We left the hustle and bustle of Havana and took a pre-arranged collectivo taxi to our next stop – Viñales. We were staying three nights in a local casa particulares, (essentially a B&B), called Yurkenia y Lila casa and had a self contained room behind the main house. Viñales is a laid back rural town, surprisingly bigger than I imagined, but wonderfully traditional. Here you can see people sat on wooden rocking chairs on their porches, horse and carts, farmers ploughing the fields with oxen and not to mention a stunning national park.
Collectivo taxis are shared taxis and are fairly cheap. If all the buses have been booked up in advance, collectivos make a rapid, convenient and fairly cheap way to get around. These can be arranged by your host accommodation. Our collectivo from Havana to Viñales cost $20CUC each, from Viñales to Trinidad $40CUC each and from Trinidad back to Varadero $30CUC each and this is door to door.
We arrived mid afternoon at our accommodation and our hosts were able to give us suggestions of things to do in Viñales and book us on a horse riding tour of the Valle de Viñales national park the following morning (I think this was about $25CUC each for four hours). Our first afternoon was spent wandering the town, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere, colourful single storey houses and market stalls before enjoying some sundowner mojitos.
The following morning we were picked up by scooter to take us to our horses on the edge of the national park. Our guide spoke broken English, but I knew enough Spanish to get by and interpret what he was saying. The horseback tour took us through breath taking scenery – rust red soil and huge fields of tobacco and crops lie as far as the eye can see, and all this interspersed with mogotes (limestone mountains). The horseback ride was a little bit of a tourist trap, but interesting all the same and a chance to be a cowgirl! Our first stop was at a tobacco farm, where a farmer discussed the tobacco growing and drying process in order to make cigars – he spoke entirely in Spanish but I somehow managed to gather what he was saying. We then sat in his hut in the shade and Phil and I shared a cigar dipped in honey, before a cigar sales pitch began. We had wanted cigars as souvenirs anyway, but did come away with a few more than we intended (20)!
We then got back on the horses and rode to our next stop – a cave. We had to pay a boy $1CUC at the entrance to guide us through the cave which ended in an icy pool that you could swim in. Unfortunately, having not brought a towel, the prospect of riding back sodden wet and chaffing on a saddle did not appeal, so we didn’t take the plunge. From here, we started the trek back through the park, stopping at a coffee producer along the way who demonstrated the coffee making process. Here, there was a little shop to buy coffee and honey and a small “cafe” where we sat sipping a latte and admiring our surroundings. The final hour of our ride was a little sore on the bottom and we were grateful to jump off the horse at the end and slowly walk back through town to grab some drinks and lunch.
In the afternoon we decided to walk up to a view point near the park visitor centre. The walk was along the main road and some parts didn’t have a designated path so we had to walk on the verge – a little hairy with Cuban drivers around! At the top there is a restaurant with a spectacular view over the valley- it was quite breezy up there so I would take a jumper if you are there in December like us. We had some drinks and admired the sun setting over the valley below, before quick footing it down the hill before nightfall.
On our final day we decided to have some R and R and walked to the La Ermita hotel to utilise their facilities – a pleasant walk from town up a quiet road. It cost $8CUC per person to use their pool and loungers, but $7CUC of this could be used to buy drinks and sandwiches at the bar, so it was actually quite good value for money, although you were not given a towel. The views from here are spectacular and there is a little seating area in the shade of a tree down the hill from the pool which is lovely to relax at with a drink. The pool was “refreshing” to say the least, but we enjoyed our day of reading books and relaxing with the occasional cool off dip. After freshening up at our accommodation, we decided to go in search of the famed Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso restaurant and wing it in the hope they could fit us in. It is easily walkable from town, however don’t pay any attention to locals who will a. Try to tell you it is closed and lead you elsewhere and b. Tell you there is a cigar factory sale one day a month and today is the day! These are both hilariously common things locals will say to lure you into buying their goods.
(From town, walk up Salvador Cisneros (the Main Street), take the right fork just past the Petrol station and carrying on walking until you start going up a hill and it is near the top of the hill on the left hand side).
The restaurant has beautiful sunset views over the organic vegetable gardens and down into the valley. The food is based on whatever the seasonal vegetables and salads are and there is LOTS of it! We were brought house cocktails, followed by five huge starter plates, then 12 main course plates including pork, chicken, fish, rice and huge numbers of vegetables, followed by dessert and coffee – and all this for two people! Feeling stuffed, we decided to walk back in the dark rather then get a taxi as we felt weighed down! It was definitely worth a trip! To finish off our last night in Viñales we enjoyed some mojitos in town before heading back to our accommodation.
There is lots to do in Viñales, and if time is on your side you could easily spend longer here – there are lots of places to bicycle, trips to the coast, hiking, caving and climbing. A must see on a trip to Cuba!
From Viñales we travelled to Trinidad – a long and uncomfortable taxi ride, but made all the easier with comedy programmes pre-downloaded on the iPad. We were staying in a B&B that we had found on Air BnB, right in the heart of the old town – Hostal Colonial Casa Vieja. It was a fantastic place to stay with a great breakfast and round the corner from the main square. Each evening live bands played in the main square and here we would sit with some beers enjoying the sunset, wonderful music and watching the locals salsa.
Trinidad is a very photogenic town and it is small so can easily be seen in an afternoon. We spent one day exploring the town, walking up the hill with a viewpoint, going into the museum with the viewing and perusing the shops. There are a couple of quirky places to eat in Trinidad, and we particularly enjoyed Giroud for drinks and tapas.
The following day we booked ourselves on a day trip to Topes De Collantes with Cubatur. The trip was $30CUC each and included lunch. After a scenic ride on an open top truck, we stopped at a viewing point to admire the sea view before heading to a coffee shop to taste a local espresso and be given an explanation of the coffee making process. We were then taken to the start of our hiking trail that took us down to a waterfall and pool area where we all took a much needed cool off dip!
Our final stop in Cuba took us back to Varadero where we unashamedly had two nights at an all inclusive resort for some final relaxation before heading home for Christmas. Cuba is an amazing country, full of history and culture and beautiful scenery, trapped in a wonderful time warp where wifi isn’t the norm. For a last minute holiday destination choice Cuba really turned up trumps for us and it really was a trip to remember.