One of the most pervasive associations with Cuba, at least for Americans, is cigars. The heart of Cuba’s cigar country is a town called Viñales, located in the province of Pinar del Rio, but cigars themselves are only part of the story here. Viñales, you see, is surrounded by limestone karsts carpeted in emerald jungles, a paradise by most any definition. There’s also the people, or one of them in particular—more on him in a minute.
The various ways you can visit Viñales, whether you do so as a day or weekend trip from Havana, as part of a larger journey around Cuba or as a standalone trip, are as numerous as the reasons to go.
Day or Weekend Trip from Havana
As I outlined in my recent Havana sample itinerary, Viñales is close enough to Havana (3-4 hours by Viazul bus) that you could theoretically visit it on a day trip from Havana. This would afford you time to walk through the town center, where you could visit cigar and rum shops, and chat with locals. You could also potentially hike or take a horseback ride, although that might be pushing it.
To be sure, Viñales is best done as a weekend trip, at minimum. This not only allows you to explore the town in great enough depth to meet some its more colorful characters (again, more on one of them in a minute), but to explore the other treasures of Pinar del Rio province, including beaches like Cayo Jutias and Cayo Levisa.
Viñales boasts plenty of affordable guest houses (although they can be difficult to book online—consult your Havana casa particular for a recommendation!), which makes staying the weekend here as cheap as it is easy.
Part of Two Weeks in Cuba
I visited Viñales as part of two weeks in Cuba, just after having spent a long weekend in Havana. By the time I arrived there, I was already in an explorative enough mood (my Spanish skills, too, had warmed up) that I immediately ventured off the beaten path upon checking in at my casa. It was down said path that I made the acquaintance of Domingo, the tobacco-farmer looking man you see in some of the photos in this article (hint: he actually is a tobacco farmer, among many other talents!).
The main advantage of visiting Viñales as one of many Cuba destinations is that it allows you to appreciate what makes it so special in the context of the country as a whole. For example, I enjoyed the quietness of Viñales when compared to Havana (my prior destination) and its simplicity when compared to elaborate Trinidad, where I traveled afterwards.
Cuba’s Cigar Country as a Standalone Destination
“About three weeks,” the woman said, as she sucked on the cigar Domingo had made her.
Another woman (whom I later found out was her mother) corrected her. “It’s closer to a month, actually.”
Like me, these women had randomly encountered Domingo while walking down a muddy path on their own first trip to Cuba. Unlike me (as of yet, anyway), they returned to Viñales for a standalone trip there, one they said would see them explore the region in-depth over a period of time longer than my entire trip to Cuba.
I’m not a slow traveler, nor do I have the attention span to by any one place for a month, not even (usually) my own apartment. If you’re looking for a place to chill a wind down for a while, however, Viñales might be that place.
Viñales is a must-visit on your next trip to Cuba, no matter how long you can spend there or under what circumstances. Visit as a day or weekend trip from Havana, as part of a longer Cuba itinerary or even as a standalone trip. Whether you spend a day, a week or a month in Viñales, it’s sure to be one of your top Cuba highlights.
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