I loved the beautiful little town of Viñales when I visited on my first trip to Cuba in June of 2015. With it being one of my favourite destinations on my first Cuba trip, so, my boyfriend Adam & I thought what better place to celebrate our “1 year” of being together anniversary when on our Cuba travels!
On first thought we wanted cycle to Viñales as part of our Cuba cycle trip but with timing & all of the other places we had on the list, we just couldn’t fit Viñales in by bike too!
After giving it some thought we decided we would go for 4 days by bus & take our bikes with us that way.
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Booking The Bus
When booking the tickets for the bus*, about 5 days before we were due to leave for Viñales we checked if we would be OK to take our bikes on the bus with us. The answer from the lady we booked the tickets was “yes of course!”
“How simple was that?” we said to each other, or at least we thought so……
*nb – buses in Cuba can get full very quickly, it’s best to book any tickets as far in advance as you can. Collectivos (shared taxis) however are another option to get you from place to place & do not cost that much more than the bus.
First Lesson Learnt
On departure day we arrived at the bus station, 1/2 hour before the bus was due to depart & found it packed up & ready to go. I honestly think the sight of us 2 with a pair of bikes to fit on the already full bus totally tipped our driver over the edge! The reason for this thinking was that at first he point-blank refused to let us on. He then proceeded to scream (literally) in my face.
In a panic & from the shock of being screamed at I turned the water works on. At the sight of me balling he magically opened the luggage hold & told us if we could fit the bikes in he would take us to Viñales.
Great, we thought but the drama didn’t end there! Stupidly we had left all of our bike tools with a friend in Havana as we didn’t think we would need them for such a short trip. Oh how wrong we were! The bikes would not fit in unless we removed the front wheels from them & without tools we were screwed! We asked at the bus station but were told it was impossible, this was Cuba & there was not a tool in sight. We decided to give in and take the bikes back to our friend’s place, & get another bus, possibly the next day.
Once we admitted it was probably impossible, the driver & the other employee’s at the bus station decided that maybe it wasn’t & started looking around for a tool to help us. After about 15 minutes they appeared with the exact tool that we needed, we took the wheels off & the bikes were on the bus.
Sat on the bus I thought how crazy it was that so much drama was created before a solution was found. On the flip side I had learned my lesson – in future if taking a bike on a bus in Cuba, we would turn up at least an hour before departure, with the correct tools so that we could load & fit them on first!
Like Havana, on arriving in Viñales I could not believe how much it had changed in such a short space of time! What was a quaint little town the last time I was there was now a booming tourist town with almost every house being a Casa Particular.
So my first Viñales tip! There are now almost 2000 Casa Particulares in Viñales (the most common accommodation option when travelling Cuba), so booking in advance is not really necessary. When you arrive there will be loads available for you to take a look at. Also with there being so much competition you are better placed to haggle on the price of your room, something that, contrary to popular belief you can do in Cuba.
Still despite the quite drastic change in just a year & a half, Viñales was still beautiful. The town is hugged by the stunning National Park giving very pretty views from some of the Casas & some awesome places to explore.
National Park Tours
Following our arrival at our casa particular Gladyis, the owner was intent on booking us a guide to see the National Park. Gladyis was a lovely host & was a character & half! She spent most of the day shouting (quite literally) at her family members & then afterwards at us & her other guests to try & persuade us to have breakfast there or book the National Park Tours through her.
The tour that Gladyis was offering was really good & for some people visiting Viñales National Park with a guide is preferred. I would say if this is the case then Gladyis or your casa owner would be a good booking option!
It may also work out cheaper this way as opposed to booking with someone on the street but I would always suggest shopping around. Remember that prices are always negotiable, after all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
As Adam & I are travelling for quite a while we try to make our budget stretch further where possible. We also like to do things at our own pace so trekking alone in the National Park was preferable for us.
After numerous times of telling Gladyis & afterwards her husband who had also joined in on the “tour booking mission” we finally managed to convince them that we really were going to do it solo!
For us, this was a really good option! We took lunch & plenty water with us. We left early in the morning, at around 8am to get the best light for photos & arrived back in Viñales at around 4pm.
We had the most fantastic day with plenty of stop offs to enjoy the stunning scenery & had the trails to ourselves for the most part of it.
One item we found really useful was our Eye Witness Travel guide. It is a great source of info & gives you a great insight into the what you are exploring.
The Route We Took
Adam always calls me our tour guide! This is because I am super prepared when we go out & explore a place, with information ready to read to him as we go along! For our Viñales tour I did some research in advance on what we wanted to see & used maps.me to pin some points of interest that I had seen on my last trip.
Here is the route that we took……
- The road heading into the National Park, 1 block away from Viñales main plaza.
- The baseball pitch that you will pass & know you are on the correct route.
- Finca Raul Reyes, a nice place to stop enjoy a drink & even some hammock time if you wish. From here it’s a short walk up to the cave “Cueva Le Vaca”.
- “La Ceiba” a lovely place to stop & enjoy homemade lemonade & beautiful views.
- Viewpoint to enjoy stunning National Park Views
- The site of the “Mural De La Prehistoria” – A very impressive mural & a great place to chill for a while & have some lunch.
After leaving the “Mural De La Prehistoria” you can take the road straight back into Vinales as shown on pictures 3 & 4.
The National Park is completely free to visit, despite rumours of an entrance fee that you may hear.
Rating for this walk *EASY* It was around 13km in total & pretty much flat all of the way apart from the climb to the caves & viewpoint.
After going through the whole bike** fiasco on the bus we were happy that there were lots of places that can be easily explored by bike from Viñales.
We cycled down to a lovely lake “Presa El Salto”* which is around 8km from town, there’s nothing much there at all which was nice for us as we took some time to enjoy the complete peace & quiet. We also cycled up to Hotel Ermita*, for fabulous views & is the perfect place to catch the sun setting over the hills of Viñales.
*both places can easily be found with maps.me or by asking in town for directions.
**bikes can be rented in Viñales if you don’t have your own.
I was shocked at how much the prices had risen n Viñales in the bars & restaurants on the main road. We ate at one of them on our first night & were determined to find a more affordable option.
We searched a little & found a fab little cafe style place, just opposite the “park” on the road that runs directly behind the main road.
The place was pretty good, it was painted bright blue & white with no name & high tables & stalls outside. It offered all of your main staple Cuban dishes (Ropa Vieja, Pollo Frito etc.) for only 3.50 CUC. Comparing this to the main road places it was saving us around 50% on each meal! They also offered sandwiches here for 0.50 CUC which you can ask to take away for lunch in the National Park.
One of the waiters that worked there found it highly amusing that we were literally eating our 3 meals a day there, we kept getting one of those “you again” smiles from him! For us with the food in Cuba being pretty average anyway we figured if we were on to a good thing why change it!
As we stuck to the same place we didn’t find any other cheap eats but have heard that there are also take away pizza places available in town where you can get a pizza for around 1CUC.
The Best Food We Had In Cuba
To celebrate our “anniversary” date we headed up to Finca El Paraiso. At this place we were treated with a real, home cooked, Cuban spread! We had a fantastic evening there, it is just so special.
It’s about a 10 minute cycle or probably a 3 minute cab ride up to the beautiful finca. You can take the road that runs out-of-town past the gas station & will see it sign posted just after you get up the hill.
We arrived in the early evening & took a wander around & enjoy the stunning setting before sitting down to eat. Dinner was a huge variety of what the family had cooked up for the day, most of which was grown in their vast gardens & all of which was pretty yummy!
We paid 10 CUC per person which is pretty good value for what you get. To go with dinner we sampled some of their special cocktails at 3 CUC each. The cocktails are a magical, milky mixture with “healing properties” but to cancel those out they are served with a bottle of rum to add as little or as much as you like – be warned they are dangerously delicious!
Why Viñales Was Our Cuba Highlight
Whilst it is now very touristy we enjoyed Viñales the most of all the places we visited in Cuba. The reason for this is that there are so many places to visit in the area, which are easy to explore solo, giving you the option to escape the crowds!
Along with this, as there is so much competition around we found Viñales much more affordable than some of the other places we visited in Cuba.
All in all we had an amazing 4 days there & if you are thinking of it we would really recommend visiting as part of your Cuba trip!