Vinales, Cuba – Valle de Vinales and Cuevas del Indio

The Vinales Valley (so far, my favorite part of Cuba!) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of a series of interconnected, narrow valleys with scenery that is simply magnificent!  It is here, in the red, fertile soil and deep green fields (vegas) that some of the world’s finest tobacco is grown.  Peasant farmers tend the fields, dressed in army fatigues or white linens and straw hats.  There’s no serious machinery to help with their work, just traditional, oxen  drawn wooden plows.  Many of these farmers own their land.  They do, however, have to sell their crop to the government at a fixed rate.

Rest Stop in Pinar del Rio

The farmers welcome visitors to freely enter into their vegas and curing sheds to talk to them about the basics of tobacco farming.  They’ll even share the fruit from their fruit trees with you! Palm trees, banana trees and orange trees dot the scenes, and chickens, cattle, pigs and horses roam about the fields.  The valley is perfect for hiking, but do take a guide if you opt to scale a mogote (tall, conical mountains that add to the region’s beauty).  The views of the valley are best at dusk and dawn when the natural light is enhanced by the dimly lit lanterns of the thatched huts.

While there are several national monuments to visit in Vinales, we spent time at the breath-taking Cuevo del Indio (Indian Caves).  These underground caves are filled with interesting stalactites and stalagmites, and in places, reaches a height of 300 feet.  The cave is well-developed for tourists, complete with lights and a boat tour.  The entry fee is 5 CUC (about 5 USD).

Steps to Cueva del Indio

 

 

Inside Cueva del Indio

Just before entering the cave, I tried the Guayabita del Pinar rum, mixed with fresh sugar cane and lemon. Delish!

If you’d like to stay over a couple of nights instead of taking a day trip to the region, there are hotels and lovely guest houses to accommodate you.  The people, the food and scenery are some that I will not soon forget.

One of several lodging options in Pinar del Rio/Vinales region

Vinales, Cuba – Tobacco Route

Our day 2 in Cuba was my favorite.  It was a very, very long day.  The car ride from Havana to the province of Pinar del Rio was about 4 hours.  Our driver/guide, Jorge, was awesome!  He was an English Professor before joining the tourism industry.  With such a large amount of professors (and doctors, nurses and lawyers!) in Cuba, the salary for the profession is so low these days that it’s forcing those who are able to look elsewhere for career options.  After working for an international cruise line for a few years and traveling to more countries than I’ve ever dreamed of, Jorge was able to purchase a car with some of his savings and start his own business as a tour driver.  We were told by a few budding entrepreneurs that about 5 years ago President Castro realized that on some jobs there were close 20 people doing the job of one person,  he made sweeping lay-offs, and the government began to allow more and more Cubans to start their own businesses.  Of course, a pretty large portion of their earnings go to the government (taxes?), but it’s a start.



Farm Owner/Host

 

 

Jorge Tour Guide/Driver

Having Jorge as a guide was such a pleasure.  While he is from Havana, he knows Vinales Valley very well.  He also loves visiting with his family whenever he can.  It was he and his wife’s 13th wedding anniversary the weekend after our day trip there, and he told us that he’d planned to go back with his family for a couple of days.  Jorge’s English was excellent (former English professor), so he was able to explain a lot about the region to us, and to answer the million questions that I had.  With such an action-packed day, this post will focus on the tobacco farm (la finca).



En route to Vinales

 

 
 

Upon our arrival to the farm, we wandered around and took in the beautiful green scenery until the tourist couple ahead of us finished getting their cigar making education.  While waiting, we picked and ate guava fruit, met the 87 year-old farm owner (my favorite!) who picked peeled and served us green oranges (I’d never had one before.  It looked like an unripened grapefruit and tasted like a sweet lime!) .  He strolled around the farm with such swagger and ease.   He was slim and tanned and had such a gracious way about him.  A Cuban cowboy.

 When it was our turn, we entered the cigar-rolling room for our tutorial with Anuvys Gonzalez.  Like his grandfather, Anuvys was so proud of his work.  He took his time and taught us all about the production of the cigars, from seed to stick.  I’d brought along 2 gift bags filled with toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and the like, to give to the gracious people of Vinales that I’d grown so found of on my previous trips to the country.  These small tokens could never show our hosts how grateful I was for their time, education and friendliness.

 
Tobacco Leaves




Honey for Dipping the Cigar Tips
 

  
Packaged to Sell Directly From the Farm