We have a rainy day and a very Cuban journey ahead, we go to Viñales, for us the most boring village in Cuba, but of course, we didn’t know that before goint there. There is not much else to do besides doing a tour or drinking mojitos, so, if you don’t like any of these, it’s better not to go there.
We don’t want to take the Viazul buses, known to be the buses for the tourists, but instead we travel from Havana to Pinar del Río by máquina, and then take another máquina to Viñales. A máquina is basically a shared taxi with other people going to the same destination. They are normally old cars and our máquina to Pinar is from the 50s! It is driveable, and actually brings us to destination safely, but inside the car nothing works: the “front panel” doesn’t show the velocity, nor the fuel, nor the oil temperature, there is no radio and in its place there is the “handle” for moving up and down the windows, and last but not least, there are no windshield wiper washers! that’s great for a rainy day on the highway, right?
Anyway, as we said, we arrive to Pinar del Río, our first stop, safely!
The máquinas are not supposed to be used by tourists, they are just for Cuban, but at the end, money is money, wherever it comes from, and no one complains that we are sharing the maquina with them. In Havana, the maquinas departing to Pinar leave from a stop in front of the Omnibus station, very close to “plaza de la revolución”, you just need to go there and act as if you traveled with them forever, don’t even ask for the price, just say: “it’s 5 CUC, right?”
Once in Pinar del Río we have to take another máquina for 1 CUC bringing us to Viñales. But in Pinar the máquina that comes is a truck! OK, then we get into the truck, no problem, 40 more minutes to go and we’ll arrive to our final destination. We have to say that it is not as uncomfortable as it may look like, and defintely an experience 😉
So, once in Viñales we have to find our accommodation. It’s unbelievable how many casas particulares there are! And how many times we are offered a room in less tan 30 minutes! But anyway, we are happy we had everything booked online through AirBnB and we can tell everyone that we’ve already got a place 🙂
The Casa “Villa dos hermanas” is OK, it looked very nice in the beginning, a big room with two double beds, private bathroom… but definitely something very different from the one in La Havana. The lady taking care of it gets a little bit disappointed when we tell her we are not going to have any breakfast in the house. We prefer to go outside and spread our money among different businesses. Apparently they make the real money with the meals in the casas (breakfast for 4-5 CUC and dinner for 8-10 CUC). It’s not super expensive, but as we said, we prefer to go and try different places. And that’s what we did.
In Viñales almost all the bars and restaurants are on the main street, but we like it a little bit more complicated and we go to the street parallel to the main street, actually there is not much more in Viñales. And there we find two good places with nice, simple and inexpensive food. Best for breakfast is: “El Rey del Café” with some choices from European to Cuban breakfast or pancakes for the sweeties 😉 Best for anything (B-L-D): “Rompiendo Rutina” with Pizzas, Spaghetti, breads-with’s, some Cuban basics and a super tasty “flan de leche”.
In Viñales the activity concentrates basically on the main street, where the bars and the “jineteros” wait for the tourists. A jinetero is a Cuban who pretends to be your best friend even if you just met him two second ago. He is super concerned about your safety and happiness, therefore he wants to take you to the coolest places, of course the ones he has commission on. We have trained our jinetero radar in La Havana, and now we are No-sayers experts. Be aware of the super tempting offers on the street (like cigars), and the trick of the milk powder, we’ve heard some really high level cheating stories.
On the main street there are also guajiros, the cuban cowboys, offering horseback rides through the valley. We are very lucky with Sr. Pablo, who offers us a 3 CUC/hour rate. In the casas they believe you’ll pay double the price just like that telling you that the guajiros on the street are illegal, but they are not and it’s funnier when you pick your own guajiro. We love the way Pablo dresses and talks and most of all, we love his business card! We’ve found our guajiro. We haven’t seen the horses, but we decide we’ll cancel the tour if we consider that the horses are not well treated or in good condtion.
In the next morning Caramelo and Moro are ready for a tour, they look very healthy and Pablo tells us what they ate the night before to gather strength. And we confirm that, since Moro decides to empty his intestines like 3 or 4 times in 4 hours of excursion. The horseback riding in itself is good fun, but we don’t really like the arranged stops: one at the tabaco farm, the other one at the coffee farm, then a 100m lenght cave, and the final one at a viewpoint where interestingly there is bar with music playing. Of course, we understand that these people make money with the tourists, but we don’t really want to buy anything and unfortunately not everyone is happy with that.
Once you’ve visited the valley there is not much left to do in Viñales, unless you do rock climbing. There are nice well prepared climbling routes on the limestones in the valley. Since we are satisfied with our horse tour, we decide to spend one day at a cayo and see what the cuban beaches look like. We book a shared taxi to Cayo Jutías (15 CUC/person return ticket) and after 1,5h again in a typically Cuban taxi through a road with more holes than the dark side of the moon, we arrive to Cayo Jutías.
We have to say now that our judgement of the Cayo is not the most objective one, as we come from Barcelona and we are used to spectacular beaches close by 😉 , but still we want to tell you our opinion. It’s just a beach, a long one, with the mangroves and all these things you don’t see at home, but just that. We are also not beach people, so, please, forgive us if you went to the Cayo and you loved it 🙂 Besides that, the water was not really clear because of the previous rainy days. In any case, we had a very relaxing day, just sunbathing, trying to become more Cuban (at least color-wise, it might help to be addressed in Spanish, as we keep asking ourselves why Cubans are obsessed about talking English to us).
Did you know that…
… a tobacco farmer has to sell 90% of its production to the state and the rest is kept for personal use or for selling to tourist?
… all horses doing horseback riding have to be checked at the veterinarian every 3 months and the medical test costs 1 CUC?
… Cayo Jutías is one of the few ones where Cubans are allowed to go?
… Vinales is the best prepared area for climbing in Cuba with over 400 routes?
- Horseback riding: it was fun to do. Go to the main street and get the guajiro you like for 3 CUC/hour.
- The valley: it is really beautiful!
- Cayo Jutías: you can spend a relaxing day on the beach if you are tired (or bored) of Viñales.
- Quiet Viñales: very peaceful and easy to walk village, you see animals all the time running around.
- Few alternatives: you can’t do much on your own. The village itself has nothing besides casas particulares and restaurants for the tourists.
- Tourists: Forget about experiencing real Cuban life in Viñales.
- Dayron and the little liars: Do not book a shared taxi to any destination from Viñales with the idea of saving a bit of time and money, as they promise you something unreal (read …. Post for more details).