Viñales was an amazing adventure, one you must embark upon if you visit Havana. This charming town at the base of the mountains is a UNESCO world heritage site, and traditional methods of agriculture have survived largely unchanged on this plain for several centuries, particularly for growing tobacco.
Getting to Viñales is simple. It's a great day trip to do from Havana. Travel time is approximately two hours in one of these old-fashioned, colorful vehicles driving at about 40 miles an hour the entire time. Our Airbnb host arranged transportation for the two of us at a rate of $140 for the entire day, which was fairly reasonable. Our driver took us around the Viñales Valley and made our trip go extremely smoothly.
This is Carlos, our driver for the trip to Viñales Valley. He actually was the same driver that we arranged to pick us up from the airport. His lighthearted demeanor made the entire process easy for us.
Upon arriving in Viñales Valley, we were taken to an overlook with sweeping views of the whole area.
The valley is extremely breathtaking.
Viñales Valley is a “living landscape” with a high degree of authenticity in terms of location and setting, forms and designs, materials and substances, uses and functions, traditions and techniques, and spirit and feeling. It has been able to preserve its specific character, while adapting to modern conditions of life and receiving flows of visitors. The property’s attributes thus express its Outstanding Universal Value truthfully and credibly.
Within the boundaries of the Viñales Valley cultural landscape are located all the natural and cultural elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value, including the karst landscape’s defining features, the agricultural usage patterns and the vernacular architecture, as well as the land tenure, traditional agricultural methods of farming and associated infrastructure that support the cultural landscape’s related intangible heritage. The 132-km2property is of sufficient size to adequately ensure the complete representation of the features and processes that convey the property’s significance, and it does not suffer from adverse effects of development and/or neglect. Tourism development is expected to represent a future threat to the integrity of the property.
The lush landscape is largely rural in character. Most of the buildings scattered over the plain are simple, built of local and natural materials and used as homes or family farms. The village of Viñales, strung out along its main street, has retained its original layout and many interesting examples of colonial architecture, mostly one-storey wooden houses with porches.
We stopped by a farm on the side of the road that gave us a brief rundown of how the tobacco plant is dried and the process in which it is made into the cigars we enjoy today. Most Cubans make $20-$30 a week, and the government takes 90% of what farmers produce. Cubans who live in Viñales trade goods with each other, depending on what they grow on their farms.
The owner of this farm showed us how they turn the dried tobacco leaves into cigars through a process of rolling palm leaves with the dried tobacco. H even let us sample his freshly made cigars.
At the end of his presentation, we were able to purchase freshly rolled cigars that had no government additives of chemicals such as nicotine.
We rode horses through the valley to learn about the traditional coffee-making process the locals use.
The locals showed us their most popular spirit, La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar Dulce. It's a sweet, cane liquor (like some rums) with flavorings from the guayabita (literally 'little guava') fruit of western Cuba. This drink has been produced commercially since 1892 but hasn't spread far beyond the outside of Cuba.
To end our trip, we stopped by the beautiful mural on the mountainside. You can learn more about Viñales Valley at UNESCO's site here.