Cave bars! Scenic valleys! Tobacco farms! $2 sidewalk mojitos! Two-plus hours west of Havana, the mid-sized town of Viñales offers a laid-back vibe, colorful houses, and lots of quirky sights and experiences
Any time I look around and see houses the same colors as tropical fruit, I’m happy. That’s really all it takes. When the homes are yellow and pink and bright green and blue, that usually means the weather is nice and the people are friendly.
Viñales is no exception to this rule. Located just over two hours west of Havana, the town of somewhere between 10,000 and 27,000 (depending on the source) feels relaxed and welcoming. And there are lots of cool things to do in Viñales, Cuba and the surrounding area.
Deciding to visit Viñales from Havana
As a visitor flying into Havana, you’ll have plenty of decisions to make regarding which other parts of the country to visit. You could go east to the touristy beaches of Varadero, or head much further southeast to the beautiful old-fashioned cities of Trindad and Cienfuegos.
Or, you could venture to Viñales to the west. Viñales felt more touristy than Havana, and I was fine with that. At times in Havana it was difficult just to find a nearby convenience store or decent restaurant, so being in a compact city with a main street business district was refreshing. And while talking with locals in Havana was awesome, Viñales provided opportunities to chat with other foreign travelers and compare notes about our experiences.
How can you get from Havana to Viñales? One method is to pick up a shared taxi ride to Viñales at the Havana bus terminal for around $15-20 CUC ($15-20 USD) per person.
There are also comfortable Viazul buses that run between the cities. They often sell out, but you can buy tickets for these buses in advance at the station or possibly online, though I haven’t tried to navigate their website.
7 things to do in Vinales, Cuba
The Views of Viñales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
On the drive to Viñales, once you leave the long highway and hit the backroads, you’ll drive right through some stunning views of the valley, with the mountains, lush greenery, and small houses and tobacco farms in the distance.
Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, signifying its historic and cultural importance. The best place to see the valley from above is a little overlook next to Hotel Los Jazmines on the road leading into town (any taxi driver will know the precise location.) It’s just a short taxi ride from downtown Viñales, and there is a small sitting and eating area if you want to hang out for a bit.
The Cave Bar: El Palenque de los Cimarrones
The Viñales area has lots of caves in its hills and valleys. One of them, El Palenque de los Cimarrones, has been turned into a bar and restaurant. On Saturday nights, this is the place to be, when locals come and dance the night away!
You can pay a fee to explore the cave here if you like, but it’s small, so the real appeal of this place is the novelty factor of drinking a beer inside the cave opening. If you want to explore more substantial caves, consider the Santo Tomas cave expedition.
Mural de la Prehistoria
Painted snails on the side of a hillside. It doesn’t get much quirkier than that!
The Mural de la Prehistoria is a gaudy painted wall (nearly 400 x 600 feet) featuring images of dinosaurs and various other creatures. It’s supposed to depict the history of the world up to the arrival of humans. Designed in 1961 by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo, the mural took four years to complete.
As you might imagine, people have mixed feelings about a giant cartoonish drawing on the side of a mountain in a beautiful natural valley. You won’t need to spend more than 5-10 minutes here. If you come all the way to the site, there’s an entrance fee, plus overpriced restaurant food and horse rides. We chose to stop off in the distance to grab a few photos and move on.
Pro tip: You can sign up for individual tour excursions that will take you to any of the places listed above. Or, you can rent a taxi driver for an hour (can be negotiated for $15-20) and have him drive you to all three of those places. That’s cheaper and more efficient, and it allows you to check off the “tourist attractions” from your list and spend the rest of your time in Viñales interacting with locals.
The Colorful Houses
Take a few minutes to stroll around the back streets and see the brightly-colored houses. You may also see some street art or images of Che Guevara and other symbols of the revolution. The streets are safe and it’s hard to get lost in the small residential area.
Many of these houses are casas particulares, which means they are available for rent. You can show up in Viñales without having lodging booked and simply walk around looking for places with the appropriate symbol on their doors. We found a nice air-conditioned room for $20 per night ($10 per person.)
The Beach at Cayo Jutias
Cayo Jutias is a couple of hours from Viñales and offers some of the most beautiful secluded beaches in the area. Plus starfish!
You’ll need the better part of a day to see Cayo Jutias. Typically, you can find a shared taxi that will leave around 9 am, give you 4-5 hours at the beach, and then head home around 4 pm. The beach is so relaxing that you should still have plenty of energy for the evening once you’re back in Viñales.
Pro tip: There’s a visitor’s center right on the main street in Viñales, so if you’re ever lost, just stop in and let them guide you. They can assist with any of these excursions, as well as taxis, bus tickets, and so forth.
Tobacco Farms and Horse Rides
Viñales is where many of Cuba’s world-famous cigars are made. I’ll be honest: I’m not terribly interested in cigars. If we’d had another day in the city, I might have checked out one of the local farms, but it wasn’t a high priority for me. Nor were the horse rides that are common throughout the valley.
You can find organized tours to tobacco farms, but some bloggers have had success just walking around the outskirts of town and chatting with farmers outside their homes. If cigars are your thing, see this post by Expert Vagabond for more details.
The Central Plaza
The central plaza in Viñales is a great spot for doing just about anything: People-watching, eating, drinking, using wifi, dancing. In the morning, the views are cool as the sun rises behind the church. As the day goes on, more and more people (and stray dogs) wander into the area to socialize.
When we visited during the summer a DJ played each night after dark. Street vendors sold $2 sidewalk mojitos, which you can carry into the plaza.
The one place in Viñales that offers wifi service (the Etecsa building) is just off the plaza and the signal will reach, so you can get online in the plaza if you wish. You have to buy an internet card in advance for $2-3 for one hour of wifi service.
Just remember not to spend too much time on your cell phone. This is a tremendous place to sit back and take in the sights and sounds of a vibrant Cuban town, so make sure to live in the moment.