Tobacco plantation land
Still tired upon recently landing in Havana at the start of this trip, but it was either this date or never to come to the west of the country and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Viñales Valley and the amazing landscapes of the tobacco plantations. Unfortunately the tours from Havana are not daily hence the reason it was for us only feasible on this day. We knew there was not going to be time to plan a tour that includes a day or two in this region, and even if enough time is what I had, I would have never consider in doing so and preferred to booked an organised tour here and visit as much as possible all in the same day. After all, for us spending any further day in that region was not really necessary considering we were going to be visiting the entire country.
Just a few notes for this place, since it’s better described below in what’s included in a tour: This is the region where the best tobacco in the world grows, and from where the most expensive and famed cigar brands take the plant. Halfway into the journey from Havana and the landscape start to change for beautiful tobacco plantations and wooden houses, by the backdrop setting of the mountains, however this is only a small sample of what’s about to come. The truly amazing landscapes are at the Viñales Valley where you will find the famous karst mountains, one of only 3 places on earth having this same formations.
In the subject that relates to tobacco, I need to explain you something very important. Basically you tour guide will strongly emphasise and encourage you to buy cigars in this region, especially at the shops they will bring you in Pinar del Rio claiming that it’s the cheapest shops where to get the good cigars in the whole of Cuba. That’s fine and it’s true, however it’s extremely difficult to 100% know what you are buying is the right deal or not. Of course the most desired cigars are the Cohiba Esplendidos. These are very precious in the Western World (say Europe for example), and might be very tempting to buy in Pinar if you are thinking in selling afterwards. Well be careful and don’t be fooled, from personal experience we got a box of 15 Cohiba, but when we brought them to an expert to take a look hoping for a trade deal, we found out one was having already a bug that could spread to all other cigars, and the use of green leaves which in a Cohiba this is NOT possible. So yeah, there you go, like anywhere else in the world no matter whatever they try to sell you, it’s difficult to trust 100% that you are getting the real thing. The cigars were still valuable don’t take me wrong, however I would recommend you to buy them at a state shop.
For more information about Viñales check Wikipedia site. And for everything important regarding Cuba such as visa requirements, currency and WiFi access, I would strongly recommend you to check the main post for Cuba, Havana, where everything is well listed and explained.
Which tour operator and what to see and do
As we booked a tour through Nexus Tours, everything we visited was known ahead, and was quite a lot to be honest for a one day trip. No matter which tour operator you book through, everyone does the same, and all end up using the same buses (Gaviota Tours). People is collected at their hotels from many different tour operators however everyone receives the very same tour.
Make a deep research on tours, because the difference in price was dramatic from one to another. However something to really have in mind is that tours run from Monday to Thursday, and should you fall between Friday and Sunday, then yes, you can still go ahead in booking a tour, but this will not be a group tour, but a private tour costing triple the money.
Nexus Tours was the best value for money without any doubt, and I strongly recommend you to check them before any other.
What’s scheduled for visiting:
-A cherry liquor factory that produces the most famous drink of Pinar del Rio, known as Guayabita del Pinar
-A tobacco plantation and factory where they will show you how they do cigars, and give you one to try
-Boat ride inside the Cueva del Indio cave
-Mural of the prehistory. Nothing that will impress a tourist to be honest, however there are nice landscapes and views of the nature when reaching this place
-Viñales Valley viewpoint from where you get the most impressive view of the unique landscape
Distances through the west of Cuba can take long, and unless you are on an organised tour as we did, then you need to calculate this and plan ahead where to go and what to visit, and even where to get your overnight stay if you are not returning to any base.
You could come in the Viazul bus to Pinar del Rio, but the timings will not really work if it’s in your mind reaching Viñales and the other places around. It is for this reason I strongly encourage you to either stay for a night or 2, or if time is your limitation then get a day trip from Havana.
To book your bus tickets remember to do so at least within 2 weeks before the date, any earlier it’s not possible in the website, and any later the seats might sell out. The Via Azul website is very easy and straightforward, therefore do not risk it by going to the bus station to try your luck. It’s a mess like no other, and the chances you won’t manage a ticket are almost guaranteed. Book them at their official website.
Our base was Havana, so I cannot recommend any place to stay in this city. But being one of the most enchanting areas in Cuba it means is one of the most visited by tourists too. The hotel industry really lacks on properties in this area so do not expect any hotel chain other than state run Cuban hotels. However in the other hand, there is something way much better you could do (and should do if you’re staying overnight); this is a private house. There are lots, beautiful, most of them in historic colonial buildings, with very nice and friendly hosts. In airb&b you can have a first look, then have a more generic online search for other websites.
If hotels is what you are seeking for, then a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or Gala Hotels. Please note most of these will not offer any results in Cuba, this is to do with the USA embargo. Try the respective European sites instead if needed be, although the best site for Cuba would be Gala Hotels.