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Sunday, 9 December 2018

A day in Viñales, Cuba

I recently went on a group trip with family and friends to Cuba! This was my first time visiting both Cuba and the Caribbean. Although I travelled with a large group only a few of us made it to the town of Viñales! We visited Viñales with a local tour company that pick up tourists from multiple hotels from the Central Parc area of Havana. Despite the fact I did not stay at a hotel, these tour services are still of access to non-guests. As I strolled around in the central part of Havana, I enquired the various options of tours and excursions at a hotel and booked the trip there and then for the following day. Located on the West coast of Cuba, Viñales is known for its agriculture, caves, tobacco plantations and scenic settings. It’s a beautiful contrast and much needed escape from the city life of Havana. The journey took two and a half hours, with Thomas the tour guide feeding the passengers with plenty of information about Viñales in three or four different languages, it was quite impressive to say the least. En route we passed the landscapes of the Viñales Valley in the ‘Sierra Los de Organos’ region, which is a fertile crop area of mountains and land protected under the UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year of 1999.  

The day consisted of visiting a family owned tobacco plantation, lunch at the mural De La Pre Historia and a visit to Cave Palmarito all for the price of 67 CUC which I thought was pretty good including transport.

Tobacco Plantation:

The first stop was the Tobacco Plantation of a family. The first thing that caught my eye other than mountainous landscape was the exterior of the tobacco workshop, the workers making the most of the tobacco leaves with the used and dried leaves displayed as finishes to the structure just in case you forgot where you were. Inside the shack we met Benito, who owns the plantation with his family, he speaks very little English yet explains in Spanish and demonstrates the process of tobacco farming and cigar making with Thomas translating by his side. Local agriculture is a prominent part of Cuban identity and the plantation I visited showcased that. Tobacco is the third largest hard currency for Cuba, with 85% of tobacco grown in Cuba produced by the National Association of Small Farmers members. We were then lead to another part of the compound where Benito lives. Greeted with ready handmade Cigars, liquor and coffee beans to buy. However this is optional of course.

Mural De La Prehistoria

As part of our package, lunch was prepared for us at the Mural De La Prehistoria. It’s more like an artist has been commissioned to illustrate pre historic moments on to the Viñales Valley. It is quite a touristy spot, however I was not complaining, as the temperature was right and the cocktails were 10 out of 10. As for the food we were served, Rice and beans with pork and vegetables but Cuban food will have to be discussed in another blog post entirely.

Cueva del Palmarito
The last stop of the day was to Cave Palmarito. We explored the cave by dodging the long sculpted stone that dangled in between the passenger walkway and leaks before entering a boat to see the area of the cave that is between 2 and 6m deep. It was humid and claustrophobic if you ask me, however if you are into caves/geography I’m sure it will be of interest. They also have a lot of artwork by Cuban artists on display for sale at this attraction.

Tip: Most plantations in this area are family owned therefore I would advise going with a group/service that are in correspondence with the owners of land. Rather than trying to get access alone.

Things to do in Viñales/ other places I would like to visit if I had more time:
·      Visit Sugar Plantation
·      Cycle Tour
·      Horse Ride tour  
·      Zip Wire
·      Hiking

Places to stay:

Air Bnb is booming out there and is usually arranged either prior or at arrival. Casa prices start from a minimum of 25 CUC per night. Hotels, Bed and Breakfast

Overall I enjoyed the outing and the opportunity to explore a new town outside of the capital. Perhaps I would have chosen a more interactive tobacco plantation visit where it is optional to role or participate in the process somehow. That being said Viñales does not produce cigars, the area is known for the farming element of the Tobacco process. The Pinar del Rio region is worth exploring.

All images are By Yasmin Metz-Johnson

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