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Published: August 12th 2013
The farms southwest of town make for a beautiful hike or run. This is the morning view.
Vinales is a four-hour bus ride from Havana. Many schedules show that it is a much longer trip, but it's untrue. If you're spending six or seven hours to get there, you're torturing yourself for no reason. The highway between is in pretty good shape, and there is practically no one on it. Only when you get close to Vinales does it start to get winding. A taxi (which, if you have two people or more, is somehow the same price as a bus) can get you there even faster.
There is a plethora of casas particulares in Vinales. It's a small town, so everywhere is within walking distance. There are a few tourist agencies in town, but the owners of the casas really push to organize hikes, horseback riding, taxis to the beach, and other tours for you. I assume they get kickbacks and that their friends make good money from it. We stayed with Estrella Reyes Amaro, but she is difficult to find on the Internet.
There isn't much to do in town, except that there's a pretty good outdoor bar near the square, and then a Casa de la Musica right on the square. There are
a couple of uninteresting restaurants in town as well, but we just ate at our casa.
We arranged a day hike through our case and were pretty happy with it. We didn't walk as long as I would have liked, but it was pretty hot, and we got to visit an organic/sustainable finca, a small restaurant for a 'coco loco,' and at a state-run tobacco rolling factory. Finally, we stopped at a campesino for a late lunch. I spoke with the campesino there for an hour and learned quite a bit about his life, and he seemed interested in the differences between Cuba and the U.S. It was sort of implied that we should purchase things along the way, but they were good products and prices, so we were fine with it.
It was all pretty informal -- they didn't provide water and lunch wasn't included. The guide was able to point out various plants in the area along the hike, but didn't seem to tell much else about the area.
You might want to ask if the hike will take you through, or onto the Mogotes (the big camel-humpish hills). Ours went only
through the part of the valley on the other side of town, so we got good views, but didn't get to hike right next to them.
We also had this arranged through our casa, but it would be just as cheap to rent a car for the day. For 40 USD, a driver (who has obviously already made a pretty penny doing this, as he had a flat screen tv as part of his car stereo) drove us the hour and a half to the beach. There is also a bus option, but it's not any cheaper, though it includes lunch. Plus, it was fun to ride in a classic car, and the journey was beautiful, first taking us through the valley, then to a slightly higher elevation through a pine forest, and finally to the coastline and onto the impressive manmade land bridge to Cayo Jutias.
I am glad we chose to go here, as it was much nicer than the beach near Trinidad. Apparently the hurricane a few years ago wiped out the buildings here, which means the area is pretty tranquil and uncrowded. There is a somewhat expensive restaurant here that has
mediocre food, and a guy down the beach grills seafood for a better price.
The water is beautiful, though a little warm, and there surprisingly weren't a lot of insects. There's a fair amount of beach for a key and the sand is soft. It isn't a good running beach, though. There are some adjacent beaches, but some unfortunately have a lot of garbage on them.
At around 4 we found our driver and headed back to Vinales; we almost made it home before the thunderstorm of the day hit us.
There are more photos below.
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