Described in our itineraries as one of the prettiest places in Cuba, Vinales was a very cute spot to spend two nights. There was a main street with lots of restaurants and the main square and then side streets lined mostly with pastel coloured villas.
Our group were treated on arrival to lunch with a view. We ate at a restaurant on the hills behind the town. There were panoramic views of the lush landscape which was all very green and mountainous. It was the first of what would be many typical lunches, but because of its views it would remain as one of my favourite spots.
After lunch we visited Cueva del Indio, where I had the good fortune of being cuddled by a tree rat and we all rode on a boat through an underground cave. There were lots of interesting rock formations, of which our tour guide gave very detailed descriptions for… Pity they were in Spanish!
Three of my favourite things we did in Vinales include:
Visiting a tobacco farm (a ‘vega’). I didn’t realise how clueless I was about cigar making. It’s literally just dried tobacco leaves, rolled really really tightly. Nothing added and with the nicotine removed (they do this by removing the middle stem of the leaf, which is where most of the nicotine is). Once we had a brief tour of the farm, Diego showed us how to roll them and then we had the opportunity to smoke them. The Cubans commonly dip the tips of their cigars in honey or rum. I only tried the honey, but doing so made it substantially more delicious. My conclusion: smoking is not for me!
Visiting a coffee plantation. Much more to my tastes, we got to see what the coffee plant looked like, how to separate the shell from the bean and then the process of roasting the beans. Trying the coffee itself was an absolute highlight: it felt so pure and there was no bitterness to it whatsoever.
It would have been nice to buy some except we weren’t sure whether storage in a recycled water bottle would make it through customs! Afterwards we tried the local rum. Rum tastes better when in Cuba and best still in a cocktail.
Cayo Levisa. We drove for an hour and a half before climbing aboard a boat to Cayo Levisa. Essentially a deserted island with naught but a 3km long stretch of beach, a resort and mangroves, it was a lovely place to spend the day.
It was included in the price of our tour but beach chairs were free and we were treated to a buffet lunch. Everyone had a great time relaxing, riding around in pedal boats and consuming way too much rum!
I really enjoyed Vinales and was saddened to hear that the US border closures have had a real impact on tourism there and its businesses are really struggling. It was very picturesque and the people were all so lovely.