Viñales is a small, slow town just under three hours west of Havana.
It’s laced with colourful houses and surrounded by lush valleys and tobacco fields.
There is a lot to do here and it’s definitely worth staying for at least a couple of nights.
See my list below of essential things to do in Viñales for every traveller.
And also, click here if you’re interested in making your trip that little bit ‘extra’…
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1) Horse riding in the valley of Palmarito
If you only do one thing in Viñales, do this.
If you’re not into riding a horse, you can walk. It’s just not as fun or unique, and it can be damn hot.
If you’re not a cigar smoker, still do this. The landscape, the experience, the food, the education are second-to-none. Our family’s farm also has home-made honey, coffee and rum, and the farmers will show you how it’s all produced and give you some to taste.
It’s usually a trip of around 4 to 5 hours, and if you go with my family, they give you a big traditional farm-to-table meal included and it’s divine.
There are hidden caves that you can swim inside, lakes with jaw dropping backdrops, and rum is always plentiful.
How to book:
Book to visit my husband’s family farm via The Viñales Experience or AirBnb Experiences to make sure you’re in the best hands. Seriously, just check the AirBnB reviews and you’ll see that I’m not just biased.
Things to know:
When I first landed to Viñales all those years ago, the casa owner sold us an expensive horse riding excursion literally the SECOND we walked through their door.
I don’t recommend booking your trip in this way. Do your homework before you travel and book in advance. Make sure the tour you do is ethical and moral, and your money goes to the right places. Basically anything that you buy through your casa particular gives the casa owner a large commission and therefore less money for the horse riding guides who work for very little.
By researching and booking in advance, you can guarantee your trip is authentic. Viñales is home to many scams and people just after your money, desperate to sell you things. With the trips we organise, the guides/farmers don’t focus on that. They focus on you having a good time, and if you buy something it’s a big bonus.
2) Visit the tobacco farms
You’ll do this if you want to kill two birds with one stone and do the horse riding in the valley of Palmarito, as above.
But however you do it, you must do it. It’s the entire focus point of the town and is an essential thing to do in Viñales.
The farmers/guides will explain about the process of growing the tobacco, the relationship they have selling it back to the government, how to harvest the plant.
They’ll also show you how to roll a cigar (if you want to roll your own, book with us) and teach you how to smoke it – if you want to.
You can also buy cigars/honey/rum/coffee here.
Should I buy cigars in the farm or from the shops?
The most common question. And it’s simple: from. the. farms.
By buying cigars straight from the farms, not only are you getting a totally 100% organic handmade cuban cigar straight from the tobacco fields, but you’re also supporting the farmers who otherwise make next to NO money for working REALLY hard all year.
Sure, if you want a branded Cohiba I get it. You can get that in the government run shop. But just bear in mind that you will be supporting the state rather than the Cuban people.
I always recommend to buy as many as you can from the farms (pre-covid it was 3USD for 1 cigar, sold in packs of 10 minimum), and then a few branded ones from the shops too.
There are a lot of scams when it comes to buying cigars in Cuba. Make sure you read this before you go.
As of now, Feb 2021, Americans cannot take Cuban cigars or rum back into the USA. You can thank Trump for that. We’re hoping Biden will soon change that law because otherwise it will be a huge blow to the livelihoods of the farmers.
Please support them in other ways:
- buy cigars to smoke in Cuba
- be generous with your tips
- buy the local coffee and honey which you can legally take back into the USA
3) Do a 'tour of Viñales'
Honestly, I’m on the fence about this one. It’s a very popular ‘activity’ but just be aware that it’s touristy. If you have to forfeit anything, forfeit this. If you’ve got a morning to kill, it’s a fun way to pass the time and see some more of the town.
You’ll usually visit:
- mural de la prehistoria (painted dinosaurs on a mural)
- cueva del indio (boat ride through a cave)
- cueva de los cimarrones (AKA el palenque, a walk through a beautiful cave and a history lesson on the slaves who hid there)
- el canopy (zipline – 100% worth doing)
You can book the above through your casa particular owner. It’s around 20USD for the private taxi that takes you around, plus the separate entrances for each place.
If you want to do this but with a more authentic twist, click here.
4) Sunrise hike to Los Acuaticos
Back in the day this used to be a real unique gem. Then, word spread, and now everyone and their yoga mat is up at 05:30 to hike to see the sunrise.
But, I don’t want to deter you. It’s still genuinely worth doing if you can stomach the early morning and the medium-difficulty level hike.
A car picks you up from your casa around 5:30 (this varies depending on time of year), drives about 10 minutes out of town, and throws you out. Take a torch and follow your guide in the dark up the mountain. You’ll arrive in time to have a coffee and see the sun rise over the three valleys of Viñales and it is spectacular.
If it’s recently rained, don’t bother going unless you love mud/have good walking shoes and a stick.
5) Dance salsa with the locals
If you can manage to go over a weekend, head to the town on Saturday night. In normal times, they close the main road off and have a street party.
Bars and restaurants put their tables outside so you can dine al-fresco.
Music pumps through the streets as locals and tourists celebrate the weekend.
In the main square (la plaza central) there’s a salsa bar/club called ‘casa de la musica’. They put on a cheesy salsa show early on, and then clear the decks to make a dance floor. It’s fun, but beware of the jineteros who will be out scouting their next victim.
6) Spend a day at the beach
The natural paradise of Cayo Jutias is about 1,5 hour drive from Viñales.
You can only do it as a day trip from Viñales, as there are no feasible options for staying overnight there.
The beach has a restaurant and a few deck-chairs to rent, but is otherwise untouched.
It’s nothing but white virgin sand and warm turquoise waters – seriously, you need to go.
When you arrive to the beach, walk right. Keep walking. Muddle your way through the mangrove trees until it opens up and you’re faced with an idyllic haven of empty sand just for you.
Don’t go in rainy season: you’ll be eaten alive by humongous mosquitoes.
Organise the transport through your casa particular owner BUT specify that you want a CAR not the massive bus/truck. Seriously, thank me later. The trucks spend around 1 hour going from door-to-door in Viñales picking up 100 other people and are basically hell on wheels.
You can buy lunch at the restaurant. It’s average and pricey (around 10USD for a meal previously) but it does the job. If you can find the guys fishing for lobster along the beach (not at the restaurant), pay them a tenner and they’ll barbecue it there and then for you. Worth it.
There you go. The absolutely bog-standard, must-do activities in Viñales. They’re fun, popular and totally worth it.
But… if you’re a traveller that likes to get a little deeper, I’ve written a niche list just for you.
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