Cuba Visit | Part 5 Viñales Valley

by Jim and Melanie*

[*Melanie’s note: I was drowsy all that day and slept on the bus a good chunk of the time we were on it. Most of these observations are Jim’s.]

The final full day of our Cuba visit involved a bus trip more than 2.5 hours west of Havana to a national park called Viñales Valley. The highway was similar to other modern four-lane expressways. We stopped part way at a nice rest area complete with palm trees and a coffee-snack bar. As in other locations in Cuba, random dogs seemed to wander around.


Viñales Valley is recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The dramatic limestone karst landscape presents tall mountains and rounded humps scattered throughout the agricultural area. The valley’s primary crop is tobacco grown as it has been for generations. It is a manual, labor-intensive process. The following brief film by UNESCO TV and © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai shows tobacco farming practices and some of the unique caves in the area.


Views of the Valley

Additional images of the region are available here from the UNESCO web site.


A Tobacco Farm

Many small tobacco farms are scattered in the valley. One farm in particular is visited often by tourist groups as a good example of the practices and buildings used by the farmers. We were invited into the palm thatched drying barn as soon as we arrived. Our host explained the steps involved in growing, harvesting, drying, and selling his crop. Jokingly, he said he is required by law to sell 90% to the government. He keeps 20% to do as he wishes.

The leaves are hung to dry on the poles in the barn. He selected a few to demonstrate how to roll a cigar. One of our group members smoked it and said it was quite good. The planting season was getting close. No crop of leaves remained except for his demonstration purposes.


After the demonstration and tour, our host invited the group into his home. There we were served coffee enriched with rum if we chose. We were free to roam around his farm buildings and see first-hand what life was like for him and his family. The yard was lush with greenery, including a coffee plant. Next to the house were two small adult cats, as well as some nursing kittens. We were told the mamas were sisters and would nurse any of the kittens as needed.


Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso

Lunch was at a beautiful and remarkable restaurant located on a hillside in the valley. Our tables were situated with views out to the countryside. The food was prepared from the gardens that surround the restaurant. The owner was proud to point out how he and his employees were dedicated to raising all organic foods for use in preparing dishes. Earlier in the week we were treated to lunches and dinners at some wonderful places. In our opinion, this place topped them all. As with all our meals,  this one started with a delicious welcome cocktail with special ingredients. As lunch progressed, bottles of rum were placed on the tables for us to enjoy as we wished. They were emptied in turn with no long-term ill effects.


Our Final Dinner

We all gathered in the lobby of the hotel awaiting the arrival of our rides to dinner. About a dozen convertibles from the 1950s era came around the corner. We made mad dashes for our favorites. As we rode to the restaurant, people were waving their arms to each other, the car horns were blaring funny tunes, and people on the street wondered about those crazy Americans. It was a blast. Our car was this 1955 Chevy BelAir with the original engine, according to our driver.


We were told that Cubans don’t make a big deal out of most of their birthdays. Young women’s quinceañera, when they turn 15-years-old, is an exception. However we Americanos do celebrate. In fact there were three birthdays in our group during our trip. Melanie’s was the day we returned to Miami. That last night, the restaurant had a large chocolate cake for all of us to share. To top it off, the band played “Happy Birthday” with appropriate cha-cha-chas thrown in. It was a good way to end our week together.

Links to posts 1 through 6 are found here.



13 thoughts on “Cuba Visit | Part 5 Viñales Valley

  1. OceanDiver

    That was a side trip well worth the time! What a lovely countryside. I love the gardens and small farms too. That is one of the biggest enclosed palapas I’ve ever seen, where the tobacco dries – perfect conditions for ventilation but protected from light, heat and rain. Pretty cool you got up close and personal with Cuban specialities – cigars and rum 🙂 Really great trip altogether, I bet it changed your perception of Cuba. Travel is the best thing for that. Perhaps you’ll luck onto other organizations that sponsor trips like that elsewhere. They are win win win for everyone. Thanks so much for your excellent accounts and informative photos!

    1. Melanie McNeil

      It was very pretty, completely different from Havana, and yes, well worth it. I have a “thing” where I fall asleep on airplanes before we even pull away from the gate. It basically hit me on this longer bus trip, so I missed quite a lot!

      We’ll be sure to look into other travel opportunities, both with tours and by ourselves, depending on where. It was eye-opening, indeed.

    2. Jim in IA Post author

      It has been fun to write them up. It helps us to remember the details.

      As to cigars, we did have a cigar factory tour. No pictures were allowed. It was a bee-hive atmosphere. Several hundred people were packed into one floor shoulder to shoulder at tiny desks. They rolled cigars of various qualities. It only took a few minutes each before they were put into pressing clamps and finished on the ends to look good. These were the best ones in the country and very closely regulated for quality.

  2. Maria F.

    Thanks for sharing this cultural aspect of Cuba. Nevertheless, tobacco is extremely toxic, either chewing or smoking, so these cultural traditions are sometimes lethal. How ironic!

    1. Jim in IA Post author

      We humans can act in such ironic and contrary ways. It’s a wonder we have survived so long. Our creativity must come to our rescue at the right times.


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