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Central America Viñales (Cuba)

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Cuba has changed. And so has Viñales. What used to be a small village has now (2011) about 800 casas particulares (private accommodation in houses)! According to our local guide Ricardo, not all are meant for foreign tourist, some serve strictly for Cubans. Still it is a lot.
Even so, Viñales managed to keep its laid back ambient, still having just one small square, small church and nicely painted houses with porches and rocking chairs. A walking distance from the village you can find tobacco fields, small cottages and behind them a strange oblong mountains that raise steeply from the red soil. Very photogenic! Very romantic. You can also spot horses, pigs, cows or goats, people still using animals to work their small fields.
What here: Get a tour (local people can arrange that for you or use the visitor´s center on the road from Pinar del Río). The official price is about 10 CUC per person, depending on the tour. You can walk through the fields, mountains, see tobacco and its production (you will be expected to buy some hand rolled cigars) watch birds or try local fruit. It is a beautiful morning walk and you should definitely go for it. Those who don´t like to walk, can ride a horse. Tours can take from 2,5 to 4 hours.

You can also go to see a huge painting on one of the mountains „Mural de la Historia“ or take a boat ride through a cave called „Cueva del Indio“.

Half day or whole day trips to the beach on the north called Cayo Jutías are another good choice. The journey takes about 1 hour. Beach that was originally separated from the mainland, now a long embankment connects it and you will be charged 5 CUC per person as a fee. The water is beautifully Caribbean, sand is soft and the local (only) restaurant has very reasonable prices.

Where to stay:
On a hillside above Viñales stands a big hotel Los Jazmínes that has a panoramatic view of the valley. But I think that accommodation in casas particulares (private houses) is way more fun to go. Houses that offer that kind of service are marked, most of them could be found on the main street or the parallel second and third one. For just about 20 CUC for a double room you can sit on a porch sipping home-made mojito and watching the Cuban street life. One place to recommend would be Villa Lioska:
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In the village center you can find few restaurants.On the main road to Pinar del Río, just next to the visitor´s center is a family restaurant „El Paladar“. The owners are fabulous, prices ok, food more or less but the view on the valley and mountains is just stunning! You can also eat in casas particulares.

How to get here: Viazul buses from Havana come twice a day or you can rent a car. The journey takes about 3 to 3,5 hours passing through Pinar del Río. Getting out of Havana with your rented car is a tough thing. Not that there would be traffic. Cubans don´t know what traffic is (yet). Unfortunately they also don´t know what street signs are or just don´t bother with them. I am not exaggerating when I say we had to ask about 20 times to get out of the capital and we spotted the very first sign for Pinar del Río many miles behind Havana.