THE VALLE DE VIÑALES: CUBA’S RURAL FARMING LANDSCAPE
A two hour drive south west of the city of Havana stands the stunning limestone landscape of the Valle de Viñales or Viñales Valley. It is located in the province of Pinar del Rio about 200 km from Havana and on the most westerly point of Cuba. A beautifully lush and contrasting land compared to Havana, is famously known as producers of Cuban tobacco use in those globally iconic Cuban cigars.
The Valle de Viñales
The Valle de Viñales is located in the Sierra de los Organos and has an idyllic and unique landscape, which is dotted with ‘mogotes’ (The mogotes stand pretty tall at 300m) also known as Karst formations surrounding the valley with rich red soil and abundant palm trees is one of the reasons why the Valle de Viñales is home to Cuba’s most fertile soil allowing the best tobacco to be grown, dried and harvested.
The Valle de Viñales provides a relaxing rural backdrop for a visit and is therefore sprinkled with many small farms where I believe traditional techniques are used to farm just as in the past, giving anyone visiting this region a truly authentic feel.
In 1999, the Valle de Viñales was designated as a UNESCO world Heritage Site. After spending a day in the valley and experiencing this slow pace of preserved farming life, it was evident why the area has been awarded this status. The Valle de Viñales has also been turned into a National Park or Parque Nationale de Viñales.
TRADITIONAL TOBACCO FARM
Our day in the Valle de Viñales started with a visit to a traditional ‘Casa del Veguero’ or the Tobacco farmer’s house. A traditional farm house surrounded by stretches of green farmland and of course the tobacco plantation. Here we gained some insight into the production, drying and harvesting process of the tobacco leaves and how they go on to be rolled into become some of the world’s most famous cigar’s The Cohiba. The Cohiba cigars were created as the personal smoke of Fidel Castro in 1966.
If you are a connoisseur of cigars you will therefore know that purchasing straight from the tobacco farm will get you the best price for cigars as opposed to purchasing back in Havana. Additionally, this will ensure that the cigars you are getting are authentic and contain Viñales tobacco as opposed to fakes in the city, which can sometimes contain banana leaves and cost an extortionate amount of money! A Cohiba cigar direct from a tobacco farmer would cost in the region of 12 CUC (£9). Naturally, the more you purchase, the better deal you would obtain.
Tobacco plants reach their full height between November and February and once these have been harvested other crops such as Malanga, yucca and corn are planted up to October to make use of the soils of the area. One of the best parts of the visit to the tobacco farms is that it allows personal interaction with the farmers and allows for a beautifully authentic experience mingling with the locals and being educated on their source of income and lifestyle.
THE INDIA CAVES
There are many caves in the Valle de Vinales that can be visited and are open to the public, however we chose The Cueva del Indio or India Caves. There is a short walk or hike into the cave and you then board a small boat, which takes you into the nooks and crannies of the cave on the underground river. It comes equipped with a guide who points out the rock formations of interest and explains all those interesting little facts that wow you at the time but honesty, I’m a little embarrassed to say, I can’t remember them now!
PRE-HISTORIC MOGOTE PAINTINGS
One of the most interesting but slightly maybe even strange things we saw was The Vinales Mural de la Pre-historia, which is the handy work of the former director of mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo. He has portrayed world history up until the age of humans on mogote or limestone rock wall.
AN AWE INSPIRING PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE SIERRA DE LOS ORGANOS
If there are any photos you take of this day, the panoramic view point or mirador from the square adjacent to the famous Las Jazmines hotel in Viñales is worth a few snaps! There are also small cafes situated in this area so you can enjoy a snack whilst you take in the luscious vistas of the region.
Other things to do in the Valle de Viñales
If you have time on your hands then you can chose from one of the many traditional Casa Particulares or one storey houses and explore the area in a more leisurely fashion. If you are a keen rider, the area offers many scenic horse-back riding tours for beginners as well as those who are used to being in the saddle. The National park office can offer plenty of advice on one of the many hiking trails in the area as well as the hire of a guide, which may be necessary for some hikes.
Cubans are extremely friendly folk and just speaking to them will give you a good understanding of their nature. In my experience, they are more than happy to suggest some of the most authentic activities that they have available in the area, leaving you with feeling that you have truly lived the Cuban way of life.
If you want to experience a part of the rural-life of many of the Cubans living out of the cities then the Valle de Viñales is a true and authentic representation of rustic farming life. It is a great place to meet the locals who make this country so unique and get a great insight into their livelihoods.
We booked a private full day tour to the Valle de Viñales with Cuba Travel Network including a tailor-made itinerary with the use of a guide and a jeep for £91 per person. A traditional 3 course Cuban lunch was included at a local restaurant.
I would love to know if you have visited the Valle de Viñales and of your experiences in the area. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Additionally are you planning a trip to Cuba, if so would you consider adding the region to your Itinerary?
Want to read more on what to do outside of the city of Havana, then have a look at Cuba’s UNESCO biosphere reserve, Las Terrazas
The Viñales National Park
Pinar del Rio