Most people – including myself before this trip – do not know of Cuba past the bustling city of Havana. While Havana is certainly the center of Cuba’s economy and culture, it is a BIG island and there is much more to discover.
Viñales is Cuba’s relaxed but adventurous answer to the chaos of the city. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Havana (depending upon which 1950’s car you flag down and how old its engine is). The roadtrip is a straight shot through miles and miles of farmland and palm trees until you start the climb up and over the mountains and into the valley that is Viñales.
The town – like most of Cuba – is painted in candy colors and is surrounded by the most awesome Avatar-rock-face-mountains you’ll ever see.
Upon arrival, we quickly found out that we were in fact not the only people to have discovered Viñales and it was completely packed to the brim with no availability. Even though we visited during high season, we didn’t think reservations were a thing (between lack of phones and WiFi) … oops!!!!
We were told that the town couldn’t handle the influx of tourists and that some were even sleeping in the park. I’m all about the outdoors, but without camping equipment of any kind, we thought we might be kicking it back to Havana.
Thankfully, the locals called every single one of their friends in search of a place to stay and we wound up in the extra bedrooms of the sweetest families we could have asked for (before you freak out about shacking up with strangers – this is very common. These rooms for rent are called Casa Particulars and outside of hotels, it’s the main form of accomodations).
We spent two days riding horses through the tobacco farms at sunset, smoking cigars that were rolled in front of us, eating uNewark authentic meals cooked by our hosts, and salsa dancing with the locals (fact: there is not a bad dancer in Cuba – there were 80 year olds putting us to shame). We woke up – along with every rooster in the city – at 6am to hike to the top of a mountain and watch the sun rise over the valley. We rode mountain bikes 16 miles to water caves that were 400 meters long and wove seamlessly through the bajillion pounds of rock.
Finally, we biked up a mountain that I’m fairly sure is the tallest mountain ON EARTH and sipped pina coladas from a swanky hotel at the top overlooking the entire town.
And in what we all agree was our favorite moment from the entire trip – we biked down that same winding mountain road at sunset, lost in Avatar world, completely surrounded by billowing pink and yellow clouds as the sun drifted beneath the skyline. We all had to pull our bikes over to the side of the road and stare in silence. It might of been the piña coladas talking, but I think we all got a little choked up in that moment. Confetti. Bombs.