Day Trip to Viñales: Cuban Cigar Country

We booked a trip to the Viñales valley in Cuba because we really wanted to visit a tobacco farm and see how the Cubans made their famous cigars.  The tour was a full day of adventure, and it was well worth the money spent ($65 each for the day, with lunch included).

We started the day in the Parque Central where we loaded onto our bus for the day.  Our tour had about 20 people on it, and one great tour guide. We headed toward Vinales valley, which is about a 2 ½ hour drive from Havana.   The valley of Viñales is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and easy to see why; it was incredibly gorgeous the whole day.

Our first stop was a small, local rum factory.  We had a quick tour of the facilities and were able to try some of the local rum.  We tried a variety called Guayabita del Pinar, which is an extra sweet rum made of cane sugar.  With the prices of rum being so cheap, we bought a few bottles to take back to our AirBnB and enjoy for the week we would be there.  

We then continued on and were given another coffee break at a lookout point, with a great view of the Sierra de los Organos mountains.  Our view overlooked the whole valley and the famous pink Hotel Cubanacan Los Jazmines with a giant swimming pool on top of the hill. We unfortunately didn’t have time to swim, or for a night there, but it would definitely be on our list for a relaxing place next time around.  

Next we stopped by the Mural de la Prehistoria, a massive, 120-meter wide colorful painting on a cliffside.  The painting took four years to complete and is the recreation of the theory of evolution.  On the wall you see depictions of a huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and human beings. It is a bright colorful mural, and an interesting story to hear about.  

We had lunch at the restaurant right next the Mural, and it was pouring rain.  That didn’t stop us from indulging in mojitos and pina coladas, and fueling up with local fare: plantain chips, rice and beans, and ropa vieja (or a shredded chicken with vegetables).  The waiters were very friendly, the live music was good, and they even let you pour your own rum into your drinks–dangerous!

After lunch we headed to the Cueva del Indio.  This was a cave and ancient indigenous dwelling where you can take a boat ride through on an underground river.  This part of the day felt a little like “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland–very touristy. We got suckered into a glass of fresh sugarcane juice for far too many pesos, but it was made in front of us and quite refreshing.  The caves were cool, with some stalagmites and stalactites to see.

Finally, we headed to the tobacco farm.   On our tour, they explained the various stages of growing tobacco:  from planting, to harvesting and drying, to smoking. We were then lead into a small house where we got to watch local cigar farmers hand rolling cigars.  We, of course, had to purchase some authentic cigars, and they did not disappoint.

Overall it was a great day.  It was nice to see the countryside and get away from the city of Havana, and great to meet some local farmers and factory workers and support the Cuban economy.  

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Touring Trinidad: A Day in Colonial Cuba

After much research on how to get to Trinidad, we discovered that our AirBnB could connect with another AirBnB to house us for the night.  In Cuba, it’s called casa particular, or a homestay run by a Cuban family.  For $25 for a night, we were able to book a room in Trinidad relatively easily, through word of mouth.  We were also able to book a collectivo taxi for $30 each that would pick us up at 2 p.m. from our AirBnB and drive us the four hours to our new city.  We shared our cab with an older couple, on their way to visit family in the town of Trinidad. The drive was long but had beautiful countryside to look at.  Our driver was more than happy to stop for bathroom, or beer, breaks along the way. We made it to Trinidad just in time for sunset.

Trinidad is much more quiet and small than Havana.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a super charming town.  Our first impression was how quaint it was, with the tiny cobblestone streets to the colorful central cathedral.  We knew we wanted to see the sunset with a view, so we headed up to the Plaza Mayor to go to the Church of the Holy Trinity (Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad).  For only $1, you can climb the church steps and head up to the bell tower.  

With only one night in Trinidad, we spent most of our evening just wandering around.   While the daytime vibe is definitely laid back, a place where you can wander the streets and alleyways for hours, the nighttime vibe is definitely more lively.  The Plaza Mayor had lots of live music and you could buy drinks from places right on the streets.  Every night around 8 p.m., tourists and locals hang outside at the Plaza Mayor and enjoy the live music of the nearby Casa de Musica.  The venue is open-air, so you can hear the music without having to pay for the cover fee. There’s just as much dancing and drinking going on in the plaza as their is at the Casa.  

After wandering around and grubbing on some local street food, we ran into a makeshift parade that was in session.  The group had a drum circle going, dancing, and cheering. We got swept up into the parade and followed as is wound its way through the cobblestone streets.  At each stop, new entertainment ensued. From salsa dancing to what appeared to be a casual flash mob. We ended our night with some peso ice cream, sold out of the side of a building.  

The next morning we got up to see the sunrise from our AirBnB’s rooftop and to wander around looking for breakfast.  Turns out, there’s not much around in the morning in Trinidad. We had a tough time finding something to eat. We finally settled on one of the only places that was open, and had a ham pizza for breakfast at 7:40 a.m.  The choices of times for collectivo taxis are very limited, and the only time to head back was 8:30 a.m. For $30 more each, and another 4 hours with two new strangers, we grabbed a cab back to Havana. It was a quick trip, but with limited time in Cuba, we wanted to see more than just one city.  We’re glad we made the excursion to see Trinidad.

Next time, we’d love to spend more time there and see the Playa Ancon, go to El Cubano National Park to see the waterfall, or hike up above the city.  While Havana definitely has more to do, Trinidad was a nice, quiet change of pace and we’d recommend spending a few days there if you have the time.

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