Vinales with kiddos
The small town in the mountains of eastern Cuba surrounded by cigar fields and smoke. Vinales has a number of great restaurants, bars, and small markets all within walking distance. Stay in an expensive, beautiful mountaintop luxury resort or in a one room casa for $20. This small town offers so much more than its size would suggest, not to mention one of the best meals (or 2) we have ever eaten in our lives.
Where to Stay?
Villa Alain Barbero This is the Casa we stayed at. It was a room in the back of Alain and Allison’s house. The room has a separate entrance, its own bathroom and 3 beds. The Casa is located towards the end of Camilo Cienfuegos and 2 blocks from the main road. It is in a quiet neighborhood with very friendly neighbors. Alain and Allison are both very friendly and gracious with their home and time and are very hard workers. Everyone in Vinales is friendly but the neighbors seemed to smile even wider because you are at Alain and Allison’s house. The dinner and breakfasts we ate at their Casa were all incredibly good and worth the price 8 Cuc for dinner, 5 Cuc for breakfast. The breakfasts we often made lunches out of as well. I am sure there are many great Casas to stay at in Vinales (everyone we met was so nice), but I can’t imagine finding a better Casa than Alain and Allisons!
3 day Intinerary
Day 1: Our stay in Vinales really started in Edgar’s taxi on the way to the small mountain town. After traveling from Havana for 2 ½ hours with one stop to pee in the weeds, on the side of the highway, Edgar pulled onto a small dirt road, past an old barn painted all black and shut off the car next to a small tobacco farm. We did not ask for this stop, but up for the adventure, all five of us were excited to be there. Walking around the farm and drinking coffee, the farmer explained to us the process of growing and drying tobacco. He took us into the black barn where every plant is dried and told us what makes his tobacco so unique and the best (obviously). It was a romantic spot with pigs, dogs, and baby goats (one just happened to have recently past and we got to see her there too). After buying a few of his cigars we thanked him and all piled back into the taxi for the rest of the hour drive on bumpy windy roads to Vinales.
Once we found our Casa, Villa Alain Barbero (we honestly can not overly recommend them!!) we decided to walk around town. I like to orient myself when I get to new towns, so we headed for the main part of town. We were 2 blocks from the main street Salvador Cisneros, and walked that way. Passing lots of 20 somethings that looked like they would be as home at a beach town as they were here in Vinales, we ran into a lot of locals, tourists, men sucking on cigars (probably for the first time) and lots of people eager to help you plan activities in the area. For a nice walk in the main area of Vinales, head down Salvador Cisneros and stop at the Vinales Church in the center square. Keep moving until you take a right at Calle Adella Azcuy Norte and walk to the baseball field. If they had been playing when i was there I would have stayed to watch, unfortunately they were not, so if they are playing when you are there, take advantage of the opportunity to watch them play their favorite sport. Head back towards the center of town on Rafael Trejo or Camilo Cienfuegos. Vinales is such a nice town to wander and we tried to take advantage of that at every opportunity we could.
For dinner we ate a huge and delicious meal at our casa that Alain cooked for us. Honestly there was so much food, we probably did not eat half of what was available. Yummy fish, tostones, fresh salad and rice and beans, too many amazing veggies to mention. We had some beer and dreamed away dinner with thoughts about our taxi ride and the beautiful small town we had found ourselves in.
Day 2: Eat a breakfast at your casa! We woke up to an incredible spread of pastries, fresh fruit, breads, thin pancakes (similar to swedish pancakes), gouda and eggs. And of course the best coffee and fresh fruit juice. After breakfast our Casa host, Alain set up a taxi to pick us up and take us to a tobacco/coffee farm to go horseback riding. It was a slow rumble down down a small path where we stopped at a coffee farm for a rest and a presentation about how they grow coffee, and then for some reason we had a rum tasting, with the opportunity to buy both coffee beans and rum. The rest of the ride made its way to a cave where we did a little sperlunking for 1 CUC each (kids free of course). The cave was great, but my favorite part was the climb back to our horses and witnessing some thirsty Cows sprinting down the path to the small water hole where they took a little break and refreshment for themselves after ploughing the field all morning. We then found our horses and headed back the way we came and stopped for some coconut water at a tiny bar and to wade in the small lake. It was an incredible area to relax, take photos and breath in the mountain air.
Eat dinner at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso! After a little rest we decided to walk to dinner. Kristen had heard about this place before we came to Vinales, but it also happened to be our host Alain’s cousins’ restaurant. Alain made a reservation for us, which we suggest. The walk was about a mile and it was uphill, but the walk allowed us to not just see the outskirts of Vinales, but to interact with it; to listen to the bamboo crunching into each other in the breeze, to watch a mom feeding her herd of piglets and to play and run around with some of the children that lived along the way. After arriving at the farm, we immediately knew we had made the right choice. The restaurant is on a sloping piece of land that is used to grow the vegetables and it overlooks the valley and town of Vinales below. During our time there, there were baby goats running loose and ready to play with Maypop and Odessa. I doubt I have to tell you how important this was to how much they loved their experience. And if that was not enough, the food was incredible! Served family style, the restaurant staff just slowly brought out dish after dish of vegetables, homemade chips, rice, chicken, pork, and some of the best fish I have ever eaten. They have a selection of beverages including a house Pina Colada that comes virgin with a bottle of Rum that they just set on your table for you to do your own mixing and tasting. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this small detail….for them rum is cheap and it might be an easy gesture, but for me it was a signal of warmth and trust and invited the feeling that you are a guest in their house. After dinner we were going to take a taxi home, but we were all in such good spirits that we decided to take the slow walk home down the hill. If you go to Vinales, go eat here! We suggest walking….
Day 3: We woke up to another incredible breakfast at our Casa. I can’t overstate how wonderful our Casa meals were. The table would be filled with all kinds of food, juices and coffee, way more then we could eat and generally much better than the restaurants we ate at. And with kids any time you can eat good food and not have to restrain them to their seats is an enjoyable meal for everyone. We were supposed to leave at noon today (more on that later), so we decided to walk around to places we had not yet seen. We wandered the streets and let the girls take photos, finding colors and textures that they had not yet noticed. We lingered at a school for a while and watched the students excitedly talk with each other while they slowly made their way into the classrooms. Maypop and Odessa commented on the differences and similarities to their own school. We eventually made our way towards the southern end of town where the library was located. It was fun for everyone to spend time in the library, a very small and simple room with open shelves filled with books. For me, it does not matter if I can read the words in the books or not, I love to be surrounded by them, there is a comfort in knowing that there is so much information and stories available to anyone that wants to take the time to look for it.
We got back to our Casa where we were to meet Edgar (our taxi driver) for the ride home. He was late and so we sat and waited, 5 minutes turned to 10 and 10 turned to 30. After and hour we started to think he might not be coming. There could be many reasons that Edgar did not show up that day, maybe his car broke down (not uncommon in Cuba), maybe he was sick or a family member was sick, maybe he just did not think it was worth it to come for the money we were going to pay him (I doubt this, but who knows), but whatever the reason, it turned out to be just what we wanted to happen. What I do know is that we made a mistake in not getting Edgar’s phone number before he left, because with that, we could have simply called to find out what had happened. Oh well, i guess we will never know. Instead, we talked with Alain about staying at his Casa one more night, he said “yes, of course!” with a huge smile and then he immediately helped us schedule a taxi to take us to the airport the next morning. Since we had another unexpected half day in Vinales, we decided to go see the Cueva del Indio the cave north of town that you ride a boat through. The cost for the cave was 5 Cuc and of course, kids were free. The interior of the cave is huge and cool and after waiting in the que for about 10-15 minutes we entered the boat. There are people there from all over the world and in the boat before us, everyone started singing a song together in Italian.
Getting back to town, most of our party wanted to eat at Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso again (and who can blame them, it is the best), but I wanted to walk and eat one of the cheap pizzas everyone has in town. I decided to go for a long walk up the hill towards Hotel La Ermita. For me this was an intoxicating walk, passing men working on improving their homes, small children running and chasing each other through their yards, greeting other visitors who were in their own little Cuban hypnosis. After walking a mile or so, I found a little Cafe to eat the pizza I was looking for. I got a pizza and Presidente for about 4 Cuc. Just down the hill from where I was eating a dozen boys were playing baseball on a side street, this was something I had been wanting to see and I loved watching them play. I took pictures of them and they made fun of me for it, but all in a fun spirit. After dinner, I made the slow walk back to town greeting the donkeys resting on the side of the road. Not completely satiated with the baseball I decided to head back to the town’s sports complex to see if there were any baseball games scheduled for the night. There was not an official game being played but a lot of people were on the field, hitting baseballs, playing catch, lounging around. The concession stand was even open and people were getting sodas and treats to nibble on. Feeling completely satisfied with our decision to stay in Vinales for the day, I headed back to the Casa to meet everyone else and rest up for the long taxi ride in the morning.
Havana to Vinales
Viazul Bus - This is a great option. It is 12 Cuc for adults and 6 Cuc for kids and is a 4 hour trip. If you want to take the bus get your tickets as soon as possible. We went to the bus station in the morning, the day before we wanted to travel and the seats to Vinales were already sold out, both trips. We suggest getting your tickets as soon as possible. Since we were out of luck for the bus, we negotiated with a taxi driver outside the Bus Station to drive us in an old Chevy. They wanted 80 Cuc, we offered 60 and settled on 70. In the end, we were happy we took the taxi cause we could stop when we wanted and took a detour to a small tobacco farm on the way.