8 Sights to See in Viñales
Colonized in the early 1800’s, settled in 1871 and declared a town in 1878, Vinales and its unique environs are like no other place in Cuba or on earth. Situated west of Havana, the town lies quietly in some of the richest land in the country while the area remains one of Cuba’s poorest regions. A visit to Viñales often seems a visit to the early farming days in the pre-revolutionary 13 colonies to the north.
According to the 2004 census, only 27,129 people resided in the town. In truth, the population of the region is unknown, just as it has been for hundreds of years, since escaped slaves and Taino Indians began to populate the region.
1. Visit the Farms of Viñales – Tobacco farmers from the Canary Islands settled in the Vuelta Abajo region in the 1800’s and ingrained a strong agricultural spirit in the community that has not changed much since. Farmers still live without electricity in huts that must have resembled the cabins owned by American settlers up and down the East Coast. Farming in the valley has changed little since the first tobacco farmers began creating plantations.
2. Enjoy Nature – Unspoiled, environmentally clean and pure, Cuba’s nature is beautifully presented in the area around the town. The Valley of Viñales provides an amazing landscape dotted with caves, tobacco plantations, mountains and lakes. Tourists who take the time to embrace the natural setting will not be disappointed and will certainly leave wondering about the region’s full potential.
3. Cayo Levisa – Travel to Cayo Levisa from the town will cost about 21 CUC round trip but everyone who visits this very private and remote beach is glad they made the trip. There is a small cabanas-type hotel with two restaurants on the beach. The beaches are clean with white sand and the coral reefs seem like they have never been fully explored. You will need a guide but what a day or two can be had at Cayo Levisa.
4. See the Mountainside Mural – A brisk 50-minute walk from downtown Viñales is the breathtaking mountainside mural of prehistoric animals. The mural has no historical significance but does underscore the undeniable artisitic talent of the Cuban people. This is one of a kind.
5. Visit the Historic Church – The impoverished people of the Viñales take their religion seriously. The inspirational Father Varela who fueled some of the fire for the revolution is honored with a statue in the local church. The Father died in Jacksonville, Florida, but his message burns eternal in Viñales.
6. The Valley of the Sierra de los Organos – The limestone rock bed that lines the valley was formed more than 160 million years ago,. It has been estimated that the majority of Cuba’s caves are located along the valley walls. Many of the caves are open to the public. Approximately 130 square kilometers have been declared a National Monument.
7. Cueva del Indios – In the Valley of Viñales, there are three primary grottos that are popular with tourists. The Cueva del Indios is the most remarkable. Upon entering the cave, you will hike about 200 meters inside the mountain. From there, a boat will guide your exploration of the cave on the underground river San Vincente. Cueva del Indios was discovered in 1920.
8. Cueva de Jose Miguel and Cueva de Santo Tomas – Though not as spectacular as the Cueva del Indios, the caves have historical relevance because they served as safe houses for the surviving Taino Indians and the expanding number of escaped slaves for at least 100 years. If you understand what it took to live like this, you can understand why the poverty in the region does not disturb the locals, some of who are descendants of the original settlers.
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