Cuba, part IV: Valle de Viñales—tobaccoland, nature, and white sand*

To start from the beginning of the adventure, I have to describe how we got to Viñales in the first place. We had planned to take a bus from Havana and had asked from designated tourist info about the tickets. They told us that we must be at the bus terminal an hour before the departure time and there we’d get the tickets.

The reality was however slightly different. We were at the bus terminal a little more than an hour before the departure time, but only to learn that the bus had already been sold out and there’s a considerable amount of people already waiting for potential cancellations.

But the truth is, it was for the better. If we had got on the bus, it would have taken three hours and 50 minutes to get from Havana to Viñales. Fortunately, we met two fellow travellers both on their way to Viñales and decided to take a taxi. As mentioned before, usually taxis charge four times the price of the bus ticket (after bargaining, of course), so for CUC55 a nice taxi driver named Fidel (I know!) agreed to take the four of us.

And not only took the taxi ride only two hours, we also had a nice stop at a tobacco plantation, where we got to see how tobacco is grown and dried. We had been to a cigar factory in Havana already, but at the plantation we saw how tobacco makes it to the factory. I’ll write a separate post about tobacco and cigar production. But Pinar del Rio province and Valle de Viñales are the heartland of Cuban tobacco production. You see smaller and larger tobacco plantations all around with small old huts for drying the leaves before they’re sent to the factories.

Valle de Viñales is a national park and an area of natural beauty. It’s one of Cuba’s most magnificent settings with soaring pine trees and scattered with limestone cliffs. In 1999, it was added to UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s a perfect setting for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities, but if you’re neither a hiker nor a biker, then you can always take a hop-on-hop-off bus that drives all around the valley many times a day.

Close to Viñales is a beautiful beach island called Cayo Levisa. For CUC35, you can take a day trip to this tiny isle on the northern coast of Cuba (including bus from Viñales, ferry and lunch) from Cubanacan tourist office. Ernest Hemingway discovered this place in early 1940ies, and today the island has a hotel and two restaurants for tourists. Cubans, however, are not permitted to go to Cayo Levisa. You can imagine why.

So here’s a load of photos of Valle de Viñales and Cayo Levisa.

Valle de Viñales: limestone cliffs, palm trees and old Russian cars.

Valle de Viñales: limestone cliffs, palm trees and old Russian cars.

Church at Viñales' main square.

Church at Viñales' main square.

Viñales' main square.

Viñales' main square.

Viñales itself is a little town with tiny houses.

Viñales itself is a little town with tiny houses.

Valle de Viñales.

Valle de Viñales.

Mural de la Prehistoria. It took 15 people five years to paint this on Sierra de Viñales in the 1960ies.

Mural de la Prehistoria. It took 15 people five years to paint this on Sierra de Viñales in the 1960ies.

A panorama of Valle de Viñales.

A panorama of Valle de Viñales.

Cubans use oxes for agricultural works all over the country.

Cubans use oxes for agricultural works all over the country.

The people of Viñales doing their everyday chores.

The people of Viñales doing their everyday chores.

Beautiful white sand at Cayo Levisa. I can understand why old Ernest liked it here.

Beautiful white sand at Cayo Levisa. I can understand why old Ernest liked it here.

Palm trees at the beach.

Palm trees at the beach.

On the day we visited Cayo Levisa, the whole beach was full of poisonous jellyfish.

On the day we visited Cayo Levisa, the whole beach was full of poisonous jellyfish.

The palm trees are bent because of strong wind that is a regular visitor on the island.

The palm trees are bent because of strong wind that is a regular visitor on the island.

Interestingly, the sea water in northern Cuba is very, very cold, although it looks rather beautiful.

Interestingly, the sea water in northern Cuba is very, very cold, although it looks rather beautiful.

* Yes, I like Oxford commas.

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