Horseback Riding & Cuban Tobacco Farms In Viñales

Vinales Cuba

Exploring Viñales, Cuba

Viñales, Cuba

Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba’s world famous cigars.

Viñales is a small town located on the Western tip of Cuba. Set in a beautiful lush valley with funky looking hills and limestone caves, people have been growing tobacco in the area for over 200 years.

In Havana we hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours out to Viñales, passing only a handful of other classic cars and a bunch of horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Vinales National Park

Lush Green Viñales Valley

Vinales Cars

Plenty of Classic Cars

Welcome To Viñales

Viñales feels stuck in time. The main street is lined with small single story wooden homes with faded paint. Locals pass by riding old bicycles, horses, or driving colorful vintage American cars.

While there are some hotels in town, most travelers stay with locals in casas particulares, which are like guest bedrooms in other people’s homes.

Our host was Lay, a welcoming lady who turned her home into a guesthouse with two double rooms. This is how many Cubans make extra income beyond their communist government regulated salary of about $30 USD per month.

The town has plenty of small restaurants and bars with live music, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. In fact, Viñales is rumored to be Fidel Castro’s favorite part of Cuba!

Horseback Riding Vinales Cuba

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Farms

Vinales Cigars

Best Cigars in the World?

Viñales National Park

Viñales Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its dramatic landscape of karst limestone domes called mogotes, traditional agricultural methods of farming, and rich cultural history.

The valley was formed underwater, rising from the sea millions of years ago. Ancient ocean fossils can still be found in the caves that dot the landscape.

The New York Times called Viñales one of the top places to visit in 2016.

But aside from being a beautiful travel destination, Viñales is known for the quality of its tobacco. I’m not a “smoker” per se, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar at the end of a big trek or for special occasions.

So I was excited to learn how Cuba’s world-famous cigars are actually made.

Tobacco Farm Cuba

Harvesting Tobacco Leaves

Vinales Livestock

Friendly Livestock!

Home Of Cuban Cigars

Why are Cuban cigars so special? Well, many people believe Cuba is the birthplace of cigars. Christopher Columbus encountered native Cubans smoking cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves in 1492.

The practice was eventually exported to Europe, and by the 19th century, smoking cigars became a popular pastime for wealthy men — who formed special cigar clubs called divans.

Cuba’s time-honored tobacco growing and production techniques were exported to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Then came the United States trade embargo, making Cuban cigars illegal — and increasing their value even more.

The fertile land and favorable climate of Viñales make for perfect cigar tobacco growing conditions. Most residents here are in the tobacco farming business.

Farmhouse in Vinales

Pastel Colored Farmhouse

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tour

Old Farm House

Tobacco Farm Experience

We hired a guide and some horses to take a tour of Viñales National Park, learning about the traditional techniques used here for hundreds of years. No machines are used, which means crops are picked by hand and fields are plowed with oxen.

Passing through farms with pigs, chickens, and turkeys, we rode along green tobacco fields where local workers were harvesting the last of the season’s prized leaves. Tobacco grows fast, ready for harvest after 2-3 months.

The leaves are then hung in special curing barns, where they dry for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves.

To prepare Cuban cigars, the center vein of the leaf is removed, where 98% of the nicotine resides. Next, leaves are sprayed with a special mixture of ingredients like pineapple, lemon, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum for the fermentation process.

Three different types of leaves are used to roll the final cigar — filler (inside), binder (holding it together), and the wrapper (visually appealing outer layer).

Tobacco Barn Cuba

Tobacco Drying Barn

Vinales Cuba Cowboys

Cuban Cowboys

Adventures In Viñales

Visiting tobacco farms isn’t the only thing to do in Viñales though. As part of the farm tour, we also explored one of the many limestone caves in the area. Rock climbing these unique limestone formations is a popular activity too.

Aside from guided horseback riding, you can also rent a bicycle, ATV, or motorcycle and explore the valley on your own. There’s a popular cave called Cueva del Indio where you can ride a boat on the underground river that flows through the cave.

We heard stories about a nice little beach about an hour North of Viñales called Cayo Jutías, but didn’t have time to visit.

Vinales Ox Cart

Ox Cart Animal Power

Tips For Visiting

Viñales is located about 3-4 hours West of Havana. There are regular Viazul Busses that run twice a day for about $15 USD per person. But you often need to buy your ticket a day in advance.

Or you can do what we did, and rent a vintage taxi with room for 4 people for about $60-$70 depending on your bargaining skills.

While walking the outskirts of Viñales, you might be waved over to learn about the cigar making process at some random farm. It’s a fun experience, just understand that at the end your host will ask you to buy a bundle of 15-20 cigars for about $1 each.

Cuban cigars can cost $10-$20 each in the USA… so it’s a pretty good deal!

“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.” ~ Mark Twain

Traveling To Cuba Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Viñales Farm Adventure


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(Click to watch Viñales Farm Adventure – Cuba on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Viñales, Cuba
Accommodation: Casa Lay (email: layvinales@nauta.cu)
Horseback Farm Tour: 35 CUC ($35 USD)
Useful Notes: Our tobacco farm tour was done on horseback, but they also have ox carts or bikes available. It lasts about 4 hours, with an option for a short cave excursion for a few CUC more. In addition to cigars, you can also purchase cuban coffee at the end.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

Are you planning to visit Cuba? Have you ever smoked a cigar? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba's world famous cigars.

Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba's world famous cigars.

Any Questions Or Comments?

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39 Comments

  1. I’m looking to stay primarily in Havana, but of course see some tobacco farms and cigar making! How many days would you recommend in Viñales? Just a day or two? How the heck did you get back as well?! Are there many taxis in Viñales waiting to head back to Havana?

    Thanks for your inspiration!! :)

  2. I’m traveling to Havana Cuba end of June with my 22 year old daughter. We very much want to go to Viñales ride horses and see tobacco farm. Is this something that needs to be booked ahead of time and if so what is the best way to do so?

    Thanks for your reply in advance

  3. Hi Matt, loved your post and pics!
    I´m going to Cuba in 2 weeks, would you say its better once in Habana look for a taxi to Viñales or book a tour in advance?
    Thanks!

    1. You don’t need to book a tour in advance. Either hire a private taxi from Havana to Vinales, or take the Viazul bus. Once you’re in Vinales, it’s very easy to setup a farm/horseback tour. Everyone will offer it to you.

  4. Hi Matt! Thanks for the post! I am visiting Cuba for a week in April and am trying to figure out if I have time for a 1-2 day trip to Vinales. You may have already answered this, but did you also rent a vintage taxi BACK to Havana? Are there taxis in Vinales that will take you back to Havana for a reasonable price? Thanks!

  5. Hi, how about traveling from Vinales to Trinidad? How long is the drive and did you take a taxi to Trinidad? We are headed there in a month and we would like to go to Vinales and Trinidad but trying to figure out cost and travel time. Thanks much!

    1. Well Vinales is West of Havana, so you’d have to travel back through Havana to get to Trinidad. It’s a 5 hour drive from Havana to Trinidad, or 7 hours by bus. We drove ourselves with a rental car. Most people take the bus. Just wrote an article about Trinidad here.

      1. HI Matthew,
        We are traveling to Cuba next week plan on an excursion to vinales. Could you provide the name of your horseback tour guide please. Your rendition of the tour is exactly what we envision for ourselves. Thank you, Beth de la Pena
        Bdelapena@sbcglobal.net

  6. We plan on going in late May and were wondering if that is a good time to see the green fields of tobacco? Is there a downside to going at that time in regards to visiting Vinales and Pinar del Rio?

  7. Great article! I have a relative who recently returned from Vinales and brought me a small bundle of cigars, identical to those pictured on your article. Unfortunately, she didn’t know much about them. Would you happen to know where they’re made or what they’re called?

    Thanks for your help!

  8. Thanks for the great tips on Vinales! I am traveling to Cuba this month and am planning a trip there from Havana. Can you provide the contact information for setting up your tobacco farm tour?

  9. Am so looking forward for Cuba soon! Would 2 weeks suffice in Cuba or does one need 3 weeks to experience it best??
    As for the cigars, I do not smoke however my colleagues do! I have my concerns though on whether it’s possible to have cigars taken all the way back to Malta in the EU?!
    Thanks Mat! :)

      1. We’re only going for 4 nights. Would you recommend a trip to Vinales? We were planning to stay in Havana only, but this seems like a great place to visit.

  10. Hey,

    Great article and thanks for sharing! I am heading to Cuba in a few months and will also be visiting Vinales (for three days), as well as Havana and Trinidad. Your video got me really excited for the Vinales portion of my trip.

    Again great post,

    Sarah

  11. Cool pictures. I have been there 10 years ago and it still seems the same, just a travel back in time, too. Beautiful place with relaxed people.

  12. Cuban Cigars are very cheap there. 1 USD for a bundle is a great cheap deal considering one has to pay 1000 USD for the same in States. And I am eager to visit Viñales and learn about their traditional farming methods.
    It is good post.

  13. I really wish I went to Cuba when I was in South America, it looks amazing. How did you find the separate currency situation? Was it easy to work around or did you find some difficulties?
    Amazing photos by the way!

    James

    1. It takes some time to figure out which bills are which, but other than that it was fine. In the beginning you’d look at a menu, be shocked that a sandwich cost $24, then realize that prices were in local CUP, not CUC, meaning it was really $1. Occasionally you have to clarify which currency the prices are being quoted in.

  14. I have always been drawn to that rural lifestyle and seeing i am not quiet there yet i love to use my wanderlust time to feed that desire and this looks like a place i must visit someday soon :) great read

  15. The life in Viñales certainly seems very less affected by modern enhancements. A ride on a horse and an ox-cart seem very preferable to the bike rides. Hope they will keep it that way for years to come. Looks natural and beautiful that way.

  16. I’m loving these posts about Cuba. I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for a long time…..probably because it used to be deemed forbidden. I’m thankful for so many informative posts about Cuba popping up. I hope to get there one day. Fingers crossed!

  17. Hey Matt,

    The time warp you mentioned that Cuba is stuck in is one of the biggest draws for me. There’s something about being able to be transported back to the past that just sounds so damn exciting. Even if they’re there for a lot of the wrong reasons.

    Do you think that time warp – the classic cars, the music and everything else that goes with it – will start to change now relations with the USA are getting better? It’d be interesting to see if these next three or four years are the last time you can see Cuba this way.

    I can’t say I’m a fan of Cigars – I cough just at the thought of smoking – but perhaps I could be swayed to try one of these when they’re straight off the production line, and there’s a puppy-dog eyed Cuban staring at me. Are the regulations strict on getting them out of the country?

    Great post, Matt!

    James

  18. That’s a business opportunity there. $1 cigars, that’s just for a bundle, what would be your cost for 10,000 cigars?

    Great travel tips thank you!

    My little travel tip that I’d like to share with you is;
    Keep a little extra cash for real emergencies. Here’s how:

    On your carry on bag sew 3-5 really cool patches on to it that look great, represent things you believe in or are from places you’ve been.

    Behind on of the patches sew in $100 or $200 and just leave it there.

    If you’re ever in a real bind, stuck without cash this can be a life saver.

    It’s not sewn on your checked baggage but on your carry on. So, you should never lose it.

  19. Nice story, Matt. We did our Vinales tour in April on foot but equally enjoyable, I’m sure. We gotta start doing video like you – it’s cool. Thanks for sharing. And good luck in Playa. We were there just after Cuba – loved it and I’m sure you’ll have the good life there.