A couple of hours west of Havana, delve into the heart of the Cuban outback and into another era entirely. Motorway becomes dirt-track, winding through tobacco and coffee plantations, where traffic comes in the form of a horse-drawn cart, or multiple children sharing the bare back of one hefty pony. Farm workers seek shade under palm trees lining the roads, greeting passers-by with a tilt of a wide-brimmed hat – Viñales is refreshingly disconnected and astonishingly green.
Regional fashion consists of cowboy hats, ancient gum boots, machetes and more often than not, a bare-chest atop a portly belly, topped off with a laissez-faire attitude, exemplified in the chewing and spitting of tobacco from dawn ‘til dusk. The Viñales pace is leisurely – the outside world no longer exists – stress seeps away.
Explore expansive orchid gardens, hike forest trails in search of rare birdlife, swim in cool, fresh-water pools at the foot of hidden waterfalls and horse-ride up to ancient mogotes (steep-sided limestone hills) that give Viñales its extraordinary landscape, attracting rock-climbers from all over the world. The town sits down in the valley (Valle de Viñales), its main-street lined with colonial-era wooden houses. Women flit from veranda to veranda on social errands, spreading local news with the enthusiasm of pollenating bees. After working the land, men settle into metal deck chairs on raised verandas, strumming Cuban Tres guitars, puffing on hand-rolled cigars, playing chess or watching the world pass by.
Viñales accommodation is simple, a handful of private guest-houses and farm-cabins providing comfy beds and serving up traditional home-cooked stews. In the evening, watch live music performances in the main-street bars, sipping on a fresh-mint Cuban Highball.