When people ask me where my favorite place was in Cuba it is really hard to answer. I loved Havana for the dancing and live salsa music and since these are passions of mine I think I have to say Havana is my favorite overall. I also loved Trinidad for the architecture, live music, dancing, but I hated that it was soooo overrun with tourists. One place that I really wish I could have spent more time because I enjoyed every minute of my stay, was the city of Vinales.
I stayed at a wonderful AirBnB located just off of the main square. The owner greeted me with ice cream, gave me a tour of the casa, and then when I asked for a recommendation for a horseback riding tour of the area she hooked me up! This place had the best water pressure and hot water shower that I found in my three weeks in Cuba and the hosts were extremely helpful. If you are ever in Vinales you should really look out for Casa Paez!
The guide that my casa owners recommended, Jordan, is the one that truly made Vinales memorable for me. He charged me 5CUC an hour, took me all around Vinales for five hours, AND rode double on the horse with me when I didn’t feel comfortable riding in the slippery mud. He even played great music on his cellphone when he learned that I love salsa!
First, he took me to see a tobacco farm. After growing for about 3-4 months the leaves are harvested, cured for a few weeks in a barn, and then fermented further with various moistening agents. Then the leaves are sorted into filler, binder, and wrappers before they are rolled by hand. At some point, the government sends someone by to collect 70% (I was told that it used to be 90%) of the harvest so that the government can produce cigars for export.
From the tobacco farm, we went to a coffee plantation that had a fantastic mirador (viewpoint). There was also a lake that is supposed to be very popular in the summer months. I had a coffee while enjoying the view.
Next, Jordan brought me to a cave that we walked into for a bit. I was wearing flip flops (not a smart choice for the day) and I’ve visited quite a few caves in Oregon so I was happy to just take a few pics and then turn around. Jordan told me that we could have continued riding further into the park to see more of the famous mogotes and the painted rocks.
The sun was already starting to go down so I thought it best that we started to head back.
After that, Jordan took me to a fantastic lookout spot to watch the sunset. Someone was a genius and decided to sell mixed drinks on the tower. It was the only place in Cuba where I was asked to add rum to my drink as I pleased! I tried an herbal “cocktail ant-stress” drink that had a bunch of herbs, a piece of coconut, and rum. I recommend it if you ever end up there.
Finally, we headed back to town. On the way back he told me that the local Casa de la Musica is really good with live music and dancing every night. Despite his description and invitation to go with him, the fact that I hadn’t been on a horse for more than ten years, and never in my life had I done anything to prepare me to ride for five hours, meant that my legs were painfully sore.
Thankfully, there was an excellent Brazilian-Cuban fusion restaurant almost directly across the street from my casa particular. They had the best “Ropa Vieja” (shredded beef) dish in all of Cuba (or at least at the four or five places I tried). Look for Barrio-2 for some very flavorful local food, excellent hot sauce, and strong drinks if you visit Vinales.
I did not want to catch my 6AM bus to Trinidad the next morning, but now I have yet another good reason to return to Cuba: I need more time in Vinales!