza. Then catch share-taxi to Havana for 6CUC. If you're going onwards to destination on main Autopista, get the share taxi to drop you on the autopista outside Havana. You can easily hitch-hike (just hold out money) and avoid the rip-offs of Viazul and often the spoilt share-taxi drivers.
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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