Viñales Cuba's slow-paced, picturesque tobacco country

Notes from the road

Viñales is not how you picture Cuba.

You might spot vintage cars and colonial architecture in the single main street, but this isn’t just the Cuban countryside, it’s a different side. Most of the houses here are single-storey with plastic chairs positioned on the porch. Some have been carried to the flat concrete roofs, ideal for stargazing at night and looking across family farms to the mountains during the day.

The Unesco-listed valley is known for its karst landscape and mogotes (rounded, limestone hills the protrude upwards from the flat valley floor), and for cigars. Viñales’ fertile land has grown tobacco for centuries, and agricultural techniques remain unchanged. There are no tractors here, just farmers on oxen-pulled ploughs.

It’s a slow-paced, rural place where you inhale deeply, relax and feel revived. Although exploring the valley during a horseback tobacco farm tour is a highlight, you get the feeling that locals don’t put on a show for the sake of tourists, who take happy snaps while smoking cigars dipped in honey.

If you need an excuse to take cigars, coffee and rum with you when you leave, buying them direct from the farmers is a wonderful way to support the local economy.

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