I’ve recently been asked for my suggestions for locations in Cuba for honeymoons or “special” getaways for couples. The first place that comes to mind is Viñales Valley in Viñales National Park. It is located about 2 hours west of Havana in Pinar del Rio, Cuba’s westernmost province. Viñales has been called the “Yosemite Valley of Cuba,” and offers visitors some of the most striking scenery in the country. The main valley is about 8 miles long by 3 miles wide, and has been cut into the Sierra de los Organos. It has numerous mountains with vertical cliffs jutting straight into the air up to a thousand feet. The flat green valley floor is postcard perfect, and has several scattered outdoor restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns (casas particulares).
There are numerous hiking trails in the area. You can arrange to be dropped off at a trail-head, where you can hike to the top of one or more mountains, then be picked-up later in the day on the other side of the range. Your hotel or casa particular owner can provide a picnic lunch and drinks. Weather in the area is some of the best in Cuba, with almost-rainless winters averaging high temperatures around 75- 80 degrees F. Summertime high’s are typically in the high 80’s with frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which temporarily create numerous waterfalls hundreds of feet high around the valley. As at any location in the tropics or sub-tropics, such as Hawaii, south Florida, and the Caribbean, it is possible to encounter extended days of continuous rain, but this is not common.
Viñales is becoming world famous for rock-climbers and spelunkers (cave explorers). One cavern has been explored a distance of 30 miles so far, and some caves have underground rivers. (One of the highlights of the tours I’ve led was Indian Cave, where we hiked into the cavern about a half mile, then boarded a river boat to float out of the cave on the other side of the mountain.) Guests can also rent bicycles to ride around the valley floor, or ride several miles to town. In addition to bed-and-breakfast inns, Viñales also has two rural, beautiful, and reasonably priced hotels with magnificent views of the valley. The Hotel Horizontes La Ermita and the Hotel Horizontes Los Jasmines are smaller country hotels that both have nicely furnished rooms, swimming pools, and restaurants. (The most common complaint I’ve heard is that the restaurant food is so-so, but both have recently upgraded their cuisines. However, there are many excellent paladares <in-home restaurants> nearby, and I would recommend them for your dinners.) It would be easy to spend a few days at either hotel on your private deck, gazing into the valley, and doing little else. Otherwise, you are going to eventually want to rent a bike, go horseback riding, hike on a mountain trail, or rent a car & driver for a private tour. These hotels offer all the amenities you would expect in rural hotels located in a national park.
As a reminder, Americans can’t book such accommodations directly from the U.S., but you can use an agency such as Nash Travel (a reliable Canadian Company) to book and pay for your Cancún-Havana flights, hotel, and bus tickets. (Consider spending a couple nights in Havana. You can also book your hotel in the countryside after you arrive in Havana.) You might also consider booking just 2 nights at one of the hotels, then spend time visiting area casas to see where you might want to transfer to, especially if you plan to spend a week or more in the area.
A NOTE ABOUT RATINGS: TripAdvisor.com publishes numerous ratings, which usually provide reliable information. The casas particulares are competitive, and usually strive to be clean, friendly, and fun to stay at. I have stayed at many throughout Cuba, and there was only one that I previewed and wouldn’t have stayed at. Always check out each facility before paying. If you check one out and don’t feel comfortable, there are others nearby–just ask any taxi driver. I believe the vast majority of casas particulares for tourists throughout Cuba will provide very enjoyable experiences. I have visited both hotels mentioned above, but I haven’t stayed at either. I didn’t observe anything that would make me want to give either a substandard rating. One strategy for you might be to book two nights at one of the hotels, then spend your second day visiting several casas in the area. Then you have the option of transferring to the accommodations that are the most appealing.
For a list of highly-rated casas in Viñales, Go to the following site: www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g616288-d207806-Reviews-Valle_de_Vinales-Vinales_Pinar_del_Rio_Province_Cuba.html Go about half way down the page to a column on the right titled: “Hotels around Viñales.” This appears to be a list of highly-rated casas and hotels in the area: (If the following do not autolink, please copy and paste into your browser.)
For information and photos of La Hermita
For information and photos of Los Jazmines
For information about Nash Travel of Canada
Finally, if you are American, remember that you will be traveling on self-generated General Licenses, so you won’t be going as tourists–you will be going as researchers. Have fun researching the mountains, caves, trails, restaurants, and poolside drinks.