As I told you already, Viñales is small and there is not much to do here except for walking back and forth on the main street. If Trinidad had a certain old town charm, Viñales is just a tiny village in the countryside. That’s a bit too much for me, I would go crazy if I had to live here. But for a few days this is perfect. Even if Viñales is very touristic (every house in the “center” has a casa particular –sign) the ambiance in this town still feels authentic and the locals seem to be very attached to their culture and traditions. And even if Viñales is just a minuscule agricultural village, the region is said to be among the most beautiful in Cuba and there are heaps of places to see and things to do a bit further away: caves, tobacco and coffee plantations, beaches, natural lakes and pools... Everything is around the Viñales valley where the landscapes are simply amazing.
You choose how to explore it: walking, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, motorcycling, I heard there is even a hop-on hop-off bus that goes to all the main sights. The only problem is that there are so many tour agencies that propose different kind of trips that it is impossible to choose. I read the couple of pages of my guidebook many times and tried to write things down but I still couldn’t decide what to do and in which order so I asked my Casa Particular host D for help. I guess I was again super lucky with my casa because of course D happens to be friends with a local guide who has two horses and his own little business to take tourists around in the area. She said that this guide could pick me up the following morning and take me horseback riding, since that was what I wanted to do the most. We would go to a place called Valle de Silencio where I could see everything my guidebook promises. We would stop by at coffee and tobacco plantations, do a tour in a cave and go swimming in a lake. Since the guide would be for me only, I could decide how long I wanted to stay in each place. I asked how much all this would cost for me and crossed my fingers it would not hurt my budget too much. 5CUC (equals 5 USD) per hour she said which sounded reasonable, and in the end I only paid 25 for the whole day even if we stayed for almost 7 hours. So I thought it was a great plan and yesterday morning my guide was here as promised.
Beforehand I was of course wondering what my guide would be like and somehow I wasn’t surprised when M, a 30-something, not bad-looking, very smiley man showed up. By now it is very clear to me that all Cuban (as well as Jamaican) men like me and find me attractive. “Tu me caes bien”, as they say. I don’t want to sound too egocentric or anything but that’s a fact, I am exotic here. Every day someone compliments me on my eyes or my hair, women as well, and of course it makes me happy. Although I don’t think it is only my looks, I’m also easy to talk to, I always smile and I have hard time saying no to anything. A typical tourist plus I am traveling alone which makes me a perfect target for guys. Anyway, as I’m getting used to this and as Cubans are not very shy, I though to myself that if this man is single (or in some cases, even if he isn’t), it will probably not take too long until he makes a move. I was counting time: about 5 minutes until he told me I was pretty, 30 minutes until he asked me out and in a couple of hours he wanted to be my boyfriend, holiday romance or anything I wanted. I told him very clearly that yes I liked him as well (as I do, he is a very nice guy, such a sweet and caring person!) but that I only wanted to be friends (I still accepted his dinner offer). He seemed to be okay with that and so we spent a very enjoyable day together in the Viñales valley. It is very beautiful there, see here:
We went to the Viñales national park and to the part called Valle de SIlencio. Most of the country’s tobacco is cultivated here and there is also coffee, sugarcane, orange and banana farms. As planned, M took me to tobacco and coffee plantations where I could join other tourists for a short tour and learn a bit about the fabrication processes. The whole Viñales valley is listed as a Unesco world heritage site because of its spectacular calcite cliffs, called mogotes, but also for the beautiful architecture and traditional farms. The plantations and fabrics here are completely artisanal. There are no machines, everything is human work. A lot of the production goes to the government but a small part can be offered as tastings and sold directly to tourists. Long ago the region was under water and that formed a large number of natural caves with rivers and pools inside. Overall, the atmosphere is very serene and peaceful, as you saw in the pictures above.
When I was little I was never a horse girl. I am enjoying now everything I missed out then, I love horses! Especially mine which is called Chuba Chuba.
M wanted to take me off from the main tourist tour route and to another lake where we could stay for a while and swim. Neither at the lake nor on our way there did we cross other people, it was amazing to be so alone in the nature. The ride there was so long that my legs and butt started to hurt a lot (because I really have no experience in horseback riding), but I survived and really liked the place. I was a quick learner (or had a very good teacher), on our way back M told me that I already looked like a professional horseback rider (well no I didn’t but I did ok) and it didn’t hurt that much anymore. But this morning when I woke up, oh my god... Besides, sometimes a had trouble making Chuba understand that he can’t go too close to the bushes in the forest because the trees are sharp and even if it doesn’t hurt him it hurts me. So I have some nice scars and burns in my hand, elbow and ankle. And guess what, in the cave I wasn’t careful enough so I hit my head on a rock. I swallowed the pain when it happened but when we got out I noticed I was bleeding and now I have a nice little bump on the left side of my forehead. Great. Luckily it is not on the right side which is still deformed after my accident and will probably never be normal again. M was a bit worried about me but I told him that I was fine, and that I often get into small misadventures and have bruises somewhere. Maybe I’m a bit clumsy. Or too adventurous and want to try everything. Also, I told him that four months ago I got hit by a car, flew some ten meters in the air before hitting the ground, had a way bigger bump in my head, and had to see a plastic surgeon who would puncture my head with a needle to have it removed. So I have had it worse. What I wanted to say, is that it was pretty, calm and relaxing at the lake. Just us, our horses (who went for a walk and it took a while for us to find them!) and some birds catching fish. After the break we rode back to the town.
Today, even if every part of my body was sore, we went horseback riding again with M. Initially I wanted to do a trip to a nearby beach, Cayo Jutias, but it was not really beach weather. Besides, I figured there are beaches everywhere in the world but horseback riding in Valle de Viñales is something very specific to this region. Also, I wanted to spend another day with my horse Chuba, it’s funny how fast I got attached and started to care for him. I think it is because I had absolutely no experience in horseback riding and no time or possibility to take classes before going riding in the valley. So I simply had to trust my horse. And my guide, I would have been completely lost without you M. Thank you for being my Viñales guide, horseback riding + Spanish teacher, and, as you say, a real Cuban friend. I have really enjoyed your company.
Photo-shooting with Chuba:
A selfie with a horse = a horfie? :)
Today we made a bit longer tour, on the other side of the valley called Valle de Palmerito. There were fewer tourist groups than in Valle de Silencio yesterday and the landscapes were equally beautiful.
We stopped again at a cave, this one had a natural pool where we took a quick swim (no one else dared to swim). I’m a bit claustrophobic and I don’t really like caves (especially after yesterday, I still have a headache) but swimming was refreshing. We also stopped at a sight called “La mural de prehistoria”, a painting on a cliff, done by an artist named Leovilgo Gonzalez Morillo, in 1961. It is a picture of dinosaurs, snails, other creatures and humans, representing the regions evolution from the prehistory until now. We had lunch at a place called “Campesino de dos Hermanas”, a cosy casa-restaurant. There was also a swimming pool area which should be very nice when the weather is warmer.
This next picture was taken by a French couple right after they had witnessed me gallop for the first time in my life (more or less successfully but at least I didn't fall). That must have been quite a sight and my hair looks great I know. :)
Oh and if you are hungry in Viñales, I recommend the restaurant where M took me for dinner last night, it is called El Campesino. The food was delicious and it came with million side dishes: white rice, rice with pineapple, beans, soup, vegetables, fruits and chips. I first thought I would have to choose one but no, it was all included. Dinner for two with 3 drinks and 2 bottles of water was 28 CUC, I think that is quite cheap. And the place was nice, service friendly and music very good! Later we had mango-daiquiris (I was thrilled to have something else than a piña colada for a change!) at another bar and then went dancing salsa for a minute before I had to go to sleep. All in all, a very nice evening!
If you ever come to Viñales, make sure to contact M for a tour, walking or horseback riding. He is a wonderful guide and knows everything there is to know about Viñales and the region. He says he can do the tour in English as well but I can’t tell if that’s true since he refused to say a word in English to me. But good practice for me. :)
Here’s how to reach him:
Tonight I haven’t been able to do much because I can barely move. After dance-hall, salsa and other Cuban dance genres, surfing, jumping from rocks, swimming with dolphins, biking, climbing up and down on hills and inside caves, and now horseback riding, I wonder what I will come up with next. ;)
Being in Viñales has been so relaxing. It is strange in a way that here I am, horseback riding around the valley and living a careless life. My "real" life back in Paris seems to be so far away, like something that happened very long ago. Also, it feels weird that only in a couple of days I will be in Cartagena, back in a big city and back in a life where I will work and have routines and responsibilities. I don't really know what to think about all this but I've enjoyed a lot this little break in the countryside.
Ps. I almost forgot to post a picture of my room and the breakfast!
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!