Viñales is a three hour drive out of Havana and absolutely worth the trip. Its located in the Pinar del Río province of Cuba. The area has about 10,000 residents. The area was once submerged underwater and is now home to beautiful limestone formations created by nature over time.
We pre-booked a tour through Discover Viñales and pre-arranged a pick up. Our host Oleg greeted us at the crib of our AirBnB with smiles and high-fives. He assured us that he was available to answer any questions and any answers he didn't know, we would make up together. When he didn't know the name of the first stray dog we saw in Viñales, we all named him Torpedo.
After the tree hour drive and a beautiful lunch at a farm where all of our food came from a couple feet away, we headed to a local tobacco farm. Oleg walked us past a field of tobacco plants explaining how farmers are required to give 90% of their crops to the government. The silver lining is that farmers are allowed to pick which 90% they give, meaning they keep the best 10% for themselves to share with their families and sell.
He brought us to the place where the tobacco leaves are hung to dry before taking us to meet Rene. Rene is a 75 year old, third generation tobacco farmer. Oleg translated for us as he showed us how to roll a cigar. We got to try one out and passed it around the cabin. I had one of those epiphany moments then. I was smoking a Cuban cigar in Cuba with a Cuban tobacco farmer. It was the stuff of dreams. We bought a few bundles of cigars. They're held in royal palm leaves to keep them fresh.
We booked the tour and the website said something about canopy cable tour. I had no idea what that meant and didn't really bother to look into it. Well turns out it was zip lining! The guide explained it to us over lunch and we all looked at each other thinking nice surprise. It was my first time zip lining and I was pretty terrified. I wasn't prepared for how loud it is! It was 5 sections long and for one of them I somehow managed to spin around. I was buzzing with adrenaline when we finished. We celebrated with a round of mojitos (of course) that were made at a bar/house across the street.
Horseback Riding and Skinny Dipping
For our last day we took a walk through farms to reach an open restaurant overlooking the mountains. We waited her for Jorgito who was our horseback riding guide. One of the guys in my group asked the guide about the caves in the mountains and he let us know that Jorgito would take us to one. My horse's name was fittingly "Margarita." We all saddled up and went for a ride until we dismounted at Jorgito's orders. We took a strenuous vertical hike to the opening of a cave. Jorgito equipped us with headlamps to descend into the cave. After the hike down the cave we got to the water. It was pitch black. The guys disrobed and got right in. It took the girls a bit more convincing but we were all drenched in sweat so couldn't resist.