We arrived late into Viñales, just as dusk was setting in. We’d lost much of the afternoon waiting at our Casa in Habana because the collective taxi that we’d booked had never showed up. We’d arranged it by calling the Infotur in Viñales as the collective taxi arranged by the Havana Infotur departed in the morning, which clashed with a tour we had booked. Having waited until 4 in the afternoon, our Casa owner began calling around for us… Well first he called from the balcony to see if any of the drivers below wanted the business, then he got on the phone. We didn’t have many options open to us this late in the day so we had to settle for paying 80 CUC for the 3 hour journey. It was a very bumpy journey as the suspension of the old car was no match for the poor roads leading into Viñales, but we made it there nonetheless.
We were staying at Casa Mariela y Pacho and arrived to a warm welcome from Mariela. She showed us to the lovely spacious room above their house and from the balcony you could see the last of the setting sun. The sun was disappearing behind one of the magotes – the peculiar limestone mountains for which the region is famous (imagine Vietnam’s Ha Long bay but without the water!). Mariela was already preparing our dinner and in the meantime called to arrange a tour for us for the next day. Part way through dinner a man arrived at the door to tell us all about the morning’s tour – he’d send a taxi to the house for us at 9am. Within an hour of arriving we were settled in, well fed and had our plans in place – that was one of the wonderful aspects of travelling in Cuba.
The next morning, our taxi took us to a farm where we were passed from one Cuban to another until we got to the one who had two horses ready for us. Like any English person who’s managed to get to nearly 30-years-old without riding a horse, we clumsily clambered on to the saddle. The horses were named Coco Loco and Mojito, of course! After learning to pull the reins right when he shouted “derecho” and left when he shouted “izquierdo” we were on our way!
Our first stop was a tobacco farm where we were shown the process inside a drying hut. Amongst other things, we learnt that the mixture with which they spray the dried leaves inevitably contains rum!
We then watched the leaves being rolled into cigars and were offered cigars with their ends dipped in honey – just how Che liked them. I didn’t have one myself, but my other half, Dan, having begun smoking one then embarked on the challenge of riding a horse with a cigar in one hand – the full Cuban experience!
At one point the guide shouted “derecho” and we looked right to see nothing but a copper coloured stream running through the ochre earth… “derecho?”… Yes, right we went, and sure enough the horses paddled through the stream all the way to the cave which we were destined for.
Each time we got back on the horses the guide said “Vamos a la playa!”; we just thought it was a bit of a joke as we were no where near the sea, but then we arrived at a lake with a small jetty and a sandy path leading to the waters edge. There were a few tourists swimming there but it didn’t look that appealing so we gave it a miss.
After our final stop at a coffee farm, we got back on the horses for the last time – thank goodness for that, I was beginning to ache quite a lot – I’m clearly not built for riding horses, it’s a bit different to my desk chair at work! We walked back to town and stopped at Villa Dary y Tuty for a very nice lunch. We ended up staying quite a while as the grey clouds overhead suddenly released all that they had in big heavy Caribbean rain dropped and soon the street turned into a river.
After the rain finally passed by, we had little of the afternoon left so we took a visit the the Jardin Botanico de Viñales at the end of town, it didn’t cost to get in but we were given a good tour and a taste of some of the fruit at the end so we left a tip.
The next morning we headed off to the Mural de la Prehistoria before it got too hot and humid. On the road heading West out of town, we took the first turn signed for the National Park in the hope that we could find an alternative track rather than the one beside the road. We weaved in and out of several farms but in the end we had no choice but to return to the road and continue along there until the main turning for the Mural.
Soon enough we caught a glimpse of the large garish painting on the side of one of the magotes. We’d seen photos and it was pretty much as expected – a bit of an eyesore really. Having come this far we felt obliged to continue walking closer to it and we were nearly there by the time we found ourselves at a gate being asked to pay 3 CUC each to see it… But it’s right there, I can see it! We paid the entrance fee on the basis that there was a drink included in the price.
We made our way to the bottom of the rock face and actually managed to entertain ourselves there for quite a while – clambering up the rocks to get photos against the paintwork and following the lizards around with our cameras. We then found a trail as you continue past the mural. The walk up looked pretty challenging as there are a couple of sections climbing short walls of the rock, but it was fairly beginners level with lots of natural hand holds. Just don’t try it in flip flops, the guy coming back down with one bare foot and broken flip flop in hand didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much!
We didn’t go right to the top but the first view point was pretty good. When we came back down to the restaurant for our free drink, we found that the place had filled with people. When we got there at 11am there were about 3-4 people, now at 1pm there were 3-4 coach loads – popular lunch stop I guess!
Keen to avoid the tour groups, we got a taxi back into town for lunch. Then took a taxi to Cueva del Indio (5CUC admission) just as it was beginning to rain again. At the ticket booth the place looked pretty quiet, however, there’s little to see by foot in the cave, all of the interesting parts are seen from a boat, so we didn’t get far into the cave before joining a long queue to get on board. It seemed as though we waited forever, but perhaps it was actually 45 minutes or so… Then 5 minutes on the boat before you’re outside and disembarking. I wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it.
We left the cave late afternoon and decided that rather than rushing back to town by taxi we could nicely fill the time by walking back, getting to see some more of the local area en route. We got back at a suitable time to enjoy dinner whilst the sun was setting, we’d returned to Villa Dary y Tuty, where we’d previously had lunch during the heavy rain, but this time we sat up on the terrace at the back and had a great view over the magotes.
After dinner we were keen to head back to the Casa for one of Mariela’s wonderful frozen Daiquiris whilst we relaxed in the rocking chairs on the front porch.
The next morning Mariela very sweetly brought little gifts to us during breakfast, which for me was a lovely bracelet with brightly coloured beads made from coconut. We spoke to her and her mother, Marisela, as we waited for our taxi. They were telling us it had taken 3 years to build the guest room above their house and that they’d been receiving guests for only 5 months, but they clearly enjoyed it.
We joined 6 others in an collective taxi back to Habana. It cost 20 CUC per person and was arranged by one of the many guys stood outside of the Infotur in the centre of Vinales. We were in an old American car that had clearly changed a lot over the years – most noticeably because of the middle row of seat which looked to be a sofa bed combined with a seat from a much newer car, one that expected to have a seatbelt! Great memories to look back on!