Vinales is only a 2 hour 30 minute drive away from Havana, but the atmosphere and scenery is very different. Vinales is a small agricultural town famous for its tobacco and is filled with lots to see and do.
The national park in Vinales is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the lifestyle here seems a lot more peaceful and relaxed. It is a nice place to have a 48 hour break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
To day trip or not to day trip
The age old question, to day trip or not to day trip?
When travelling to Vinales the cheapest and easiest option is definitely by bus. There are 2 busses that leave from Havana everyday. One that arrives in Vinales at 12:40 and one that arrives at 18:20. There is only one bus back to Havana which leaves the town centre at 14:00. This means that a day trip is possible but only if you get the earlier bus from Havana, and even then it will be rushed. Another option is to take a taxi or collectivo one or both ways. This will be more expensive but gives you more flexibility about timings.
We decided to spend 1 night in Vinales because it is quite a small town and we could only get the later bus from Havana. However it would have been better to stay for 2 nights or have taken the earlier bus. This would have given us more time to explore the town and national park.
The town centre
The bus stop is in the town centre outside the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus church. This area has a lot of restaurant options and has a lovely small Cuban town feel to it. There is also an ATM but it usually has a long line and quickly runs out of money, so it is better to bring any spending money with you from Havana.
To have the true Vinales experience you need to be closer to Vinales valley. This takes 5 minutes by taxi or 35 minutes by foot.
El Valle de Viñales national park
There are lots of things to do in Vinales valley, the most popular are horseback excursions lasting 3-5 hours. These usually include a trip to the tobacco plantations where you can learn to make the famous Cuban cigars. You can also rent a bike if you wish to have more freedom, just be careful not to get lost!
One of the main attractions of the valley is Mural de la Prehistoria, a colourful painting to represent the evolution of man. It can be seen from the path but costs $3 CUC to go closer.
Unfortunately we overslept and didn’t have time to look around, so we decided to slowly walk back to the town to take in the sights.
For our evening in Vinales we ate at Balcon del valle restaurant which had an amazing view of Vinales Valley. This was made even better as the sun began to set over the national park. The food was simple but tasty and had a tradition Cuban feel to it.
We even had a few visitors to our table including a cat looking up at us hopefully and some little chicks, all of which made for great entertainment.
Despite the beautiful view this is the first time that I was disappointed by an Airbnb booking. We felt so unwelcome from the minute we said we didn’t want to buy any alcohol (because we don’t drink). Let’s just call the place ‘happy hostel’.
If I went back I would stay at Hotel Los Jazmines, which has a very similar to view to ‘happy hostel’. It also has a cafe, a restaurant and a beautiful swimming pool that overlooks Vinales valley. Even if you are not a guest at the hotel you can still go to the cafe for a meal and the amazing view.
We ended our time in Vinales sitting in the main square and watching the classic cars drive past until our bus back to Havana arrived. There were too many to keep count!
The overall atmosphere of Vinales was a lot more relaxed in comparison to the rest of Cuba. Even though it didn’t all go to plan, the change of pace was a nice break from our busy itinerary.