In Viñales we got to see small town centers, visit a cave system and do a tobacco farm tour to learn all about how Cuban cigars are made. We got picked up early in the morning by our driver Nadier, in of course, a beautiful light blue vintage car. It was a Chevy Bel Air 1956 on the outside with a 4-cylinder Honda engine under the hood to keep it moving. During the 3 hour drive to Viñales, we drove passed some horse and buggies, tractors turned into trucks, trucks modified into buses; all to transport local people to and from neighboring cities. We even saw a couple of oxen pulling a makeshift wooden box style carriage, and this was all on the main highway. At one point on the drive, we stopped at what we thought was a federal check point; but the police officer just wanted a ride home! Unfortunately we were already 5 with the driver and not able to pick up the young hitchhiking officer. It was interesting and very unusual for us to see so many locals in the countryside depend on random side of the road rides to get to their final destination, whether it was to work or back home.
PITSTOP AT VIÑALES MURAL & ROADSIDE BAR:
We did a short pit stop by a neo-art mural depicting a pre-historic scene on the side of a mountain, dinosaurs and all. The mural has been around for over 50 years, but honestly, I wouldn’t make a point to stop there if you don’t have the time, but it was on the way to the tobacco farm. Only a few yards away from this random mountain mural, we saw a tiny middle of nowhere tiki bar. So logically, we stopped to hydrate with some beers and for an impromptu middle of the road photoshoot., cause why not?
About 3 hours later, we arrived at our main destination, one of the many tobacco farms in the Viñales Valley. Right up front by the open air restaurant, a cigar master was rolling tobacco leaves into cigars of various sizes. After watching him at his craft for a bit, we proceeded to walk the field, said hello to some cute goats chilling in the shade and headed towards the drying house. The drying house is basically a small wooden building full to the ceiling of tobacco leaves that are hung to dry for 3 full months. Once the leaves are dry, a cigar expert will pick and choose the right combination of leaves for the rolling process. Inside the drying house one of the owners asked if we wanted to buy some cigars and pulled out cigar bundles of varying widths and lengths. Each bundle cost just $20 bucks! Perfect for gifts if you don’t smoke or if you do, great way to reminisce about your Cuba trip once back home.
FUN FACT: Along the drive to Viñales we were chatting with our driver and the “Guajira, Guantanamero” song came on the radio through his iPod so we asked what the main words in the chorus meant. The 1st word Guarija, means country guy and the second word refers to the province of Guantanamo. Thank you Nadier, for finally explaining the meaning of such an old and classic song to us. But he advised “Don’t call a guy from Havana a guajira. As a city dweller he’ll probably get offended.”
BUENA VISTA LOOK OUT & RESTAURANTE:
I honestly can’t remember if we stopped for lunch or did the farm tour first. Either way, Nadier took us to a beautiful look out point right by the Los Jaminez Hotel in the Viñales Valley. It was established in the 60’s and the hotel’s pink grand Mansion still stands out in the landscape. In between the look out point and the hotel’s pool and veranda, is Buena Vista Ristorante, where we had a delicious lunch and amazing views of palm trees and rounded top mountains that dotted the Cuban landscape in Viñales. The lunch was huge portions of meat of your choice with family style sides of beans, rice, cabbage salad, viandes (assorted root vegetables) and of course we washed it all down with some Presidente beer.
Great food and such a beautiful view
FUN FACT #2: Even if you own a cow in Cuba, you are not allowed to butcher it and have the meat for yourself. It must be sold to the government restaurants & hotels. Hence, the Casa Particulares (Cuba’s AirbnB) and Paladares (privately owned restaurants) only serve chicken, seafood or pork as beef is very expensive. Crazy right?
CUEVA DEL INDIO (VIÑALES):
With our bellies full, we headed back to Havana and on the ride back we stopped at Cueva del Indio. We had been to another place by the same name, Cueva del Indio in Puerto Rico. At the Cueva del Indio in Cuba, we had the chance to ride a small boat into the cave system. The truth is, yes it was cool; but the whole experience felt a bit like a Disney ride or the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Orlando. The cave was huge and beautiful but we waited a good 45 minutes in line to finally get on the damn boat. The ride it self was no more than 5 minutes. Seriously, I think it was a wanna-be Disney ride.
Viñales is located about 3 hours from Havana, Cuba and it’s perfect for a day trip away from the city and into countryside simplicity. Wish we had stayed in Viñales for a few nights, but I guess that means we gotta plan another trip out to Cuba.