Laid-Back Life & Dramatic Scenery in Viñales, Cuba

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We emerged from the traffic of Havana onto the quiet roads of rural Cuba, driving past bright green rice paddies and tobacco fields, little wooden houses, and horses and cows grazing in the fields. Our fellow road companions were the occasional rusting 50s Buick or a horse and cart, and the the roads were empty of shops and advertising save for large billboards bearing motivational Communist slogans. It was pretty, peaceful, but the scenery really turned to spectacular four hours later as we neared Viñales and got our first glimpse of the bulbous limestone rock formations called mogotes rising from the verdant landscape. Even the rain and grey skies couldn’t dampen the impact of the view.

One of our favourite things about Cuba is the extensive network of casas particulares or home stays, which made travelling around the country so easy. Our Havana host had called ahead and booked us a room with friends of theirs in Viñales, so when we got off the bus our new host Marco was waiting for us with our names on a handwritten sign and a warm smile. He led us in the drizzle along Viñales’s main street and we turned off down an unpaved lane to reach their little blue house, pink rocking chairs waiting invitingly on the porch.

Casa Particular, Vinales, Cuba
Marco & Isabel’s house

The one storey home is surrounded by lush green vegetation—banana plants, avocado and mamey trees, and exuberant flowers. Behind the house is nothing but farmland and we’d often hear horses trotting past our window. It felt utterly tranquil although we’d discover the next morning that the roosters make more noise than the cars of Havana.

Marco’s wife Isabel greeted us just as warmly as she showed us our room and invited us to make ourselves at home in the living room or on more of the rocking chairs on the garden terrace. She brought us glasses of thick pink guava juice and proudly encouraged us to try the sweet, juicy, locally grown pineapple.

Our experiences in Cuba wouldn’t have been the same without the families we stayed with and it was no different with Marco and Isabel. They were always smiling, quick to laugh, and willing to help us with anything, eager to make us feel at home. We felt like we were staying with our grandparents, especially when they dished us up huge breakfasts and dinners, more than we could possibly eat.

The rain kept us inside most of our first afternoon but we were perfectly content rocking away on the terrace, hearing nothing but chirping birds and the creak of our chairs, easing into the slow pace of Viñales life.

Vinales main street

We did brave the downpour for a quick wander around town. The main street is lined with terracotta tiled, brightly painted, single storey buildings, the little traffic consisting of classic American Fords, Plymouths and Chevys mixed with horse carts and bicycles. One guy rode his horse bareback dressed in a tshirt, shorts and bare feet, despite the chilly rain. Street food choices included sugary churros, frozen pina coladas, deep-fried plantain chips, and Cuban peso pizza cooked in makeshift oil drum ovens.

The town hub is the small central plaza with a simple church and an open air music venue where we later enjoyed a night of live music, impressed that the locals didn’t let the rain stop them showing off their salsa moves.

Vinales plaza
Vinales town square

We were pleased that despite far fewer vehicles than in Havana there was still plenty of classic car eye candy in Viñales.

Classic car in Vinales, Cuba
Classic car in Vinales, Cuba
Classic car in Vinales, Cuba
Classic car in Vinales, Cuba
Horse cart in Vinales
Humbler transportation is just as common though

Viñales sees plenty of tourists but has kept a very laid-back atmosphere and you won’t be approached by the hustlers you find in Havana. Isabel and Marco were proud of the friendliness of their town and assured us that anytime we needed to escape the rain we could shelter on the porch of any house in town and would be welcomed.

The main reason people come to Viñales is to explore the valley on foot, bike or horseback. Unfortunately our four days in town were blighted by torrential rain, plummeting temperatures (well, it was cold for the tropics at least), and a stomach upset. We kept occupied by taking salsa lessons, rocking in those chairs, and walking around town whenever the rain let up.

One walk took us through the tobacco fields towards the mogotes in heavy red mud. The local kids walked barefoot ankle deep in the sticky stuff and we realised they were probably the smart ones when we returned to the casa with our shoes caked in mud. In one of her extraordinary acts of grandmotherly hospitality Isabel tried to clean our shoes for us and when we refused she hovered around giving tips and correcting our technique. Seriously, why would you stay in a hotel in Cuba?

Countryside near Vinales

Cows in Vinales, Cuba

On a longer walk out of town we passed cute little colourful houses surrounded by flowers, all immaculate and with the requisite rocking chairs on the porch. It didn’t take long to leave the “bustle” of town behind and find ourselves in rural Cuba.

Vinales, Cuba houses
Rural scene just outside Vinales
Cow in Vinales countryside

We walked up towards Hotel Los Jazmines and along the way a tobacco farmer invited us to have a look around his small farm. He explained how he uses ecological fermentation practices with no chemicals or nicotine to make his cigars. He showed us his drying room, a little thatched hut packed with crumbly brown tobacco leaves, and rolled us a cigar to try. When in Cuba…

Tobacco drying in Vinales
Tobacco drying
Tobacco farmer rolling a cigar, Vinales, Cuba
Tobacco farmer rolling us a cigar

Of course, this is Cuba and even in gentle Viñales a sales pitch was inevitable and having no need for a $15 bundle of cigars things got a little awkward, but we managed to get away with giving him a few dollars for his time and the cigar.

Simon smoking a cigar at tobacco farm in Vinales
Smoking a cigar in Cuba had to be done

Hotel Los Jazmines lived up to its reputation of having the best view in Viñales and we spent ages gazing down at the lush green scene—craggy mogotes looming over the red earth farmland and tobacco fields.

Vinales, Cuba panorama from Hotel Los Jazmines
The Vinales valley from Hotel Los Jazmines

Despite the rain and the fact we didn’t get to do any of the things we planned—long hikes, horse riding, a motorbike trip to the beach—we loved Viñales and the insight into rural Cuban life. The pace is wonderfully slow, the people are friendly, and the scenery amongst the best in Cuba.

Viñales Information: Viñales is four hours from Havana. We took the comfortable, air-conditioned Viazul bus for 12 CUC (about $12) at 9am (there is also a bus at 12pm). It’s worth going to the Viazul bus station in Havana a few days in advance to buy your ticket as when we were there in March they were selling out two days in advance.


  1. I just returned from Cuba two weeks ago! As an American, I haven’t been allowed to travel to Cuba until recently, so this was really special for me. I was in Havana for 9 days for a continuing education trip (for medical professionals — Cuba has a fantastic public health / primary care system, much better than the USA in many ways) and desperately wanted to stay longer. The woman who was coordinating our travels (who is Cuban by birth) mentioned that Viñales was one of her favorite places in the country; I remember her specifically mentioning a hidden cave with a gigantic still pool where people can swim. I’m hoping to get to join the group again next year and take advantage of her expertise!

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  2. Those are some truly beautiful cars! I love the fact that they use very bright colors! Great shots!

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  3. I first visited Viñales in 2007 and again in 2012. What a great town. My favorite activity was renting a bicycle and taking off to explore the town and countryside. Also, unlike Havana, the food here is very good and inexpensive. Especially the seafood. Oh, and the cigars. For aficionados like myself, this was heaven. Again, I preferred smoking a cigar here over Havana since this is the source of all the Cuban tobacco. Great times.

    Off topic: How do you get your icons to display next to your name on the comments? Is it a Facebook thing-a-majig?

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  4. what a unique landscape. I love how rural if feels. and then there are all those fabulous cars that totally throw me off. Id really like to check this place out for myself. Nice Photos!

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  5. Ha ha, it seems that cigar sellers are everywhere in Cuba. We once ended up in what looked like a gangster’s house, as a fiendly Cuban wanted to show us a real Cuban market. We thought he meant a souvenir market. The owner of the house who was exteremely muscular and loaded with golden jewlery turned pretty angry when we said we didn’t come for cigars, but for souvenirs. As we were getting a bit scared at that stage we decided to give him what little money we had on us ($25) and buy a packet of 5 cigars and run for it. Nothing happened and they didn’t even spot the engagement ring my hubby was hiding in the backback at the time. He proposed later on that evening. :-)

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  6. Just stunning and I love the tales of genuine, warm hospitality. As a U.S. citizen Cuba remains off-limits to me but I would love to find a way to visit someday.

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    • We know quite a few Americans who have visited via Mexico without a problem, so it is an option…

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  7. Ha! Love the shot of Simon with the cigar – very Godfather esq! Suits you Sir!!

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  8. Wow, my heart fluttered looking at these pics! We could make such a beautiful video of this place. Hope life is still great for you guys. You’re still our number one inspiration.

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    • Aw, thanks guys. Yes, it would be a stunning location for a video. Hope you make it to Cuba one day -such a special place.

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  9. I was wondering how i would go about working here for 6 months, I am a canadian citizen with 17 years of horseman experience and riding competing in very high heights. I would like to travel and work with horses was wondering if you could help me :D

    I am a 22 year old female, looking to travel the world with horses

    sincerely Marissa

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    • I’m afraid I don’t know. I think it’d be difficult in Cuba. Elsewhere in the world you might be able to get work in exchange for room & board on sites like WWOOF &

      Good luck with it!

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  10. I never do smoking but the place is really nice. I like to roam around the world and the place like Vinales valley sounds best for travel enthusiastic people like me. I like to go for visit of Cuba one day.

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    • We don’t usually smoke either and Simon didn’t finish the cigar, but it did feel like a classic Cuban moment. Vinales is gorgeous and we definitely recommend it.

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  11. What amazing pictures. Very interesting, I like to go there also. WOW. its very nice. I like so much the first picture.

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  12. Been there a some years ago – also mainly in casas particulares – and love to see the great view from the Hotel Los Jazmines again, still one of my favorite views ever… Awesome. If you like to dive (have not read the site so far ;), head down south to Maria la Gorda, really of the path and well worth some days.

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    • We do like to dive and wanted to go to Maria la Gorda but didn’t have time unfortunately. We’ll be back!

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