Colorful colonial-style houses filled with friendly, smiling and sun-soaked people line the roads of downtown Viñales, Cuba. In the nearby valley, the thousand-feet-high limestone mogotes jutted from the flat earth, quickly catching my eyes and shifting the focus from lush green palm trees swaying in the wind.
The true beauty of Viñales, Cuba cannot be captured through a camera’s lens. It must be experienced. After all, it is just one of three places in the entire world that boasts this diverse terrain defined by sharp limestone mogotes, which are geomorphological formations only found in Viñales, China and Malaysia.
Its diverse network of karstic caves weave through mountains, taking you to underground rivers once forgotten by the outside world. Its land supports nearly 90 percent of Cuba’s tobacco production. Its coffee is made from small beans and renders a sweet taste, unlike what you’d expect from typical Cuban espresso.
But most of all, it’s still relatively untouched by tourism — even though it’s only 2.5 hours west of the hustle and bustle of Havana. This is everything you need to know about taking a day trip from Havana to Viñales or spending a few nights in this paradise.
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10 Best Things to Do in Viñales, Cuba
From caves to countrysides, horseback riding to breathtaking views, and Cuban cigars to Cuban coffee — all traversing the path in an iconic classic American muscle car from the 1960s — taking a trip to Viñales is one of the best things to do in Cuba.
There are two kinds of trips you can take: an 11-hour day trip from Havana and a multi-day trip that allows you to see and do so much more. I’ve broken down the best things to do in Viñales by day-trippers and those who have a few more days to spare. There are also no ATMs in Vinales, so travel credit cards will not work. You must bring cash with you!
1. Visit a Tobacco Farm
Cuban cigars are arguably the most famous in the entire world. And when you get a chance to see where the tobacco is grown, how the leaves are cured and a Cuban national roll them, you should jump at the opportunity.
Viñales produces about 90 percent of the country’s tobacco, and there are dozens of tobacco plantations in the area that have been in production for more than 200 years. We went in early November, so the tobacco was just being planted. The tobacco growing season runs from November to April, so visit during the latter months to get the full effect of tall tobacco stalks growing in open fields.
Visiting a tobacco farm to see the entire process is almost like a rite of passage before smoking your first Cuban cigar in Cuba. Now I have to admit that I’m not a huge cigar guy. I don’t go out and buy them and only smoke them if someone offers and it’s a special occasion. This was a special occasion.
The trip to the tobacco farm started with a tour through the drying area, which is a one-room hut-like building constructed out of tree trunks, palm fronds and dirt. It’s truly impeccable to see what they have done with only what the land has given them.
After the tour through the drying hut, you sit down at a wooden table where a worker breaks out a box of already processed ground tobacco and dried leaves. He rolls them so smoothly like the average person butters a piece of bread. He’s explaining the process the entire time while teaching you how to properly roll, and then, if you’re lucky, you get a chance to try your hand at this incredible art.
Viñales provides you with a first-hand lesson in Cuban cigars, learning how to roll them and the correct way to smoke them. You get a free cigar, dolloped with natural honey from the area, to smoke and a small glass of Cuban-made guava rum, which was so delicious we bought four bottles to take home!
During the smoke, you also get to taste the local coffee, which is made with smaller beans that give it a semi-sweet flavor. At the tobacco plantation we visited, they have cigars, honey, coffee and guava rum for sale, so make sure to bring extra cash with you (they take CUC, USD, Euros, and pretty much any kind of money).
- Cost: Included in day trips from Havana; Free tours with option to buy cigars (you should buy some or at least tip $10 CUC)
2. Horseback Riding Through the Valley
Imagine yourself galloping on the back of a horse, navigating a dirt path through mountainous limestone terrain that’s lush with what seems like 1 million shades of green. Now imagine paying only a few dollars for that experience in Cuba. You can make that happen.
Horses are a way of life for the Cuban people, especially those who live in the Cuban countryside. They’re far cheaper to maintain and take from A to B than a 1960s classic American muscle car getting 12 miles to the gallon.
Experiencing the Cuban countryside on horseback provides you with a small sense of the local’s life. And a Viñales, Cuba horseback riding adventure is an awesome way to experience the beautiful mogotes from a different perspective. You may also want to want to have adequate travel insurance in place if you plan to ride a horse through the valley.
- Cost: Included in day trips from Havana; $3 to $5 CUC per hour per person, depending on your haggling skills
3. Viñales Valley Overlook (Viewpoint of Valle de Viñales)
If you’re looking for the best view of the Viñales Valley, a place where you can gaze upon limestone mogotes sprinkled with red-dirt roads, high-flying palm trees and hand-built homes, the Viñales Valley overlook is where you want to go.
It’s the tallest viewpoint in the valley you can get to without a hike. Yup, it’s just a short car ride to the top, where you can stare upon the valley in awe and think about how beautiful the world in front of you is.
Whether you’re going on a day trip or visiting Viñales for a few days, I highly suggest taking in this view. It’s completely free, and there’s food and drinks for purchase at the top along with chairs to sit at and take in the view.
- Cost: Free!
4. Take a Boat Ride Through Cueva Del Indio
Our first stop of the day trip from Havana was Cueva del Indio, an Indian cave that features a walk and subsequent boat ride through an underground river. The cave is full of stalactites and stalagmites, which are mineral deposits that have elongated over time to form dagger-like structures that hang from the ceilings.
Cueva Del Indio is well-lit, paved and an extremely easy walk to get through the entire cave. Even if you stop to take photos and enjoy the cave, it’ll only take you about 30 minutes to get through the entire thing. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but I’d recommend going early in the morning or before it closes to beat the crowds.
There are many caves in the area, like the Santo Tomas Cave that you can hike a few hours through, but Cueva Del India is the only cave in the area you can ride a boat through.
- Cost: $5 CUC
5. Enjoy Food Overlooking the Valley
Anytime I can get cheap food at a restaurant with a view, I jump at the opportunity. Viñales is one of those places where the views are endless and the food portions are also seemingly endless. Seriously, though, we had three people and each of us must’ve been served a half-gallon of soup, half a chicken and a pound of rice.
Cubans sure know how to eat — and they know how to treat guests with the utmost kindness and hospitality! The restaurant we went to in Viñales (I forgot the name) was cheap (relative to the portions and views), had delicious food and a view you just can’t beat!
- Cost: Included in day trips from Havana; $10 to $15 CUC per person for a ton of food
6. See the Mural De La Prehistoria from Afar
After lunch we then stopped by the Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria, which is a large colorful mural of neo-cave art painted in 1961 by Leovigildo González Morillo. It’s a 400-foot-wide painting located on the face of a 2,000-plus-foot cliff. You can view it from afar for free or pay a few CUCs to get a close-up view.
- Cost: Free viewing from afar (worth it) or $5 CUC to enter the park and view it up close
If You’re Staying in Viñales at Least One Night
7. Visit the Downtown Area
Colorful, one-story buildings line the somewhat paved roads of downtown Viñales, giving the entire town a feeling that it’s been stuck in the past for quite some time and always will be. If you’re visiting on a day trip, you’ll be relegated to driving through the downtown area. But if you’re visiting for a few days, you can take it slow and check out the next thing to do.
- Cost: Free to visit!
8. Take in the Local Weekend Market
If you’re staying in Viñales for a few days, make sure one of those days is a Saturday or Sunday. The locals shut down some of the streets of the downtown area every Saturday and Sunday and pop up a weekend market.
The local market is a vibrant area filled with $1.50 CUC mojitos, cheap food, music, dancing and hand-made items from the locals. It’s truly a must-see while you’re there!
- Cost: Free to visit!
9. Rent a Bicycle
Biking is by far the cheapest way to cover some serious ground in Viñales. You can ride on the paved main roads or take it through the dirt and see 20 times more than you would if you had to walk (or spend 10 times less than you would hiring a taxi).
The local drivers are extremely cautious of bicyclists and pedestrians — after all, there are many cow- and yak-pulled carts and horses they must share the road with on a regular basis.
- Cost: $5 to $8 CUC for 5 hours; Unavailable on day trips
10. Go Hiking Through the Mogote Hills
Viñales is unique due to its mogote hills that encompass the area. These mogotes are made of limestone, marble and dolomite and basically shoot out of the flat ground toward the sky. There’s nothing but flat plains surrounding them, making it a great place to catch a view from above-ground and below-ground.
The Viñales Los Acuáticos hike is a great place to catch a sunrise and get some exercise and the Santo Tomas Cave is a great place to explore the underground karstic area of the region by torch and headlamps. Since you can’t really buy proper hiking essentials in Cuba and there aren’t places to rent gear, you’ll need to bring some sturdy hiking boots with you.
- Cost: Free to $15 CUC per hike, depending on if you’d like a guided tour or to tackle it on your own
Where to Stay in Viñales, Cuba
If you’re an American, there are only three types places to stay in Viñales, since Americans are still allowed to travel to Cuba but not stay in the hotels in Cuba. The first is Casa Particulars, which means you’ll be renting a room from a family and staying with them, booking an entire place through Airbnb or staying in hostels.
Casa particulars can be found online through Booking.com or by walking around Viñales and searching for homes with a blue anchor on a white background. This is the universal symbol in Cuba for a room for rent.
Casa particulars are going to be your cheapest option by far, but they also usually require you to stay in a room of a family’s home. So if you’d like privacy, you won’t get much of it. There are some casa particulars that include the entire home, but you’re going to have to pay more money for these.
This is where you can find the best and cheapest Casa Particulars in Viñales.
- Cost: $3 to $40 CUC per person, per night
Hostels are gonna be your second-cheapest option and this is where you can find some pretty cool like-minded people. There are a few hostels in Viñales, but you’ll have far more options with casa particulars.
- Cost: $15 to $35 CUC per person, per night
There are some pretty nice and big homes listed on Airbnb in Viñales, so it’s one of the best options to find a nice, comfortable place ahead of time that you get to yourself. You’ll have to pay a little more to rent the entire place, but if you like your privacy, this is your best option to secure a spot before your trip.
- Cost: $15 to $150 CUC per night
How Many Nights to Stay in Viñales
If you’re not doing a day trip from Havana, I highly recommend staying in Viñales for at least two nights — three if you’re taking a bus (more on that next). This way you’ll get to see much more of the area without having to rush to fit everything in.
How Far Is Viñales from Havana?
Although Viñales, Cuba is only 115 miles west of Havana, it’ll take 2.5 hours by taxi, up to 3.5 hours by private bus or up to 8 hours or so if you choose to take the public government-run buses (due to the inconsistent time schedules and buses breaking down).
There are no airports in the area, so your only option is to traverse the main highway and then spend a short amount of time navigating through pothole-filled backroads. Of course, the amount of time it takes to get there and which option you choose all depends on how much time you’ve got to spare, what your budget is and what country you hail from.
The time option is relevant because you can either take an 11-hour day trip from Havana or spend a few nights staying in Viñales.
The money option is relevant because day trips are by far the most expensive method of seeing Viñales and, if you really want to stretch your money, you’ll need to have a few free days.
The country of residence option is relevant because Americans, like myself, are not allowed to utilize any government entities, which includes the government-run tour buses.
How to Get to Viñales, Cuba from Havana
1. Take Private Viñales, Cuba Tour
Taking a private day-trip tour from Havana to Viñales is by far the easiest and least time-consuming method of travel. It’s what we did when visiting in November and it was an absolute blast!
You’ll get to do the first seven of 11 things to do in Viñales, Cuba, but you’ll miss out on the remainder and really be cramped for time. If you’re only visiting Havana for a long weekend and want to see authentic Cuban culture outside the city limits, a day trip to Viñales is the way to go.
Although a private day-trip tour will take about 11 hours of the day, the ride there and back is about 2.5 hours each way. However, if you’re able to spend more time in Cuba, I highly recommend the next two options and then spending a few days taking in the Viñales Valley.
- Average Cost: $90 to $100 CUC per person for a round trip (Not recommended for solo travelers)
2. Bus from Havana to Viñales
There are two reliable buses from Havana to Viñales, but this is where it gets pretty tricky. The two buses are the Viazul, which can be booked online in advance, and Astro, which cannot be booked in advance for non-Cuban nationals.
The Viazul bus is a privately run bus service that operates all around the Cuban island. It’s by far the cheapest way to get from city to city while traveling in Cuba, but it’s also the most unreliable method of transportation. Riding in a yak-drawn cart may be slower, but it’s more reliable.
You can easily buy a ticket online for $12 CUC each way. They have two trips to Viñales each day and one trip back to Havana each day. But if you ride it, you should know that your bus has a good chance of breaking down and leaving you stranded on the side of the road for a few hours. It can take anywhere from 3 hours to more than 8 hours, depending on if the bus breaks down or not.
If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, I recommend skipping the Viazul bus. If you have all day to get and all day to get back, go for it. I just wouldn’t book any excursions on the day of travel because you risk not getting there on time and losing out on the money you paid for the excursion.
The Astro bus is the government-run bus that takes locals to and from their destination. This should be used as a last-resort method of transportation because buses are often extremely late and viciously overcrowded.
It’s also worth noting that Astro buses will only pick up non-Cuban nationals if they are students and have room on the bus for non-nationals. Since you could secure a taxi colectivo for cheaper, I strongly recommend staying away from Astro buses. If you do want to take one, all you need to do is stand under any bridge on the highway. They stop at each one.
- Average Viazul Bus Cost: $12 CUC per person each way
- Average Astro Bus Cost: $38 CUC per person each way
3. Hire a Taxi from Havana
If you plan to stay in Viñales for a few days or traverse the island with no plans to go directly back to Havana, hiring a taxi is your best bet. Taxis are a big business in Cuba, so finding one is about as easy as throwing an apple in the air and hitting the ground with it.
If you’re staying at a casa particular or Airbnb your host can help you find a taxi. If you’re staying at a government hotel, the front desk can track one down easily for you. Everyone in the country knows someone with a taxi who can take you to Viñales.
Private taxis and colectivo taxis are the same things. The name just depends on how many people are in the taxi. If you’re traveling with a group of five people, it’s to be cheaper to hire a private taxi and split the cost. But if you’re a solo or two-person travel team, a colectivo is your best bet.
A private taxi just means you’ll have the entire vehicle to your group and a colectivo will be shared with other travelers. For solo or two-person travel teams, a colectivo is a nice way to save money and meet like-minded people.
If your taxi has three or four people, expect to pay from $20 CUC to $30 CUC. But if you can squeeze five or more people (there are larger van-like colectivos), that’s when the price really starts dropping.
- Average Colectivo Taxi Cost: $15 to $30 CUC per person each way
- Average Private Taxi Cost: $80 to $100 CUC per taxi each way
Best Time of Year to Visit Viñales
Since Viñales is basically a jungle-type environment far from Cuba’s coastline, it gets really hot and a ton of rain. The best time to visit is from November through April. That way you miss the hottest and wettest parts of the year. Plus, you’ll get to see the tobacco growing in open fields.