When we were planning our trip to Cuba there was no question that we were going to be spending some time in the mountains. And so we opted to go to the most popular, granted, but equally part of the most stunning of Cuba’s natural splendour: Vinales. The valley of Vinales lies a 4 hour bus ride west of Havana and is one of the most popular day trips from the city. You can understand why – within a few hours it feel like you’ve stepped into a different world. Rolling hills of green and endless fields of tobacco and coffee plantations stretch out before you as far as the eye can see. Horse and ox-drawn carts are as numerous on the road as cars and bikes, and the people are softened in their manner the way only country folk tend to be.
We chose to stay in a casa particular that was a 10 minute walk out of the centre of the village with a rooftop view of the surrounding fields. The bliss of waking in the morning to the sound of farm animals nearby, walking barefoot in the grass and enjoying a bitter black coffee as the village stirs and wakes with you… it’s a peaceful feeling like no other; life in the countryside.
We enjoyed several activities in Vinales which included a day of bike riding through the fields, a horse riding tour of the National Park and a visit to the cigar plantation / factory (if you can call a rugged hut with a single man rolling cigars a factory!) as well as a day trip to a nearby island, Cayo Levisa.
As for the food, which let’s be honest is the reason we are all here, there are 3 places that real stood out to me that I want to share.
Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso
A “finca” is a farm and in Cuba many of them are also restaurants that use produce from their own plantations. El Paraiso was no exception, and they provided one of the best meals we had in Cuba! For 15CUC (approx 15US) per person, you were served food until you burst. On top of that, they served a virgin pina colada and left the bottle of rum on the table for us to top our drinks up as we please (and top up we did). The food was exquisite, we were served a hearty vegetable soup, roasted vegetables, salad, yucca chips, some fish in tomato sauce, delicious pork and chicken drumsticks and polished it all off with some candied pear and a coffee. What value! The cherry on top of the cake had to be the view – the restaurant sits atop a hill at the centre of the farm’s plantations. Talk about farm to table! Guests can take a walk around the property as they please. One tip: come early to avoid the tourist busses. You can hire a bicycle from the village like we did or take a taxi.
3J Tapas Bar
In the heart of Vinales main street, 3J Tapas bar is a spotlight in the dark – a funky tapas bar that makes you feel like you are in the city but overlooking the quaint village street. We ate here several times – the food is good, the staff are lovely and attentive and the outdoor seating lets you people watch over the street. I highly recommend it!
Balcon de la Valle
The aptly names “Balcony of the Valley” is a must-visit – even if you are purely coming to see the view. On an overhanging deck that seems to be attached to the trees, this restaurant arguably has the best views of the valley. With a small but delicious local menu and a family atmosphere, it is the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing and watch the sunset. Don’t miss it!
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