Viňales is the authentic Cuba. In this tiny town, you’ll get the feeling as if you’re starring in an old movie. Viňales will charm you with its colourful wooden houses that almost all have a rocking chair on the porch. In the streets you see old cars, motorcycles, and horse-drawn carriages. Its peacefulness is a strong contrast with the chaos of Cuba’s capital, Havana, where we’ve had spend the previous days.
Most locals in Cuba have a spare bedroom available as a casa for tourists. In Viňales in particular, almost all people have a casa particular. This way, people make some extra money to complement their government regulated salaries.
We pre-booked one night in Viňales, but decided to stay for one extra night upon arrival. Our casa was already booked for the next night, but the owner, Anita, knew another casa across the street where we could stay an extra night. It’s very easy to find a casa particular on the spot in Cuba. You can just ask anyone on the street and they will bring you to their casa, or to the casa of someone they know. When local bring you to a place, you’ll pay a bit more. This charge goes to the person who brought you there.
Viňales Valley hike
We arrived in Viňales in the late afternoon and joined last-minute on a guided hike. AlI knew at that time was that it would be a ‘Viňales tour’. If I would’ve known that it would be a 10 km hike through the valley, I would’ve changed my cami and ballet flats for something more suitable to wade through mud and fight with mosquitos.
We went to Cuba in October, the last month of the rainy season. As you can see on the photo’s above, there had been quite some rain the days before we arrived. The wet, red clay soil resulted in a new colour for my shoes and feet. It really got into my skin, a few days later, my feet were still red 😛
Viňales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The serenity and beauty of the valley are breath-taking, and you could easily spend a few days exploring different areas. Walking through the valley, you’ll pass houses with chickens, pigs, and oxen. Sometimes two oxen are tied together. That way – our guide explained – they get used to walking next to each other for plowing the fields. No machines are used: farmers pick the crops by hand and plow the fields with oxen.
Locally produced coffee
People in Viňales who live outside of the village and have some more space around their house, grown most of their food themselves. During the hike, we made a stop at a small farm where they not only grew tobacco but also coffee beans. They roast and ground the coffee beans themselves, and make their own coffee. We bought two bottles of freshly ground coffee to take with us. Yes, bottles. There wasn’t anything else we could use to bring the coffee, therefore this somewhat unusual packaging. Worked fine though 🙂
Viňales is known for its tobacco fields. People have been growing tobacco here for over 200 years. Its climate and fertile soil make perfect condition for tobacco growing. Approximately 70% of Cuba’s tobacco is grown here. Our guide brought us to a small tobacco farm, which was not more than a tiny house with some barns around it. After harvesting, the tobacco is dried for about a month in special curing barns. This is when the initially green leaves get their typical rusty brown colour. At the photo’s below you’ll see dried tobacco leaves and tobacco seeds.
At the tobacco farm
Due to the heavy rain, we couldn’t pass some of the paths in the valley. Because of our detours, darkness had already fallen when we arrived at the farm. The family who lived there told us that the man who rolls the cigars went home a few hours ago. Such a pity! Fortunately for us, the father of the family offered to make a cigar for us, so we could watch the process. He warned us that he was not that fast, in spite of that, he made the fresh cigar in no time!
Cigars are made of three types of tobacco leaves. Most leaves are in the inner bundle, these inner leaves can be from different sorts of tobacco plants. The proportions of these sorts of tobacco are different for each brand and are what makes the most difference between cigars. Around the inner bundle comes the ‘capote’, which binds the inner leaves. The ‘capa’ is a nice, shiny leaves that covers the cigar on the outside.
Cigar production itself mostly takes place in other towns than Viňales. The locals are allowed to keep 10% of the tobacco for themselves. the rest of the tobacco will be processed in the large, government-owned factories. If you would like to buy handmade cigars in Viňales, you could best buy these at the small tobacco farms. If you’re buying cigars in a store, there’s a large chance they are produced in a factory somewhere else.
Smoking a fresh rolled cigar!
Although I’m not a smoker, when that cigar was made in front of me, I had to try it. I’ve occasionally smoked cigars before, but nothing compared to this experience! The tiny bowl on the photo above was filled with honey. You can dip the cigar in the before you smoke it, it’ll give some extra flavour. I was told that this also could be done with whisky.
I couldn’t imagine a more perfect end of the hike: chilling with a drink and a fresh cigar, somewhere in the valley. At that moment I felt miles away from the rest of the world (which was also the case, since we still had to walk more than an hour to reach the village). Despite my red coloured feet, the hike turned out to be a fantastic experience! I would’ve never though that you could see and learn that much in a few hours.
A stay in Viňales also offers the opportunity to visit the nearby beaches. We decided to pay Cayo Jutías a visit. Anita arranged someone who would drop us off, and the next morning we left Viňales for a day at the beach.
After passing endless green fields, you smell the salty seawater and you know that you’re getting close to the sea. Cayo Jutías is attached to the mainland by a road but has no permanent accomodations besides a small restaurant and a diving center. Outside of the tourist season, there were almost no people around. Can you imagine a better way to relax than drinking Cuba Libres and Mojitos at your own private beach? I can’t 😉
The first night we stayed at Villa Cristal, owned by Fransisco and Anita Martinez. They don’t have a website but if you search for Villa Cristal, Viňales, Cuba, you’ll find plenty of websites where you’re able to make a booking. The second night we stayed at Villa La Cubana, owned by Mario and Maria Carrasco. The same here, no website, but you can easily find the casa on google.
We’ve had dinner and breakfast at both casa’s. Their cooking skills are fantastic. The food was delicious and the portions were large, more than we could eat.