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My Cuba Travels: The Most Beautiful, Little-Known Town

The most beautiful town in Cuba?

The most beautiful town in Cuba? I think so!

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!

The pool in our Viñales hotel, surrounded by nature.

The pool in our Viñales hotel, embraced by nature.

“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!

We went on an horseback tour of Viñales. Wow!

We took a horseback tour of Viñales. Incredible.

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.

A demonstration of turning tobacco leaves into cigars: a main industry of Viñales.

A demonstration of turning tobacco leaves into cigars: a main industry of Viñales.

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!”

Me during our horseback tour of the lush green expanse of Viñales, Cuba.

Me admiring karsts during our horseback tour of green Viñales, Cuba.

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.

Eating a delicious home-cooked meal during a stay in a "Casa Particular" in Cuba.

Eating a delicious home-cooked meal during a stay in a “Casa Particular” in Cuba.

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.

Our horseback tour guide, looking masculine.

Our Cuban horseback tour guide, looking masculine.

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.

The view from the hiking path above our Viñales hotel. Gorgeous.

The view from the hiking path above our Viñales hotel. Gorgeous.

Sigh… Did you know Cuba was this uniquely beautiful? (If it gets your creativity running, check out my round-up of 40 art prompts from around the world — including this town!)

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?

Look at that glossy coat!

This glossy animal recommends you visit Viñales, Cuba!

What do you think: Is Viñales a place you would like to go? Had you ever heard of it before? Do share!

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