Viñales Valley is quality walking territory in Cuba with flat topped hills that rise above tobacco fields and rusty red trails. But with few signs, hiking is tricky. Here’s how to do it.


Viñales is the fertile cradle of western Cuba; an agricultural town feeding the nation yucca, sweet potato and tobacco. Floating above a patchwork of carefully tendered fields, craggy limestone mogotes (flat-topped hills) provide Cuba with some of its best scenery – good enough to earn it a UNESCO listing. It’s a popular spot for both tourists and locals keen on a relaxing getaway from Havana.

Yet, despite its popularity, Viñales manages to retain a slow rural way of life. Farmers still work with oxen and home-made ploughs; tobacco leaves are dried in traditional wooden huts and every sapling and seed is hand planted.

The best way to enjoy the scenery and relaxed way of life is via the myriad of walking paths that criss-cross the region. But there is little information and very few signs so it’s easy to get lost. Some good tours are available with knowledgeable guides, but sometimes you just want to set off by yourself.

Here’s our tailor-made hike exploring the best of the Viñales Valley.

HIKING IN VIÑALES OVERVIEW


SUMMARY / A half-day hike collecting the stunning mogote scenery of Viñales

DISTANCE / 13 km from Los Jasmines Hotel to Mogote Café

TIME / 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours, 30 minutes for the complete round trip

ELEVATION / 100m descent and 30m ascent

DIFFICULTY / Medium

HIKERS / Mark & Paul

IDYLLIC RURAL ESCAPISM IN VIÑALES

As usual, we found ourselves walking in the dark to start the hike. For a rural destination with minimal machinery, Viñales was surprisingly noisy. Roosters – which every household appears to own – crocked the approaching dawn. Pigs oinked in muddy delight. The sighs of horses were audible over the chirping of cicadas.

Just past the din of our farmyard friends, we arrived at Los Jazmines Hotel in time to watch sunrise light up the misty valley below. Clouds, not yet burnt off by the hot Cuban day, hovered below the top of Viñales most famous sights: it’s towering limestone mogotes. A sea of green tobacco fields were cut by ribbons of rusty brown walking paths.

The spectacular scene was the starting point of our hike. A hike which took us down into the Vinales valley, past lush green tobacco fields and beautiful mogotes before ending in the Valle de Palmarito. We passed friendly farmers on home-made contraptions pulled along by oxen, cowboys on horseback who wouldn’t look out of place in an old western movie, and old characters sleeping under the shade of trees. It’s Cuba uncomplicated.

Here’s how to do it.

VIÑALES VALLEY HIKE INSTRUCTIONS

Most people who hike in Viñales take a local guide. So, the signage on the trail is not sufficient for anyone trying to do the hike themselves. As a result, we got lost several times. Like most things in Cuba, the trails operate a bit like a cartel; asking anyone for help was met with a firm: “obtener una guía!”

But, we didn’t want to get a guide. And if you fancy the idea of conquering a beautiful Cuban walk at your own pace, here are our detailed instructions.

LOS JAZMINES HOTEL TO EL CUAJANI RESTAURANT

The hike begins the Sendero del Mirador al Valle sign 50m west of Valle de Balcon restaurant, just east of Los Jazmines Hotel (1 on the map). The first couple of hundred meters, as the trail drops down onto the valley floor, are the hardest and steepest on the walk. But there is nothing too difficult, it just requires some careful footwork.

At the bottom, the path splits at another sign. Take the left fork (longer route) and follow the path through a tobacco field – you might even see some leaf hanging out to dry. Just before a sign marked Mirador Casa Postal turn right and follow the path around the mogote. Pass another tobacco field and turn left just after the hut on the left-hand side of the path.

This path crosses a dry river bed, before bending right and arriving at a T-junction. Turn left at this T-junction and follow this path in a (fairly) straight line. As you get close to the road, bear right to meet it opposite El Cuajani restaurant (2). Note: this is different from the El Cuajani marked on google maps.

EL CUAJANI RESTAURANT TO MURAL DE LA PREHISTORICA

Turn left onto the road where there are 2 choices: either turn right shortly after joining the road to head to the Mural de la Prehistorica (yellow line on map) or continue straight and take a longer route.

Taking the longer route, continue along the road and turn right at the ANAP Antonio Maceo sign (3) onto Calle Alfonso. Stay on the grey-ish gravel track keeping the mogote on your right and mangos on your left.

When you are almost halfway around the mogote, the main track heads away from it. Take the thick red-earth track on your right staying closer to the mogote (4). The path quickly passes a horse ranch and comes to a sign saying ENTRE MOGOTE. Turn right and continue until you come to Mogote Art Café – once here, turn right again.

The track now curls left and narrows. After a short time there is a gate in the fence on your right. Walk through the gate to the Mural de la Prehistorica (5) in front of you.

There is a bar and toilets here. But the restaurant was being refurbished when we visited.

MURAL DE LA PREHISTORICA TO RIVER CROSSING

Retrace your steps to the ENTRE MOGOTE sign but continue straight (instead of turning left the way you came). About 50m further, as a lake appears on your left, turn right to take the well-trodden red path (6) which had two black hoses running down it when we were there. If you walk past the end of the lake to a white house with blue trim and a blue water tank you have gone too far.

NOTE: If it’s time for a rest and something to replenish the energy levels, Café Mirador sits on top of the slight rise past the blue and white house. Wind your way up the track and take a break in front of some excellent views.

The well-trodden red path is the main route back to Viñales. The path cuts between two mogotes (the larger one on your right and a much smaller one on your left) and then splits. Take the left fork keeping the large mogote on your right.

Continue down this route until the path meets a river and becomes waterlogged (7). Here you will need to wait for someone to take you across to dry land on horseback. Oswaldo – who ferried us across – assured me he was here with his horse every day. If not, someone in his family will be. Pay him 2 CUC per person to be escorted over the muddy swamp on his horse. Journey time is approximately 2 minutes.

KEEPING THE FEET DRY HEADING BACK TO VIÑALES

The path now slowly drifts away from the mogote on your right and splits again. You can actually go either way but the shorter right-hand route (closer to the mogote) can be very muddy and wet.

So to keep your feet dry, turn left, then right and staying right until – facing the mogote – you come back to your original path, where you should turn left (8)

From here, the main path runs pretty straight (ignore the paths leaving at right angles) until it passes the end of the mogotes and begins to slowly bend right completing a 90-degree turn. Keep following the main path, ignoring a sign pointing left to Viñales (9). Just after passing Casa Fernando on your left, turn left, then immediately right to join another path (there should be a tree with a red dot in front of you as you join the new path).

This path passes the Cueva de la Vaca driveway and splits again. Take the left fork which joins Calle Adela Azcuy Norte and leads you into town.

At the end of this walk we recommend you have a rest and grab lunch at Mogote Café. The food is good and if you sit upstairs you get a fine view over the fields you’ve just come from. If you also need a coffee the hotel on the main square does a surprisingly good cortadito and has access to the main square wi-fi.

VIÑALES VALLEY HIKING MAP

Because there are no signs it is important to have a map of the area. To save our map, click on the star to the right of the title – this will save the map to: YOUR PLACES -> MAPS in Google Maps. It shows you the complete route with numbers linked to the instructions to help know where you are.

BEST TIME TO HIKE IN VIÑALES

It’s not just the salsa that’s hot in Cuba. With average high temperatures of about 26 degrees in winter and 31 in summer, a hike like this is best avoided in the hottest months of the year. Additionally, rains torment the island in May and stick around until October.

The best months to do our Viñales hike are the sunny but slightly cooler months of January to April. It was still pretty hot when we did this hike (February) but not as scorching as it could have been.

There’s practically no shade on this hike and It’s relatively long, so start as early as possible and make sure you’re prepared for a long day in the sun.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

The only difficult sections are the first 200m as the path drops down to the valley floor. It’s a little steep, but nothing too difficult at all. Otherwise, this is a relatively easy trail over beautiful Cuban countryside.

The path is rusty red earth with very few rocks – great to walk on, but keep in mind it will be muddy after lots of rain and possibly a little bit slippery.

There are no signs for the path so you will need these instructions and our map to help you along. Make sure you download the area to googlemaps before you set off and save our map by clicking on star.

HOW TO GET TO VIÑALES

Getting around Cuba is generally fairly easy with a good bus service and colectivos available to take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Viñales valley is no exception. Being only 180 km from Havana, transport is easy.

BUS / The Viazul bus runs twice a day and takes around 3 hours, 40 minutes. The price is 12 CUC per person. The Viazul buses are generally the most comfortable way to travel around Cuba, however, they can book out. Organise your tickets in advance to save the stress.

COLECTIVO / Your casa particular will also be able to organise a private taxi or colectivo, both of which will take around 2 hours. A private taxi should be around 80 CUC per vehicle; the colectivo around 15-25 CUC per person.

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THE STATE OF REFRESHMENT OPTIONS ON THE VIÑALES HIKE

In Cuba, getting food anywhere other than a state-run restaurant can be difficult. Purchasing food to take with you for a snack on the hike will be nigh on impossible. Your casa particular host may supply you with some rations, however, there are enough options on the hike to sustain you.

The mirador Los Jazmines Hotel where this walk starts has a bar which serves pretty good coffee at 7:00 if you ask nicely. (They actually open at 8:00).

Near the hotel is the Valle de Balcon restaurant, where you can get a hearty breakfast of toasted sandwiches starting from 8:00.

Café Mirador is just a 5-minute detour after leaving Mural de la Prehistorica where you can get a refreshing drink in a stunning location.

Back in Viñales, we recommend lunch at Mogote Café. It’s standard Cuban fare, but it’s close to the end of the trail, the staff are friendly, it’s well priced and you have a nice view from their upstairs terrace.

TIPS FOR HIKING IN THE VIÑALES VALLEY, CUBA

This is a delightful walk through local farming country, with few tourists around except for a couple on guided tours. With our map, we’d hope you find it relatively straightforward to complete, however here are some additional tips to keep in mind.

TIMING

1 / We recommend leaving early when the light for photos is at its best, the view from Los Jazmines Hotel at its most magnificent and the temperatures at their coolest. Grab a taxi or walk up the road to the hotel, arriving as close to sunrise as you can manage.

2 / Allow a good 4 hours for the hike from Los Jazmines into Viñales, including time to stop for a few photos and a couple of minutes to wait for your horse to take you across the swampy section.

NAVIGATION

3 / Before you start the hike, download google maps for the Viñales Valley to your off-line maps. Also, save our map by clicking on the star.

4 / The only difficult section is the first 200m as the path drops down to the valley floor – it’s a little steep so some careful footwork is required.

5 / Around 2/3 of the way around it will be necessary to get a lift on a horse over a deep swampy section of the path. Fortunately, Oswaldo and his trusty horse are there every day. Expect to pay 2 CUC.

6 / The path could be slippery and muddy after very substantial rain, so keep an eye on conditions.

WHAT TO TAKE

7 / Doing this walk-in trainers would be no problem, however, you might want something more waterproof if there has been a lot of rain.

8 / Don’t forget your camera as the scenery is stunning the whole way around.

9 / The walking is straight forward although the heat can be draining so make sure you take plenty of water and wear sunscreen and a hat.

GETTING HELP

10 / If you get lost try asking one of the guides or café owners in the area. While some locals wouldn’t give us instructions, we found a guide who was happy to help.

11 / The local farmers are very friendly on the way around this hike. However, they may want to divert you to their tobacco factory or other local attraction. Make sure you don’t confuse this for instructions you might have been trying to get for the hike.

12 / If you need to (or want to) break the walk, a bus runs (about every 90 minutes) from the Mural de la Prehistorica back into town. Otherwise, taxis can regularly be found ploughing the main road.

WHERE NEXT?

If you’re starting in Havana, our quick guide has some fast tips, while our 3 day Havana itinerary has all the details. Also, check out our 14 tips for travelling in Cuba to save you some time and, hopefully money.

One of the things that fascinated us about Cuba was their continuing existance under communism. We discoverd what it’s like for coffee farmers on a day trip exploring Parque Guanayara.

But for some inspiration to help you decide if Cuba is for you, read our top 10 experiences.

“hilarystyle"

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

Viñales Valley in Cuba has excellent hiking through tobacco fields framed by flat topped hills that rise above rusty red trails. Here's all the information you need for hiking in Viñales, Cuba.

Viñales Valley in Cuba has excellent hiking through tobacco fields framed by flat topped hills that rise above rusty red trails. Here's all the information you need for hiking in Viñales, Cuba.

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