Vinales Cuba is a town in the Pinar del Rio Province about 115 west of Havana. It is surrounded by low mountains and boasts countryside that is dotted with mogotes, which are rocky karst hills with rounded tops. The town is the jumping-off point for visits into the lush valley where the country’s finest tobacco is cultivated to make the famous Cuban cigars. The Vinales Valley was designated a World Heritage Site in 1999 because of the unique karst landscapes, traditional agricultural methods that have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, and vernacular traditions in architecture, crafts, and music, meaning construction methods with locally available materials.
In the town of Vinales and throughout the surrounding area, the architecture includes plain and simple wooden homes and farm buildings, many with thatched roofs. Within town along the main street and around the town square there are excellent examples of colonial architecture, and except for the church, the town itself is almost entirely dominated by one-story wooden houses with porches. Even the cuisine you eat while dining in small paladares will be of a peasant vernacular tradition.
Tobacco in Cuba
One of the reasons that the Vinales Valley tobacco fields continue to be tended in historic labor intensive methods is that recent experiments have shown modern mechanical methods reduce the quality of the tobacco. You will not see modern tractors here, but rather animal traction. Tobacco growers from the Canary Islands arrived in the region in the early 1800s. At the time, only a few remaining Taino people and runaway slaves lived here; the slaves used the many karst caves as hideouts. A ranch was built where Vinales Cuba now is, the town was founded in 1875, and by 1878 there was a small and thriving community. Processing on the tobacco farms (called vegas) is all done by hand by field workers (called vegueros). These people created a unique culture blending the traditions of the native populations, Spanish colonials, and African slaves. Their music and their crafts are unique and have remained unchanged for centuries. You can see and hear these traditions at the casa cultura in the town square where performances are held every day or evening.
Cuevas del Indio
After you've explored the charming town, things to do in the Vinales Valley include exploring the many caves. One of the best is the Indian Caves (Cuevas del Indio), which is only about three miles from town. It has been developed for tourists with good lights and even a boat tour. If you want to get a bit more adventurous, head to Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas. This is located about ten miles from town and is the largest cave in the country. Bring your own flashlight, even though headlamps are provided, and good walking shoes are a requirement. You must hire a guide for the two-hour tours through the cave, which has miles of galleries and eight levels.
Horseback riding in Cuba
This is also a great place for hiking, with miles of trails. Horseback riding is very popular, as it is in the UNESCO world Heritage town of Trinidad and in Varadero where you can ride on Cuba's longest beach. You have a choice of a handful of good three star Vinales hotels, a few dozen casas particulares. Villa Cristal is a Vinales casa particular that will book a number of services for you, from horseback riding and rock climbing to Viazul bus transportation and tobacco farm tours. There are two rooms, one with twin beds and one with a double bed and a twin bed. You can rent one or both rooms. Both rooms cost only about $25 per night, making it perfect for a family or small group. Rooms are air-conditioned, have hot water and modern bathrooms, private parking, room safe, and television with DVD player. Meals are home-cooked and available for an additional cost. The location in town is Rafael Trejo #99, and you can ask just about anyone for directions.