My trip to Viñales was definitely my favorite part of my trip to Cuba. It was a hard and crazy journey for me. The combination of lack of sleep, dehydration, not eating all day, driving 3.5hrs each way, riding a horse for a few hours, the humidity and heat all got to me. At the end of the day I thought I was going to collapse, no joke, BUT definitely worth every second of it. I was pretty determined to make sure I got to see this amazing city in Cuba and so happy I did!
*Before I share my amazing trip to Vinales, I do want to mention that I know many of you have a lot of questions about Cuba. So after getting countless emails and messages, I took all the questions most people want to know the answers to and wrote a blog post answering them for you here: Cuba: Everything You Need To Know BEFORE You Travel: Questions & Answers. Make sure to check it out to make your trip more enjoyable, so that you’re prepared.
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The more I travel the world, the more I realize how much I love the countryside and the off the grid path, even though I’ve always been a big city girl. Although Havana is different than most city capitals of the world, Viñales just stole my heart away from the moment I arrived.
Viñales is the countryside of Cuba and located about 111 miles away from Havana. In a car, it can take you between 3hr-3.5hr to get there and by bus, I believe 4hrs, maybe more. The roads in Cuba aren’t the best, so be prepared for a bumpy ride.
If you’ve never heard of Viñales, Viñales is where the tobacco plantations are and where they make the world’s famous Cuban Cigars for over 200 years. They also have a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is Viñales Valley. If you go horseback riding like I did, you will visit the National Park.
Since Viñales is a small town in the countryside, this city is pretty active but slow-paced. You will find locals and tourist wandering the streets during the day and as an FYI, Viñales is very safe. The locals ride horses, ride in classic vintage cars and sometimes even wagons. There is such a charm to this part of the country, everything is very relaxed, the air is fresh, the people are friendly and the view is breathtaking.
I personally think that people that live in Viñales have it better than those who live in Havana. There are many farmers in Viñales, most have tobacco fields and others grow vegetables, make coffee and rum.
Cubans don’t make much money since Cuba is a communist country. Most Cubans make $20-$30 a month, the only other way around it is by having their own businesses but as it turns out (by one of the farmers I met), the government takes 90% of what he makes as a business owner! So many times, the Cubans who live in Viñales trade off food supplies with each other, depending on what they grow on their farms.
Where to Stay in Viñales
Most people that visit Viñales, normally stay overnight for at least a night or two. Since my time in Cuba was limited, I was crazy enough to make a day trip and come back that same day. Later it turned out to be not the greatest idea and if I can recommend you any advice it would be to stay the night there. When I look back at it, I can’t imagine going from LA to Las Vegas and coming back that same day, but that’s kinda what I did.
There aren’t many hotels in Viñales, but there are some. Most of the people that visit Viñales normally stay at a Casa Particular which is like an Airbnb, where a family will host you in a guesthouse or rent you a room in their house or you can also stay at an Airbnb. If you’re visiting Cuba the best way to find a Casa Particular is by asking around or looking for the Casa Particular sign that’s normally outside people’s home and asking them if they have a room for the night.
Some travelers might think that’s a bit risky — the thought of not really knowing where they will sleep without booking in advance. If you’re one of those people, you can stay at an Airbnb and book in advance. I have a special promo code that gives you a $40 credit for any Airbnb in the world, including Cuba, which I used on my trip to Cuba. I stayed in Havana for 6 days and paid less than $200 and used only Airbnb.
If you do live in America you won’t be able to book hotels in Cuba online, that’s why Airbnb is normally your best choice. (For more on where to stay in Cuba, read: Where To Stay In Cuba: Everything You Need To Know)
Click below to get your $40 off coupon with Airbnb!
Since the locals don’t make much money, staying at a casa particular or an Airbnb really helps them make extra money, so if you can, please help the locals, they really need it.
How to Get To Viñales
There are 4 ways of getting to Viñales:
1. Option #1: You book a tour in advance, which you can do at most hotel lobbies in Havana or by a tour agent. Make sure to book at least a day in advance.
2. Option #2: You can go by bus and purchase tickets at the bus station. The only problem with this is you have to purchase tickets the day before because they sell out so fast and you have to do it in person. If you’re anywhere in Old Havana you would need to take a private taxi to the bus station to purchase tickets which will cost you double the amount since you would be making 2 round trips there (the day before and your actual travel date). You CAN try to buy tickets on the same day, but be prepared to stand in a long line and chances are they will sell out. (Cost about $12 each way)
3. Option #3 would be to take a taxi. A private taxi to Viñales from Havana would cost you about $65-$80 depending if you know how to bargain (you better be good, these guys are hustlers! lol). This was always my backup plan, although I didn’t want to pay that much money each way.
4. Option #4 would probably be the best one which is to take a private taxi and share it with other travelers and split the cost, which is what I did.
When I got to the bus station early morning, there were about 30 people in line before me. I was probably the only one traveling solo and used that to my advantage. I figured that if I can make friends with any of these people and if the tickets sold out, I can ask them to share a taxi with me. I ended up making a bunch of friends in line with mostly European girls, as we were all wondering if there were enough tickets for the bus. After waiting in line for 30mins (what seemed like forever), the tickets sold out. So I gathered a few of the girls that wanted to go that same day and asked them if they wanted to take a taxi with me. 7 said yes! lol
After a long time of bargaining with the taxi drivers, we finally agreed on a price which was $10 each and we got a jeep big enough to fit all of us. We got so lucky with such an awesome taxi driver, who later became my friend and took me home for a discounted rate of $30 or $40 (can’t remember). He also was my driver for the rest of the trip.
Travel Tip: Cubans are super friendly and LOVE tourist! Try to find a driver you like and become friends with them, it’s the best way to save money, make friends with a local and learn about the culture. They love practicing their English.
Horseback Riding in Viñales
My #1 goal for my trip to Viñales was to ride horses, visit the tobacco plantations and see how Cuban cigars are made. I think that’s like the ultimate Cuba experience and of course, ride in a classic vintage car.
When we got to Viñales and dropped everyone off at different casa particulars, which our taxi driver also helped set up, he helped me find a farm that would take me horseback riding in the plantation of Viñales Valley. He asked around and found someone for me.
Normally the horseback riding ride is 5hrs long, which cost $25. Since we got there late and didn’t want to leave past dark, he set one up for me for 4hrs for only $20! (SO CHEAP!).
The tour stops at a few different spots, a tobacco farm, a coffee, rum and sugar cane farm where you see how coffee is made. You can also order some beverage or food off of their menu. The family owns a little restaurant/cafe. The owner let us try some of their Cuban rum that they make. I also bought an amazing freshly squeezed lemonade with honey, which helped hydrate me. It was a super hot day and humid. Make sure to always hydrate yourself if you’re going on the horse tour.
The other stops were at a lake, but me and the other people on the tour, didn’t have swimsuits. Another stop was at a restaurant but we were so tired and hot that we decided to make our tour shorter.
The horseback riding adventure was amazing! We made a few stops on the way, the first was visiting a tobacco farm where the owner of the farm, Carlos, showed us how to make cigars and the process of collecting and drying the tobacco leafs. He even let us try some of his cigars adding his family’s traditional recipe.
I hate cigarettes and I’ve never tried a cigar before, but smoking a Cuban cigar in Cuba was a must! It was for sure on my bucket list.
If you’re visiting Viñales, this is the best place to buy Cuban cigars. They are cheaper than everywhere else and fresh. Many places in Havana sell fake cigars, so be careful. I believe he was selling like 10 cigars for $40, which if you know anything about Cuban cigars they can cost hundreds just for a single cigar.
To watch my Vinales adventure live, watch the video below!
I definitely recommend Vinales for anyone traveling to Cuba. You will love it!
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