After few days of exploring Habana, I have arranged my first excursion, going to Pinar del Rio region.
Pinar del Rio is famous worldwide for its Tobacco plantation, making the region one of the most beautiful highlights of Cuba.
I have taken a Viazul bus from Habana and after almost 4 hours I have stopped in Vinales: the bus stopped also at Pinar del Rio, where there are even more tobacco fields. Hence, if you have enough time I suggest you to make a pit stop tat Pinar del Rio as well, really quiet.
Vinales is a small village with one main road and few little secondary ones plenty of Casa Particular, restaurants/bars, a beautiful little square with a Church and few souvenir shops/stands. You cannot really get lost.
The bus stopped by the Church where many Casa Particular’s owners where standing waiting for tourist: I have got already one Casa suggested by my Casa in Habana, but if you do not have one do not worry a little as it would take 2 minutes to get one as soon as you reach Vinales.
Vinales is a Cuba’s heritage not to be missed: surrounded by brownish mountains and “Fincas” (fields) of mainly tobacco, coffee, corn, and guayaba. It felt really refreshing after the city stay and put my mind at peace. As soon as I reached the Casa Particular Serrano, after the warmest welcoming in Habana from the Dueno (owner) Roberto, I had to have a stroll into the town: walking through Vinales with the sunset, makes really the difference: beautiful different shades of colours will astonish your eyes, as it happened to mine.
After dinner, off to a bar where a very nice couples entertained us with a quite complex salsa session: so relax and enjoy the music whilst drinking a Cuba Libre..or two.
Roberto arranged for me a visit the Parco Nacionales in Vinales: the taxi come to collect me and a friend at 0800 in the morning and the road to the Finca took approximately 10 minutes for a cost of 3 CUC (same cost for return) in total (hence is a shared cost).
The option to visit the fields were 2: including the Park entrance and the local guide (little group of people)
• On foot for a cost of 20 CUC
• Riding a horse for a cost of 30 CUC
We have opted for the 1st option, as I am not a big fun of horse’s riding but I might have thought to change my mind after our 4 hours walk into a very muddy field. If the previous day rains in Vinales and you are ok with horse’s riding I would suggest the 2nd option otherwise a nice walk/hike through the field is a good one as well (but bear that it will turn to be very hot).
Our guide Joel, funnily nicknamed from his co-workers “Gordo” (fatty) walked us through the field explaining about the surrounding and the history of the field. Unfortunately, June was not the best period to see the tobacco plantation (best to go there in April) but the walk really was worth it the effort.
After having walked through the Finca Arancho Alegre admiring the Guayaba and coffee, bananas, manioca , avocado and mango plantations and after having seen horses and cows on the fields, we stopped at the House of Tobacco where one of the owners of the Tobacco field (family business), very carefully took us through the tobacco plantation and furthermore the cigars production process.
It was lovely to watch him talking to us with proud and enthusiasm: we could really see how much love and passion he put into his business and even if you are not a big fun of cigars like me, it is really worth it to make a visit to the Tobacco House and have a taste of Coiba with honey (this is the most famous Cigars in Cuba and the most smoked as was the Fidel Castro favourite one, which makes the Coiba become the most expensive cigars on the market, although was not necessarily the best in quality).
After the lovely conversation, we moved with our guide to watch a cave and then a pit stop at the Coffee-house, where another gentleman showed us how Cubans make their coffee in the Finca: Cuban coffee is one of the tastiest ones I have got so far, rich in colour and taste yet very light.
Coffee in Cuba is really a cult, and you will see many people sipping coffee through the whole day, for sometimes a cost as cheap as 1 CUP (Cuban pesos).
Here you can also taste the Rum with Guayaba : typical from Pinar del Rio and comes in a limited version, so you cannot really find it outside Pinar del Rio. It really tasted good, sweet and smooth. Cost per bottle around 20 CUC.
The walk through the Finca lasted almost 4 hours and I can tell you that under the sun, with something like 32 degrees was not really a piece of cake, but it was worth every single step. I simply suggest you get a nice fresh bottle of water and wellies/hiking shoes or get on the horse if you are not really a walk supporter.
Back to the Casa by taxi, the heat was really overwhelming: so what best to walk down to a bar and enjoy a Bucanero (local beer, quite strong) and relax chatting with local people waiting for the sun to set.
I have left Vinales the day after but, having more time, you could stay one more night: hire a bike from your Casa and just get lost in the surrounding, the best way to get to know the area.
The way back to Habana was surprisingly way easier and faster: rather than get a Viazul bus for my way back I rent a Taxi Colletivo (a sharing taxi) with a nice American couple for a cost as little as 15 CUC (ticket with Vaizul per way is 12 CUC) each, with the big advantage that the taxi collected at my casa in Vinales and dropped me at my house in Habana, and the ride took not more than 3 hours: piece of cake.
Tips for Pinar del Rio:When best to go: April if you want to see the Tobacco plantation or June/July to avoid crowd of tourist and get a better quality out of your trip
Where to stop: Pinar del Rio first and then Vinales and if you have time visit the beach as well (40 minutes from Vinales)
How long: 3 days in total it would be enough
Transport: best thing to do of you are a group of friends or if you do not mind spending a little more, is to hire a car (around 80 CUC per day + petrol, not really a cheap option) or you can get to both locations with Viazul bus or taxi colletivo from Habana. In both places, you do not need any transport as they are both quite small. To go to the Tobacco fields or cave you can get a taxi (cost around 3/5 CUC in total). Also, you can hire a bike (around 10 CUC) to explore a little around.
Accommodation: most of all in low season (June/beginning of August) I do not suggest booking online as it would be more expensive. Either ask you Casa in Habana to book one for you or wait to reach Pinar/Vinales bus stop to get one, as many Casa’s owners will be there waiting for you.
The cost for the room in low season can go from 15 to 25 CUC, so based on the offer try to negotiate a little.
What to buy: if you want to buy cigars I would suggest you to wait until to get into the National Park to get the finest one for a cheaper price (they will make some combo’s price based on how many you want to buy: one is generally 3 CUC, 10 can be 20/25 CUC and so on). Also nice to get some cigars cover made out of wood or leather, perfect for a gift. Careful as cigars in the shops can be little more expensive and people on the street might try to sell you cigars for a cheaper price, but I cannot guarantee the quality (they might not be totally made with tobacco leaves, but with banana leaves instead).
Food cost: average cost in the restaurant is 5/7 per meals. Drink goes from 1.5 CUC to 3 CUC