Horseback Riding & Cuban Tobacco Farms In Viñales

Vinales Cuba Travel Guide
Exploring the Tobacco Farms of 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.

We were traveling in Cuba on a 10 day adventure, and hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours from Havana to Viñales, passing a handful of other classic cars and horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Viñales Cuba Travel Guide

Tobacco Barn in Vinales
Tobacco Barn in Vinales
Vinales Cars
Plenty of Classic Cars

Cuba’s Home Of Tobacco

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 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.

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!

How To Make 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
Papito, our Tobacco Farm Guide

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tours

We hired a local guide from our guesthouse to take a horseback ride tour of Viñales National Park, learning about the traditional techniques used here for hundreds of years.

No machines are used in the tobacco growing process, 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

Other 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.

Make sure to stop by the massive Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria, this colorful work of art was created by Leovigildo González Morillo. In it, he portrays world history from the age of dinosaurs up to the arrival of humans.

Mural de la Prehistoria in Vinales
Mural de la Prehistoria in Vinales
Traveling from Havana to Vinales
Traveling from Havana to Vinales

Getting To Vinales

Viñales is located about 3-4 hours West of Havana. A regular Viazul Bus runs twice a day for about $15 USD per person. Try to buy your ticket a day in advance.

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

The final option is booking a full day-trip tour that includes round-trip transportation from Havana.

Where To Stay In Vinales

My suggestions for great places to stay during your trip to Vinales, Cuba. You can always book a horseback riding tour directly from your guesthouse like we did from Hostal Casa Lay, where we stayed.

Best Accommodation In Vinales

Casa Margarita

Vinales Ox Cart
Ox Cart Animal Power

Vinales Travel Tips & Advice

  • If someone offers you a free farm tour to learn about cigar making, they’ll end with a pitch to buy a bundle of 15 cigars for about $1 USD each. Don’t be cheap and not buy from them!
  • The guided farm tours through the National Park cost about $35 CUC per person if you book directly with locals once you arrive.

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

Travel Video: Viñales Farm Adventure!

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

Travel Planning Resources For Vinales

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.

Book Your Flight

Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.

Cheap Accommodation

Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

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Horseback Riding & Cigars in Vinales, Cuba. More at
HHorseback Riding & Cigars in Vinales, Cuba. More at


I hope you enjoyed my guide to Vinales Cuba! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

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


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (54)

  1. Vinales was great. If you like cigars, buy as many of the $1 cigars as you can at the tobacco farm. They were as good as the Cohibas, in my opinion.

  2. Really nice article, thanks for sharing such information. I went on dude ranch vacation Before a couple of years with my family. That was really great experience and beautiful memories. Wide range of activities was there we enjoyed horseback riding, rafting, swimming pool plays, fly fishing, cattle work and many more. The food was awesome and accommodation was also great.

  3. Great thanks. I am very interested in horseback riding while in Cuba next month. Can you recommend any other riding adventures there?

  4. Hello,
    What is the best area in Havana to stay. We want to book our first two nights before we arrive. Also, how easy is it to find casas on the spot in
    Trinidad and Vinales? I am traveling with a 15 year old who needs to know what the PLAN is. I’m more of a see what happens traveler. So if casas are plentiful and I can semi guarantee her we’ll have a place to stay things will go smoother. Thank you

  5. Hi! Absolutely love this post. I am traveling to Cuba in Feb. and want to do exactly what you did -horseback ride of tobacco fields. Who were your contacts and/or programs/resources you used? thanks!!

    • Hi Matthew – yes i have the same question – what was the name of the tour company you used to do a tour of the tobacco farms/fields and coffee ? Any help is much appreciated as I will be traveling there in two weeks! :)

  6. Was very blessed to experience Cuba and experience Hermosa vinales.. the whole experience is a most horse back to mireales for lunch and cold beer.. tabaco tour was detailed and smoked the best cigars ever.. had to bring a bundle home! Gracias hermes luis y el guerro!!!

  7. Viñales is amazing. I’ve been traveling to Cuba for the last five years, but I didn’t have the opp to go to Viñales until last year after going to Yosemite. I thought it very ironic that they call Viñales the “mini-Yosemite of Cuba.” Regardless of where you go in Cuba, you will most likely enter or left through Havana.

  8. Going to Cuba in July (19-30) definitely want to do viñales tour. May only be near Havana first few days and last few days of our trip so we probably try to do this between 19-23.

  9. Hi! Thanks for the info! I am going soon, staying in Havana. Do you have a name of this tour or advice for how to book?

    Thank you!

  10. 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!! :)

  11. 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

  12. 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?

    • 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

    • 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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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!

  17. 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?

    • Whoever you are staying with can set you up with a tour. We arranged ours with the lady who ran our guesthouse. It’s very easy.

  18. 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! :)

    • Well, I’ll always say that longer is better. But yes, you can certainly experience Cuba with 2 weeks. We only had 11 days, and still saw a lot.

      • 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.

  19. 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,


  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!


    • 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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!


  27. 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.

  28. Love the pic of guy harvesting the tobacco leaves. You could probably sell that one to Nat Geo too :-D Great post – keep them coming!

  29. 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.

  30. A trip to Cuba must include Vinales indeed! I def recommend taking the ox cart, heck when else have you been offered a tour by ox?