Ah Viñales, the green west of Cuba. I came here to smoke cigars, tour the tobacco plantations and ride a horse ALL AT THE SAME TIME. That’s Viñales for you.
Public transport is basically a myth in Cuba so if you want to head to Viñales from the capital, you can either catch one of the rare Viazul buses or pay a few dollars more for a “taxi shuttle” with other travellers, in a car that is probably twice your age. The private shuttles cost around $5 more than Viazul and are more convenient, dropping you directly in front of your casa. From Havana it’ll take $20 and two hours to travel to here; I came from Trinidad ($35) and had to do a lengthy stopover at Havana and was then put into another car to reach Viñales. There are street touts (jineteros) that can organise these for you but I always did it through my casa as it felt more reliable.
Viñales was probably the most touristy place I visited in Cuba and so while there was barely any Cuban food to be had, there are a surprising amount of good Italian and Mediterranean restaurants (don’t judge me) and The Olive had people queuing for hours to get a table! The whole of Viñales just seemed to be one strip of tourist shops and an unattractive plaza surrounded by tobacco fields and outside of the tours and a nearby beach, there isn’t a lot to do here, I stayed two days and that was plenty.
Through my casa, I signed up for a tour the following morning with a friend of the family called Miguel. He was fun and friendly and we chatted for ages before the tour started. In my group there were two Swiss German French couples and a few others, I probably only remember them because I was impressed at how many languages they spoke! I’d actually been scared of coming to Viñales for weeks, because I was nervous about riding a horse around the plantations, sure you could do a walking tour (L.A.M.E.) but I really wanted to overcome my very rational fear of animals, so here I was with Miguel and “Annie” my trusty steed!
Miguel pulled me away from the group to chat $, telling me in a low tone that I would only have to pay $20, don’t tell the gringos (I later found out that they paid the same price), but it was a great deal for a four-hour tour. Our guide described the process of making cigars, showing us how they made each one by hand. He even gave us one to try and it was delicious- so much lighter than smoking a cigarette and much more pleasant! I enjoyed it so much I continued to smoke even after I’d mounted the horse. (Am I the only person that is paranoid about getting fatally kicked by a horse?) After we had our test smoke, he asked if we would like to buy any, saying we could only buy them in packs of 10 *con alert*, despite the fact that each was made only five feet from where he was standing and were not pre-packaged. Each cigar cost $5 and so in our big group we each tried to split 10 as most people only wanted 1 or 2, I wanted 4 (greedy guts). Eventually, they saw that they couldn’t convince people to buy in packs of 10 so they just started selling them individually.
The explanation of the cigar-making process was given overlooking the tobacco fields, which are stunning. They then led us to the horses and it was time to face my fear! I mounted BuckBeak (!) with my cigar in hand, feeling like Che Guevara, holding the reins with one hand and my cigar with the other. We toured the plantations and rode the horses for forty minutes in total, stopping off at viewpoints and lakes. With our horses, we all travelled in packs and at one point it got really scary because one of the Swiss-Germans started to cause his horse to gallop which then spooked my horse and my chill vibe because I had to grab the reins with one hand and drag on my cigar with the other. What the fuck Hans? I was petrified the whole time, but it was also really cool being so high up-the view definitely felt better (though the oxygen was a little low…)
We were then led to a coffee plantation and allowed to taste some Cuban coffee and alcohol. Miguel was a joker and we spent the whole tour chatting about Cuba and my fear of horses; he had grown up riding horses (and was a bit of a cowboy, see the photos) so he found it hilarious that I was afraid of them. I found him hilarious because he would always refer to his horse as “horse!! come here horse!!” and he would start at least half of his sentences with “the Cuban man…”
Have you ever been to Viñales, how was it?