If there’s a more beautiful town in Cuba than Viñales, then we don’t know where it is. This is probably because no such place exists, and Viñales is indeed the most beautiful town in Cuba. It offers such an astoundingly relaxed pace of life that it truly is like stepping back in time. This whole “stepping back in time” thing is something that is often written about Viñales in the guidebooks, along with calling the town “a living museum.” While we don’t want to deal in clichés, it has to be said that these descriptions of Viñales are entirely accurate. It’s also accurate to say that you probably won’t have enough time to explore Cuba as much as you want to.
Even if you’re planning an extended holiday on the island, there will always be more to see, more to do, and you’re eventually going to run out of time. We cannot say it clearly enough… You need to see Viñales. The town is easy to reach and feels like an authentic slice of Cuba from yesteryear, still going strong in modern times without all that much in the way of modern intrusions. So just what is it about Viñales that makes it a place you simply have to see?
A Riot of Colours
There is just something about the color of Viñales that makes the town almost immediately create a permanent impression on you. The houses are painted in varying bright shades of primary colours, and the colonial-style architecture of the buildings around the central plaza seem almost subdued by comparison (although this doesn’t make them any less lovely). The colour continues as the town gives way to the countryside that the town is known for. There are vast, undulating green fields, which are tobacco crops growing out of fertile soil that has an almost reddish-rust hue. Beyond the planned agriculture of these fields, the ground begins to slope upwards as it becomes the foothills of the Sierra de los Órganos – a mountain range that encompasses both forest covered hills and sheer, dramatic rock faces. This riot of colour is a treat for your senses, and it can be nice to stand somewhere with a decent view (such as in the foothills of the Sierra de los Órganos) to give yourself a moment to take it all in.
The Beginning of a Journey
Viñales is a rural community, and while tourism is a significant contributor to the town’s economy, it is by and large, agriculture that drives the town. There are some food crops, but these pale in comparison to the tobacco fields that are abundant around the town. Incidentally, you should visit the town’s botanical gardens to see some beautiful exotic fruit trees, often complete with impossibly tiny hummingbirds flitting back and forth between the blossoms. But it’s tobacco crops that the town is best-known for, and while a farm tour might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it can be fascinating to walk through these fields and to see where the crops begin a journey that culminates in being rolled into one of Cuba’s most famous items – those sensational cigars. It can also be interesting to see the other end of this process by visiting a cigar factory. These are generally located in larger towns, and it can feel incorrect to call such a facility an actual factory. The cigars are hand-rolled, and the
factory floor can feel more like a social club, with lively conversations being conducted as the cigars are delicately rolled together without the use of noisy machines. There’s often a foreman reading aloud to the workers, whether from a work of literature or even simply the daily newspaper. While in Viñales, you will see many basic looking shacks dotted throughout the tobacco fields. This is one of the most important steps on the journey from crop to cigar, where the tobacco leaves are dried out. Your eyes will have been stimulated by the colour, and now your nose will be stimulated by the scent of the drying tobacco. Even if you don’t smoke, there’s something undeniably comforting about the rich, sweet scene of the tobacco leaves as they dry out in this confined space.
Hang Around for a Night or Two
Havana is just a few hours from Viñales by road (there are no rail connections), so a day tour in Viñales is a popular option. A return trip from the Cuban capital certainly something that can be done in a day, and yet it’s best to spend a night or two in Viñales to soak up that relaxed atmosphere. There are a number of Casa Particulares (Cuban style bed and breakfast establishments) located in the town itself, and there are a few full-service hotels located on the edge of the town, more geared towards visitors who want to explore the Sierra de los Órganos.
Viñales offers a relaxing respite from the delightfully hectic nature of much of the rest of Cuba. You can do as much or as little as you like. At the very least you might want to look at the tobacco drying out and tell it that you will meet it again later in your trip, once it’s been rolled into a cigar.