Top place to see in Cuba

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Manu | 9 March 2016 | 2 comments
Viñales, Cuba

Las Dos Hermanas, the most beautiful mountains of Viñales valley

Stepping outside of L’Habana, Cuba eclectic and hectic capital, means stepping into another Cuba, rural and ancient where it seems the time stopped and the world has been left there as it was at the time of the revolution, at the time of the colonization, or at the beginning of time.

It is here you discover the real heart of Cuba and of its humble and amazing people.

Viñales, Cuba

Oxen are still used in the field by farmers in Cuba

Viñales town, on the West of the island, is the most touristic place that there is in Cuba after Varadero. A walk on the main street at night will make you feel like if you were in Europe, with expensive restaurants on both sidewalks full of tourists queueing to get a sit. The menus of these restaurants have barely nothing to do with Cuban cuisine and the prices will make you forget you are in a poor country like Cuba. There is almost no place to eat in Viñales if you are on a budget, and asking the local people will lead you to the typical pizza and spaghetti place or to the bakery where you can buy some bread to make it through the day.

Viñales, Cuba

Rural Cuba countryside

I have to admit Viñales was the toughest place of my budget trip in Cuba and talking about the town itself it didn’t leave me any good impression if not of a fake place like those little American small perfect shaped towns you see sometimes in the movies. Everyone in Viñales owns a Casa Particular and rents a room so being good at negotiating can save you up some dollars for dinner.

The best part starts when you step out of town to enter the valley around it, surrounded by some majestic mountains that resemble Asia. Life in the valley is very humble and based on agriculture. Agriculture here is still done with ancient tools, and progress is a concept that is not arrived yet in this valley. You will see people getting around with horses or working the land with oxen.

Viñales, Cuba

Tobacco plantations

Here in the valley, next to something called the Prehistoria Murales, I and Kevin, my travel mate, met Youni, a young farmer who offered us to bring us on a walking on the mountains to meet the Aquaticos, a family of people who live on those remote mountains and is famous in Cuba for curing themselves only with water. The Aguaticos have been living up there since the time of the revolution and after the “Triumph of the revolution”, as Youni underlines many times in his speech, Fidel even ensured them a teacher going up there for their kids twice a week. The meeting with Youni was heart warming and pleasant. It has been with him I have discovered the real Cuban soul. He brought us to his house in the countryside and showed us his coffee plantation, while his mom prepared the best coffee I had in Cuba for us. He introduced us to what we were gonna see and to the dreams and hopes of the Cuban people in this times of changes for his country. There are a lot of expectation about the Americans and the arrival of the capitalism, as he said. They all hope Americans will bring enough money and perspective to save this country from a too long state of poverty that Socialism and Communism destined it..there are fears as well, fears that the world they grew up with can desappear, but the main feeling is hope for the young generations to finally have a chance to change their life, make it better and go to see the world.

Viñales, Cuba

Youni outside his house he built by himself

Along the way to the mountain, Youni introduces us also to a tobacco farmer who lives close to his farm and who explained us the whole process of the tobacco plantation, from the seeds to the famous rolled cigar. It takes up to one year to make the most famous cigars in the world. Usually the top of the plant is used to make the finest cigars, the middle for the Montecristo and the last part of the plant for the cheap and low quality ones, usually destined to Cubans.

Viñales, Cuba

A Cuban farmer rolling his cigar

In Cuba the government takes 90% of what the tobacco farmers produce and leaves them only 10% for personal use or to resell to private costumers. But this 10% is the best tobacco you can find in the country, as it is pure, without any of the chemicals added in the mass production used for the cigars destined to be sold to public or abroad. These are the cigars that farmer smoke every day, up to 8 of them a day, and it is also the one he let us smoke with him. He cut it and put some honey on the top and then let us enlight and enjoy it with him. It was a great moment. That man was not of many words, his face looked very young despite the age, but his movements were so ancient and his passion in his story and in his work was readable in every little gesture he made.

Viñales, Cuba

The cigar farmer enjoying his cigar outside the cigar leaves shed

Viñales, Cuba

My 1st cigar

Life of these farmers is hard, especially if the government takes most of the product they work at for an entire year. If the farmers don’t want to work tobacco anymore, the government confiscate the land , kick them out of their property and gives the land to someone else. It is a sacrificed life to produce cigars that are resold for hundreds of dollars abroad but that give only few money to those who work the land everyday under the sun. These are the contradiction of Cuba and of its people when they speak with so much proud about their Revolution that indeed freed them from a dictatorship but that also condemned them to a never changing state of poverty that is killing the country and its people.

Viñales, Cuba

The landscape from the harder of Los Aguaticos’ house

Viñales, Cuba

sitting outside the hand made house of Antonio, one of Los Aguaticos

After the interesting meeting with the tobacco farmer, the way up the mountain took us to the meeting with the Aguaticos, now left only in 2 families on the mountains, from the 17 they were few years ago. There is nothing mystical in those people, nothing weird and nothing dodgy. This family living on the top of a mountain overlooking one of the most beautiful valley of Cuba, are some of the most simple people I have ever met, who just open their house and their heart to the visitors form outside. I spent quite some time talking to them, and not about how they cure themselves, but about life in the fields, life in Cuba, life in general. There was a reciprocal sympathy and connection with them and admiration for what they built and for a lifestyle few people could even imagine in our modern world.

Viñales, Cuba

Youni made me feel at home in Cuba

These people were human and gentle, with no sophistication of life and soul, they enlightened my soul with their simplicity and their smile. The view from outside their house was one of those view you will never forget in your life. Their wooden house was facing the entire valley of Viñales, with the Dos Hermanas mountains right in front of it from where, they said, you could see one of the most beautiful sunrise ever in the morning.

Viñales, Cuba

Humbling Cuba stays in your heart forever

Definitely the most amazing place seen in these 10 days around Cuba, the entire walk up there, the meeting with these people, the taste of the Cuban life and the view of those amazing sceneries warmed up my heart and contributed to not only fall in love with this country but also to promise them to be back again and spend more time in Cuba and some time with them, too. A promise I will keep for sure as I can’t wait to go back to my amazing Cuba, a land of contradictions and injustices at times but also a land of heart warming feelings like very few in the world. I hope the world will not pollute this country as it has done with many more others. These are the risks of the so much longed Capitalism that has not always been good for any country, especially for those who are trying to find and define themselves in the 21st century.

Click HERE or on the photo below to see the full album of Viñales in full resolution

Viñales Valley, Cuba