If we could only go to two places in Cuba, they would have to be Havana and Vinales.
Casa Particular Villa Basita
Address: Caretera al Cementerio #40, Vinales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Directions: East from the centre of town, continue right at the gas station (the only one in town) for about 200 metres. Villa Basita is on your left just after small bridge. Too much luggage to carry; taxi will cost approx. 1 convertible peso.
Phone: 487 93279 or Joseito 528 92762
Email: (son Daniel) firstname.lastname@example.org
Basita and Jose warmly welcome their guests and instantly make them feel at home. They have two guest rooms each with private bathroom, air conditioning and hot water. We stayed in the front bedroom and would ask for it again on any return trip. Their home is extremely clean and well kept. The garden patio with its six white rocking chairs and gentle breezes is a wonderfully cool retreat at mid-day or early evening. Order a drink, beer or soft drink and meet fellow travelers. The front porch also has rocking chairs from which to survey the passing 1950s cars and horse drawn carts or watch the activities on the farm across the street. Basita also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner at reasonable prices (see more below under food and drink).
SIGHTSEEING IN VINALES
The town of Vinales is centered around Church Square where day tripping tourists browse the works of local artists and buy souvenirs. Travelers who give Vinales more than an hour or so, are rewarded by the sights and generous smiles hidden down side streets and around corners of this small, comfortable, easy to walk village.
Since 1999 the Vinales Valley has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List sighting “The Viñales valley is an outstanding karst landscape in which traditional methods of agriculture (notably tobacco growing) have survived unchanged for several centuries. The region also preserves a rich vernacular tradition in its architecture, its crafts, and its music.”
José, works for Cuba Taxi. We were able to hire him and his cab for a 2.5 hour tour of the Vinales Valley for $20 cuc. José recommended the time and route in order to avoid the tour buses which come from Havana on day trips. He stopped for photos at our request and suggested other photo opportunities. It was time and money well spent.
Cueva del Indio (Cave of the Indian). There are many caves in the valley. This one, originally inhabited by Indians, combines a short walk and boat ride on its underground lake. The walk is unescorted while the motor boat ride has a driver and a flashlight wielding guide who points out rock formation in Spanish and English. While in Vinales it only seems right to take in at least one cave. Admission (3-5cuc) charge.
Cueva de San Miquel, a small cave system which was used as a hiding place by escaped African slaves during the colonial era. (Cuba abolished slavery October 7, 1886). While here the guide introduces the Santeria religion which is a mixture of Catholicism and other, mainly African, faiths and cults. You can pay a small tour fee or pay more for a “lunch included” in one of the many saint themed dining areas designed for large tour groups.
Mural de la Prehistoria which was commissioned by Fidel Castro in 1961. Some might see it as art framed by the beauty of the surrounding valley; while others might view it as a blight upon what is otherwise a stunning landscape. You can see it from afar or pay $6cuc each to get a close up view. We read that the onsight food and music are good but didn’t stay long enough to try either.
Los Jazmine Hotel view point. The popular public terrace adjoining the two star Los Jazmine Hotel comes with the sound of clicking cameras as more photographs of the valley are taken from here than any other spot in Vinales.
Tobacco farm. What would a visit to Vinales be without a visit to a tobacco farm. Each guide or guide company has their favourite and again José had us there ahead of the crowd and the farmer took the time to show us how the tobacco was harvested and hung. In a neighbouring field Terry even asked the farmhand if he could have a try at plowing behind bullocks. Gratuities are not demanded but were gratefully received.
Night life in town is centered around the square. Some events happen in the Casa de la Cultura, but most nights Centro Cultural Polo Montañez, a night club between the church and the Casa de la Cultura, has live music and dancing. Expect bus loads of tourists from the nearby large hotels.
FOOD & DRINK IN VINALES
For decades Cuba has been criticized for its bland and unimaginative food. Other than street pizzas, Cubans tend to eat at home … mostly for economic reasons. When Cuba reopened it’s doors to tourist in 1997 and began allowing casa particulars (similar to B&Bs) visitors to this country had an opportunity to enjoy home cooked meals. Some of Cubas best and most reasonably priced meals can be enjoyed in casa particulars. For dinners and lunches the choice is usually chicken, pork, fish or vegetarian.
Breakfasts, Lunches & Dinners: In Vinales we had breakfast and dinners at Villa Basita which were tasty and always plentiful; so much so that we only had a light snack mid-day. After touring the island for three weeks we rated Basita’s chicken the best in Cuba.
Water: Drinking water in Cuba, for visitors, should be bottled. Most Cubans boil the water they use. At Villa Basita guests are treated to complimentary bottled water.
Drinks: Cuba is famous for it’s rum. Individual purchased drinks are tourist priced. Buying a bottles of rum and mix at a bar and mixing your own is common in Cuba. Beer brands ‘Bucanero’ and its lighter version ‘Cristal’ are the two most popular beer offered. A great people watching place with reasonably priced individual drinks in Vinales is a little bar with outside tables on the north-west corner across from church square.
Snacks: Pop, chips and cookies are luxury items and are sold in Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC$) – the “tourist pesos”. National pesos (CUP) which you can get at a Cadeca (change booth) – CUC$1 = 24 national pesos. You can buy local goods like street pizza for around 45¢ US, a fresh loaf of bread (approx 12¢), ice cream cone (approx 7¢) or a glass of sugar cane juice (approx 8¢).
GETTING AROUND VINALES
An easy, comfortable and inexpensive way to go between Havana and Vinales is by ViaZul Bus. These buses are equipped with toilet and air conditioning. Two trips per day book up ahead of time so make sure to buy your ticket at least the day before departure. The trip will take 3.5 – 4 hours and cost approximately CUC$12.
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