The road that brings one into the Valley of Vinales provides a stunning view! To approach the valley the pavement climbs a large hill, then crests, then starts descending, and WOW! The lush green valley unfolds, back-dropped by the limestone up-croppings called magotes which bring to mind scenery images from the movie Lord of the Rings!
A magote is an ancient leftover from what was once a plateau of solid limestone, according to current geological analysis. Over the course of many millions of years, underground caverns are thought to have collapsed, the walls of which then pushed upward at almost perpendicular angles. Whatever. That’s what the guidebook says. Those of you who know me and my archeological background probably recognize I have a different idea of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, ideas which are supported by teams of brilliant scientists who have investigated the KT Extermination Event. Since much of Florida and ALL of the land in Cuba that I visited were originally ancient coral reef and therefore well below the ocean’s current surface, the meteors that landed 65 million years ago in the Gulf of Mexico and Yucatan area most likely pushed up these land masses. If one studies a map you can actually see the three landing areas that were hit in those waters from a meteor most likely splitting (or calving, as it’s called) upon entry into Earth’s atmosphere. But anyway…I digress. Back to Vinales…
My new Casa was Yakelin’s house, very lovely! And it was within a five minute walk to the center of town. Many tourists, mostly Europeans, abounded throughout the town. It was THE busiest tourist town I saw on my entire trip, though there were plenty of tourists everywhere throughout Cuba!
I got super lucky by somehow finding the very best restaurant in town (though there are many good ones) right off the bat! If you ever get to Vinales, be sure to stop in at Restaurante “El Olivo” on the main street that runs through town. Be sure to get there upon opening or in between the busy hours as otherwise you’ll have a half-hour wait in line! At least!
During my afternoon stroll in getting acquainted with Vinales, I came across a great little market for souvenirs and other collectibles.
On my first full day in Vinales I enjoyed a great breakfast at my Casa…
…then took a horseback tour to a coffee and rum making finca, then on to a cavern which I went through part of but backed out of as it became too narrow to be comfortable with, and then on to a “swimming hole.” I declined to go swimming because the water didn’t look ‘fetching’ enough to me …a little too brown for my comfort level. I prefer clear blue, thank you very much! 🙂
The entire horseback tour was supposed to be 4 hours for 20 CUC, but it lasted only 3.5 hours. I was not with a group like all the others I saw, but with a solo guide – he was not that pleasant to be with (a bit of a gaucho who acted as though he were superior to his white female tourista rider), but the stunning views and horseback riding experience were amazing. Most tours are with a group of people, so if you go, most likely you’ll be with other tourists and have a more tourist-friendly guide. And most horseback tours include a visit to a Cuban cigar factory, but I had declined that in advance.
Enjoyed a delicious dinner at Cafe Don Tomas, a wonderful restaurant set back from the main street with an upstairs dining balcony and musicians to round out the setting.
My second day in Vinales was consumed by a 5 kilometer walk in the ultra-warm morning to a place called Mural de Prehistorica.
First painted in 1959 by Leovigildo Gonzalez and restored in 1980, it depicts the history of evolution from ammonites to Homo sapiens. After getting as close to the mural as the main gate (no need to go in as one can see it very well from the entrance road), I retraced my steps to the cut-off road and turned left onto the dirt road that led another quarter mile to a wonderful Mirador Cafe perched atop a knoll that offered natural juices, fresh coconut water, coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks all while enjoying a quiet sit and the surrounding view of magote mountains, ponds, rice paddies and valley. Incredible!
Visited with a lovely Swiss couple that were bicycling Cuba (this is a very common way of traveling Cuba for many Europeans). She shared a lot of information with me about how the Cuban government heavily taxes the folks who are in business for themselves, which then goes to supplying free schooling including college, free medical services, and other public services – roads, firefighting, ambulances, etc.
Vinales is a bustling little town – the range of vehicles types on the street is astounding! The name Vinales is derived from a vineyard that was planted in the valley by a settler from the Canary Islands. The town was founded in 1607 and has an agricultural economic base.
In the late afternoon I visited the Casa de Caridad Botanical Garden at the northeastern end of town. Quite lovely and an amazing assortment of plants.
For my final full day in Vinales I took an old collectivo taxi on a long, beat-up, pot-holed road to a Playa almost two hours distant from Vinales. The day soon turned cloudy, winds picked up, and by 2 o’clock myself and two other riders were ready to depart, but the four of us (taxi driver included) had to wait another 2 hours in the taxi for the remaining couple who were bound and determined to stay the full length of time we had originally decided upon when the the day was still lovely many hours earlier.
They were both young lawyers exercising their ‘rights’ instead of their logic, and sat drinking in the bar for those last two hours while we waited patiently. When they finally climbed in the taxi at 4 p.m. we ended up driving in the dark for the last hour and a half on terrible roads with non-functioning headlights to get back into Vinales. This is one of the drawbacks of riding in a collectivo taxi. Yes, it’s significantly cheaper than riding solo in a taxi, but the downside is that you are reliant upon the communication and cooperation of all riders. I’m just so grateful the old falling-apart taxi vehicle didn’t break down during that dark night ride home (as one did at my next town in Cuba) – if that had happened I would have missed my early morning bus ride to Cienfuego! That would have been a real bummer, as Cienfuego is an incredible town and well worth the visit!
The adventures in Cienfuego is my next post – stay tuned! 🙂