If you only picture Cuba’s beaches, Havana, and old fashioned cars when envisioning your travels through the forbidden island, you’re missing a stunner. I, too, didn’t know about the town which became my favorite during my 2008 Cuba trip, until my travel partner steered me there. I hope I can lure you to its beauty, too!
“Viñales?” I asked my Cuba travel buddy, Oliver. “What’s so special about that place? I’ve never even heard of it.” Oliver gave me a knowing look as we boarded the bus.
“Just trust me,” he said, smiling. Wow, am I glad I did!
As you can see from these photos, Viñales is a lush, green dream. Human settlements are limited to small wooden houses and subtle tobacco farms. One of the best ways to see the landscape is to take a horseback tour, as we did. We even got to see cigars being hand made… by a man with an impressive mustache.
The best part of the landscape of Viñales, however, are the karst rock formations — dramatic gumdrops of green — which are called “mogotes” in Spanish. Whenever I glimpse karsts around the world, as I have in Vang Vieng, Laos, or in Halong Bay, Vietnam in Asia, a shiver of excitement runs through me. Karsts! They are the best, just popping out there to exclaim, “Hello! I’m a karst!”
As with everywhere else we traveled in Cuba, the local people were lovely. We stayed in a “Casa Particular” instead of a hotel, which is a private home the government has allowed to take in tourists. It is well known that the food in Casas Particulares is excellent, as it is both home-cooked and exempt from the food rationing and restrictions required for local Cubans. Note the whole fish, below.
In addition to great Cubans, we also befriended jolly tourists from other countries. Though Americans have been barred from Cuba travel for fifty years, tourists from elsewhere in the world have been taking full advantage of travel to the island for decades. Our horseback tour group consisted of an Israeli, a Brit, and an Aussie… in addition to our macho guide.
For those who are tempted to skip Viñales in favor of a beach, don’t be too hasty. Our hotel had a luscious blue pool overlooking the mountains, as you can see from this photo, below. Beautiful beaches are on offer the world over; the landscape of Viñales, however, is one of a kind.
Sigh… Did you know Cuba was this uniquely beautiful? As I post this right now, Boston is under its third foot of snow, and it’s my sixth day blocked from teaching due to the blizzard. It’s good to remember that there are warm, green places on Earth, isn’t it, Cuba?
What do you think: Is Viñales a place you would like to go? Had you ever heard of it before? Do share!