Hiking at tobacco fields

03 June 2016

A hike from the visitors centre

‘Are you ready for the 4 hour trekking in the valley of Vinales?’ Our guide asked. With the rental car we drove to the visitor center, just a few kilometers South from the village of Vinales. We arranged a guided walk around the area in Vinales.
The visitors center is small, with some information about the area. They display photo’s of the birds which live in this area.

While we had to wait a bit for our English guide to come to pick us up, we read the information given and admire the wonderful view from the visitor center.

The flat surface with high steep hills dominate the view. The steep hills, made of limestone are not the only extra ordinary sights to see. This area is on the UNESCO heritage list. Not only for its beautiful landscape but also for the grow of tobacco leaves. Those leaves used to make the famous Cuban cigars. They are manufactured in other parts of Cuba. They make the famous Montecristo and Cohiba cigars.

With this information, we left the visitor center and head to nearby the small restaurant Mirador Balcon del Valle. This cute restaurant has a nice setting with a magnificent view over the valley. The wooden decks have small tables, clustered around the trees.
The guide was waiting for us.

Viñales and tobacco fields

It was 9.30 AM, but the sun was already burning hot.
Our guide leaded us around the restaurant and showed us the path we were going to follow. Since we were uphill, we followed the path downhill into the valley. Our guide was happy and explained a lot!

First things to saw where potato fields. These sweet potato you most likely eaten already by the time you’re arrived in Vinales. They fry it and serve it with your dish. I didn’t like the taste when they are boiled, but fried, they taste good! It was nice we could see how those plants grow.
Walking further on the dusty red earth, we learned the soil is red because of the high concentration of iron. The soil makes a nice contrast with the lime stone hills. Which makes this area unique.

The first tobacco fields came in sight quickly. Tobacco seeds are provided by the government. Since it was the end of the season for the tobacco we were happy we could see a field not yet harvested. Along the way we could see dead fields too, so I was happy to see at least one field still blooming.

Tobacco curing barn

Of course we didn’t have to wait to long to see the typical tobacco curing barn. Those barns are build for drying the tobacco leaves. The drying barns are build from palm leaves. They lay the tobacco leaves over a big pole and hang them in the barns.

The owner of the tobacco field was happy to show us how to roll a cigar. We were offered to buy some of his work. Even we don’t smoke, we were happy to buy this souvenir and support a local farm.

We walked further into the fields. Filled with yucca trees, sugar cane and more potatoes we walked up hill to see an excellent view over the valley. The guide was curious about our life back in Holland. He went to the university, but after three years he stopped. He was really eager learn foreign languages as he thought tourism would be the next future of Cuba. I think he might be right about this, since more and more tourist come to visit this beautiful country. He mastered himself English, French and even a little of Polish and German.
We had a really nice chat about housing, education and work. Timo is a web developer, mostly concentrated on web shops. We tried to explain, but how could we explain it, when this young man only have been on internet twice?!

We asked him if he misses internet or he would think it would make his life happier/better. His answer was simple; ‘I can’t miss something I don’t know. I don’t think it would make me more happy. Maybe it makes things more simple, because I heard there is a lot of information.’ I think this is the best answer to the question!

Fruittrees and cocktails

After a long rest and the nice chat we came to a farmer which had a lot of fruit trees. Right now it was the right season of ripe guava fruits. The trees where full of those green fruits. Inside they have a bright pink color.
The farmer offered us a cocktail made from sugar cane. Not for free of course.

Together with his companion and the guide they squeezed the sugar cane. Just one stem provided for about 5 glasses of sweet liquid. The farmer made a nice cocktail. He put the sugarcane juice in a yellow grapefruit, of course adding loads of rum. By squeezing the grapefruit, the drink became a little less sweet. We really enjoyed sitting in the shade, sipping our drink and watched how the farmer made cocktails. The cocktail was about the same price you can buy a mojito, 3 CUC. Not cheap, but I think it is fun and it provides help to the farmer. I think they need it.
When I stood up to go walking again, I noticed there was a little too much rum in my drink, haha!

The last part of this hike went smooth. All the time we had a nice view, saw new plants and our guide was happy to explain what we saw. I will remember the ‘do not buy this plant for your mother-in-law’ forever!

A last steep hill to climb and we came back to the restaurant where we started.
We finished with a meal in the restaurant Balcon del Valle with a nice view. We both had fish, which was nice.

Timo and I really loved this hike. It was not difficult, we had really good information. I really think this is worth the 10 CUC per person we have paid. This guide was the best, so we gave him a nice tip.

Horse riding in Vinales

So why we didn’t choose to do the trip by horse? Most people come to Vinales to do as the locals do and take a horse riding trip around the area.

Although you can cover more ground and explore deeper into the valley I have to admit; I’m afraid of horses! So you wouldn’t see me taking a horse riding trip anyway!

Other sights and tours

I really regret not staying longer in the area. There is much to see and to explore.
After our great hike, we drove to the caves of San Juan. This is about 18 km east from Vinales. At the office you can buy a ticket which is included a guide tour. If you haven't seen many caves, this is a nice and cool tour.

Another tour I really enjoyed was Cayo Levisa. It is actually not a tour, just a day to an island with lovely bounty beaches.
Cayo Jutias, another beach place sounded nice too. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to explore both. But I recon this would be a nice bounty beach too.

Three nights for this area would be enough to see the basics, but better would be 5 nights.