Everyone hears the magical stories about Havana with its cobblestone streets, vintage cars, and colorful medley of buildings; the city is truly intoxicating. But, next time you visit Cuba, Havana shouldn’t be your primary destination. There is so much more to explore than what meets the eye, and there’s another secret spot you need to add to your 2019 list of places you need to see. If you take a gorgeous route three hours west and explore Viñales, a small village in Northern Cuba that showcases the island’s wild natural beauty, you won’t be disappointed. Surrounded by viridescent mountains, Viñales is best known for its wide range of wellness options as well as its farms, caves, and array of outdoor activities. Here are four reasons why this lush paradise will quickly become a key attraction in Cuba this year:
Getting through the valley can be done via bicycling, hiking, or an “Excursion a Caballo”, a horse excursion. Your guide can arrange all of these, and most that come for healing and wellness love the horse tours. They’re a beautiful way to explore every facet of Viñales: the local farms, the tobacco fields, the caves, the rivers, and the mountains. From the limestone hills to serene lakes, some excursions even give you the opportunity to ride through the coffee plantations and sample the products (yes, please).
Viñales is home to some of the most breathtaking caves in the world. Visitors can tour the Cueva del Indio, which features an impressive underground river perfectly poised for one of the most amazing boat rides you can experience. You can also visit the Cueva de Santo Tomás, which is the largest cave in Cuba, spanning forty-six kilometers. The trek through the caves isn’t too difficult, and the views inside are breathtaking. It’s been said that the caves are a spiritual place, and venturing through them is known to be healing and calming. I can attest.
I know, you probably don’t associate wellness with Tobacco, but Cuba is best known for its cigars, so visiting the Viñales tobacco farms is an obvious must-see. Journey through picturesque fields where you’ll learn about the production process for the most famous cigars in the world. Residents have been growing tobacco in Viñales for over two-hundred years, so touring the farms gives you a chance to witness the traditional techniques that have been fundamental to the creation of one of Cuba’s most beloved exports. For those that want to experience this tradition themselves, purchasing the cigars directly from the farms is significantly cheaper than purchasing the cigars in Havana, and often they are made in a 100% organic process. For those that don’t, the views and fresh air are worth every second.
One of the most unique aspects of Viñales is its abundance of casas particulares or homestay options. There is truly nothing on earth like being welcomed by these amazing Cuban hosts. In Viñales, locals open their homes and offer lodging for tourists. Although Viñales does offer a few traditional hotels, the casas particulares are the best way to get a small glimpse into the everyday lives of Viñales residents. Many offer wellness activities like yoga, pilates, organic spa treatments, or even the chance to take horses into the mountains to a completely remote destination for a true digital detox. Food is often served farm to table, and, with the right guide, this experience can be life-changing and beyond relaxing. Two of the casas I’d highly recommend are owned by a former Italian event producer for Valentino and a Cuban writer and filmmaker who founded an organic farm, building a true rural retreat out of his property – perfect for those of you that want to experience the earth under your bare feet.
Although Cuba is becoming much more popular as a tourist destination, it’s important to remember that to have a perfect adventure in Cuba you are always advised to use a guide. With lack of cell service and wifi (yes, an absolutely perfect scenario for a wellness trip) it can be pretty tricky to navigate on your own. I used Cuba Private Travel, a company used by celebrities and travel addicts alike, and were hosted with the utmost kindness and warmth. A great way to experience this special place with just a touch of expertise to enhance your stay.
Now get out there and experience these small miracles yourself.