Cuba is known for its world-class cigar-making, and touring the tobacco farms on horseback in Vinales will provide a great opportunity to witness it firsthand. Vinales Valley is where all the tobacco that goes into Cuban cigars is grown and pretty much all the top things to do in Vinales revolve around the tobacco industry. This is one of the most frequented stops made by tourists in Cuba since the Vinales Valley is close to Havana.
Tour bus operators tend to skip the horse tour in favor of taking customers to the largest cigar factory in Cuba. Cigar factories tend not to differ from one to the other. But we think riding a horse that takes you through tobacco farms in Vinales Valley, which is protected by UNESCO, is a much better experience than visiting a factory. This was by far one of the best things we did in Vinales – no, in all of Cuba.
You can also choose to walk through the valley if you wish. However, the best thing to do in Vinales is to ride a horse for four hours and watch the sunset with a mojito in one hand and a cigar in the other. You don’t have to worry about supplies, as you’ll probably come across a bar in the middle of a farm to provide you with staples like cheese, bread and, of course, rum.
We divided this piece into three main sections for you:
Note: If you are coming from Havana, then make sure to stop and drink a coffee at Las Terrazas, which is an ecovillage.
How many days should I set aside for Vinales Valley?
We think that setting one day aside for Vinales Valley is enough. Aside from the horse ride, we made a list for you of things to do in Vinales, but there’s no reason to stay here much longer when there is so much else to explore in Cuba.
Cohibo Cuba is the most famous brand of Cuban cigars, and sampling them is something you have to do in Vinales. After that is Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo, which are cheaper. The state owns all these companies. Because the state owns everything that is produced in Cuba, they take 90% of the farm’s tobacco. The remaining 10% can be sold to whomever.
Typically, these cigars are sold to tourists who come to make cigars while touring in Vinales Valley. While cigar sellers tried to charge us 3 CUC for one, we were able to talk them down to 1.5 CUC. They also might try to sell you packs of 10 or 20 cigars; however, we don’t recommend this as the longer the cigar sits, the drier the tobacco becomes.
Sellers will try to get around this argument by saying that the tobacco will last longer if you wrap tree bark around the cigars, so do your research. The branded cigars have chemicals in them, making them last longer. However, you are only allowed to take a maximum of 25 out of the country. Unmarked cigars have no such limit.
HORSE RIDES IN VINALES
There are a couple of valleys inside Vinales National Park, but the tours are mostly done in the Palmarito Valley and in Los Aquaticos. Opting for a horse ride was our favorite thing to do in Vinales Valley, and is the best way for you to learn about how tobacco is grown and dried, how cigars are made and the relationship between farmers and the state.
You can do all this while riding a horse through the farms. It matters who you make the tour with: Some of the horses are in such poor health that what is an absolutely lovely excursion could easily turn into a guilt trip.
- You do not need to know how to ride a horse for the tour through Vinales Valley.
- The price for a horse tour is 5 CUC per hour, and the trip takes 4 hours.
- There is a pit stop along the way where you can swim if you’d like, so make sure to bring a bathing suit (You can watch our experience of this in the video above).
- You will definitely need to bring tennis shoes (no sandals) and trousers.
- You can go at two different times, as there are trips scheduled for sunrise and sundown. The sunset trip starts between 3-4 hours before the sun sets.
Where can I make arrangements for the horse trip?
Indeed, this is the most important question. You might be wondering whether or not you can make arrangements with people on the street offering to schedule a trip. We definitely don’t recommend doing this. While going on horseback is one of the best things to do in Vinales, you should make sure that the horses are treated well before deciding on a company. Be wary of the people you give your business to, as they might be looking to make a buck from a gullible tourist.
Some of the horses are in such pain that it makes you feel guilty just looking at them. To make sure you are making the right choice, call Yoan & Yarelis in Vinales Valley, who do a good job of taking care of their farms and horses. There are a couple of villagers who they also work with, and they split the proceeds with them. They also run a very popular homestay (you can read about it in the “accommodation” section). Telephone: 52- 74-17-34
PLACES TO GO IN VINALES VALLEY
In order to see the map of the center of Vinales, you can click on GoogleMaps
2. Villa Los Reyes
3. Museo Municipal
5. Seafood BBQ Restaurant
6. Casa de La Cultura
Vinales Valley, which has been on the UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List since 1999, will provide you with the absolute best countryside experience. Vinales Valley offers more than just tobacco plantations, but also biodiversity, caves and traditional settlements. The landscape lends itself to several things to do in Vinales, from horse riding to hiking, climbing and diving. If you’re thinking of doing several of these activities, then you should probably stay two days in the national park. But if you’re thinking of just doing the horse trip, then one day is enough.
1. VINALES CENTER
You can arrange to have your tour encompass all of the things to do in Vinales Valley, instead of the city center in Vinales Village, which provides some of the best examples of colonial architecture. The church of the main square was founded in 1875. The place is tiny with only 4,000 people.
Casa de la Cultura – This is one of the oldest examples of colonial architecture in the city center. Presently, Casa de la Cultura is used as a cultural center for dance lessons. Click here for the location. You can come here for the nightlife as well.
Museo Municipal – Between the years 1861-1914, this used to be the home of Adela Azcuy, an important figure in Cuba’s war of independence. Since 1982, the building has been used as a city museum. You can arrange plans for a tour of the national park by going to the office of the museum the day before you’d like to go.
Hours of operation: The museum is open 9:00 am – 8:00 pm Tuesdays through Saturday, and open until 11:00 pm on Sundays. Entrance fee is 1 CUC. Click here for the location.
Balcon del Valle – Built on a steep hill on a tobacco farm, this is a good restaurant to come to watch the sunset. While you might not find it on the menu, you can order pork, lobster, fish and chicken The restaurant is located 3 kilometers outside of Vinales center. Website: balcondelvallevinales.blogspot.in Click here for the location.
2. THINGS TO DO IN VINALES NATIONAL PARK
Vilanes National Park features an amazing natural landscape spread over 150 kilometers. The park allows you to witness firsthand how agricultural products such as coffee, tobacco, sugar cane, oranges and avocado are traditionally grown.
The park also offers locals and tourists things to do in Vinales such as swimming, horse riding through the hills and valleys, hiking and climbing. You don’t have to necessarily be in shape to enjoy these outdoor activities. As Cuba’s top touristic location, tour operators have designed tours suitable for everyone.
With these tours, you can do other outdoor activities in other areas and see places such as the Indian Caves, San Miguel, Los Aquaticos Village and the Vinales Mural de la Prehistoria.
Rock climbing in Vinales National Park
The park’s geography resembles Yosemite, as there high freestanding crags called “mogotes,” making rock climbing one of the best things to do in Vinales for climbing enthusiasts. The government, though, doesn’t support rock climbing as a sport very much; if it did, then rock climbing enthusiasts from around the world would come to Vinales Valley to climb.
This goes for other sports, not only rock climbing. Because there’s not enough government backing, there are no signs, markers or pictures in the area. The best information you’ll be able to get on how to brave the elements would be from Cuba Climbing. While there is a bit more rock climbing going on in Vinales Valley, anyone who wants to climb is responsible for bringing all their own gear. At the time of writing, there were no businesses that offered equipment for rent.
Trekking in Vinales National Park
One of the best things to do in Vinales is reserving a tour guide to trek the national park as there are few ways of accessing information. You can do this by going to the Museo Municipal or one of the tour companies in the city center. If you’ve already arrived in the park without arranging anything, don’t worry.
You can also go to the park’s visitor’s center. The price to trek per person costs 8 CUC, but as we mentioned earlier, it’s nowhere near as nice as horse riding!
OTHER PLACES TO SEE NEARBY
In order to see other places to see nearby Vinales, click on GoogleMaps
Let me begin by saying this: If you are not staying longer than 2.5 weeks in Cuba and only have a day for Vinales, set aside one day for the horse riding tour. You shouldn’t give up any of the recommendations we listed in the “Things to Do in Cuba & Ideal Itinerary“ post for anything written below.
As far as activities to do in Vinales’ surroundings, qe are of the opinion that the most attractive sandy beach is Cayo Levisa. But if you’ve been following our journey through Cuba, you’ll see that Varadero is also stunning.
1. Sea at Cayo Levisa
If you don’t mind a 1.5-2 hour trip, then you’ll love the beautiful beach on the island of Cayo Levisa, which is located to the north of Cuba. You can also stay there overnight in bungalow-style hotels. The island also offers a small restaurant and a place for diving. Each dive is 40 CUC.
From Palma Rubia, you can reach the island in 35 minutes. The boat leaves at 10:00 am and comes back at 5:00 pm. The round-trip boat ticket costs 25 CUC per person and includes lunch. If you are intent on staying in a hotel on the island, then the price is 15 CUC per person one-way.
A one-day trip from Adaya Vinales is probably the best option, with everything including transportation and food costing 29 CUC. There is a point I must make here: Cubans are not allowed to enter Cayo Levisa. Cubans are often treated like second-class citizens to tourists in their own country. They are deprived of one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Click here for the location.
2. Mural de la Prehistoria
Four kilometers to the west of the city center, you can see a massive mural called the Mural de la Prehistoria that stretches 180 meters up the side of a mountain. As an admirer of Mexican mural artist Diego Riveria, Leovigildo González Morillo designed the painting in 1961.
It took 18 people four years to finish painting it. The mural depicts sea creatures, dinosaurs, humans and a giant snail, which are supposed to symbolize the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to look at the painting from afar, and you have to pay 3 CUC to get in, which includes a drink. There is a restaurant once you enter. Open 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Click here for the location.
3. San Miguel and Indian Caves
The San Miguel Cave sits at the entrance of the San Vicente Valley, with the cave also doubling as a bar/club. Every day after 10:30 pm (except for Sundays), the bar turns into a nightclub. There is a restaurant at the other end of the cave, which you’ll be able to breeze through in 10 minutes.
The admission fee, which includes a drink, costs between 3-5 CUC. The cave is open to visitors between 9:00 am – 5:30 pm. Click here for the location.
Located 5.5 kilometers north of the center of Vinales, the Indian Caves, which were discovered in the 1920s, are one of the most frequented tourist spots in Cuba. You can take a motorboat into the caves, which are illuminated with lights. The cost to enter per person is 5 CUC, and the cave is open for visitors from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. Click here for the location.
4. Los Aquaticos Village
Los Aquaticos is the name of a mountain village (and region) that was founded in 1943. The name comes from its healing powers of water during a time when western medicine hadn’t reached the area. Since then, there are still a couple of families who continue to live the same way.
Because the community is in no way connected to the state, they are able to live by their own rules and they have a couple of their own businesses. A ritual started by this community involves cleaning yourself three times a day and drying in the wind.
They are also quite hospitable and are very open to answering questions anyone has about the community. Another thing that makes this place special is the sunrise. There is a guided tour from the center of Vinales here to watch the sunrise.
The only way to get here is to either ride a horse or walk, as the marshy terrain won’t hold up for vehicles. Be aware that there are no signs whatsoever. Because of this, we recommend that instead of coming by yourself that you go with one of the tour companies in the city center. See Yoan and Yarelis Reyes.
5. Maria La Gorda
Maria La Gorda is considered to be one of the best diving places in the Caribbean. You can find out more about it in our “Things to Do in Cuba“ blog post.
We didn’t test these companies ourselves, but the ones that received the best comments on excursions to do in Vinales are below:
- Knowing Vinales – They provide services in Vinales Valley such as guided horse rides, renting bikes, arranging taxis and hiking tours. Click here for the location.
- Step in the Valley – They provide rock climbing tours and guided horse rides going to the Valley of Silence and Los Aquaticos. Click here for the location.
- Horse Riding Vinales – They are one of the official firms of the national park. The tours on offer begin in the city center from Villa el Habano, which is where their casa particular is located. Click here for the location.
- Yoan & Yarelis Reyes – This company gives unofficial tours organized by the owners, who are biologists at the Villa Los Reyes in the national park. Two popular tours they offer are the guided horse rides at sunset at Valle de Silencio and the sunrise at Los Aquaticos.
- Cubanacan – This is a state-owned company. They offer a number of services including finding hotels (not casa particulars), providing one-day tours to diving places like Maria la Gorda, as well as one-day tours to Cayo Levisa. They also have walking and horse tours, as well as guided bike tours through the national park.
Cay Levisa Tour, 29 CUC
Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas, 20 CUC
Maria La Gorda, 35 CUC
Guided Trekking, 8 CUC
Bike Rental, 1 CUC per hour or 6 CUC for 8 hours
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK
While we can’t remember the name, there is one restaurant that serves some of the best pork chops made from the famous Vinales pork. If you like pork, you’ll absolutely love the place; if you don’t, then try any one of their meat selections, which are all fantastic.
Since we can’t give you a name, we’ll tell you exactly where it is. The restaurant is at the corner of Adela Azcuy and Rafael Trejo streets – you can’t miss it as it’s the only bbq place around. There are wooden chairs just like the ones in the picture. One dish will definitely be enough for two people.
Don’t forget to eat the churros they put on top of the food. Click here for the location. Right next to this restaurant is one that does grilled fish and crawfish, for those looking to eat something besides meat.
You can also order food at any Casa Particular you are staying at anywhere in Cuba.
The main avenue in Vinales is Salvador Cisneros. No matter which way you decide to make your way into the city center, either by taxi or by bus, the drivers will drop you off on that street (close to where the church is). This is where everything goes down. One street down, parallel to Rafael Trejo, is where you will find all the casa particulars. We were able to find a place to stay by going door to door, instead of making reservations beforehand.
Villa El Mojito is an extremely popular place to stay. You can even take a class on how to become an expert at making mojitos. The owners are quite friendly, and the atmosphere is quite nice; however, it’s a bit far away from the center. Address: Calle Adela Azcuy Norte, nº 43 Click here for the location. The villa is located in the same spot as the tourist agencies we talked about a bit earlier.
Villa Los Reyes The place that we mentioned in the section of tour operators above. Website