Vinales: Our Favorite for Cuba with Kids
We’re back from our two-week, heritage trip to Cuba with kids and, lemme tell you, it was AMAZING. The question my kids get asked most about their adventure is, “what was your favorite part about Cuba?”. While two weeks is certainly not enough time to explore it all, the kids did experience various provinces (states) and Cuban ways of life. Like back home, the way people live in the countryside differs from the big cities and yet again from small, colonial towns. Everyone wants to know what the kids loved and their answer is always the same: VINALES!
Allow me to say something first: travel to Cuba as an American is legal and you can feel safe in taking your children there. The more I travel as a mom, the less fear I have and the more I want to throw my kids out into the world. Actually, my son ended up in the emergency room of a Cuban hospital (more on that soon!) – pretty much a mom’s worst nightmare – where he was treated with kindness, respect and a round of antibiotics for $12 USD.
Assuming you don’t have Cuban family that vehemently opposes travel for other reasons (which I have), parents should feel good about taking their young kids to Cuba! Cuba is a thrilling, intense, thought-provoking place which lacks the pretentious aires that heavily touristed islands often suffer from. The life lessons awaiting our American children are bountiful in Cuba: perceptions of poverty, the importance of education and access, and providing context for their language immersion education. Our kids can’t wait to go back!
Valle de Viñales: A MUST for Cuba with Kids
Viñales is an agriculture town in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. Its main street is lined with colorful colonial-era wooden houses, including the Municipal Museum and Iglesia del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus Cathedral, which is free to tour and an internet hot spot. Vinales is a two-hour drive from Havana, making it a suitable day trip… but if you have the time, especially with kids, stay a night or two to really get a feel of the majestic valley and of Cuban campo life. We booked a stay on Air BnB and it was super pleasant. The town is no stranger to tourists, so although small, there are plenty of places to stay and eat.
As you’re touring the main street, make sure to walk past the cathedral to find an alleyway turned into a small souvenir market. It was fun to walk and look, but save your CUCs for what Vinales is known for: cigars and coffee! After walking the town’s main street (which won’t take long), indulge in a traditional Cuban milkshake at the town’s vintage batido shop. You can find it on Calle Adela Azcuy Norte, just off the main street. Cuban milkshakes use sweetened condensed milk and ice (probably due to a lack of actual milk) and come in various flavors. Once back home, you can make our favorite Cuban Smoothie Recipe!
After you’ve enjoyed your sweet treat, keep walking down Calle Adela Azcuy Norte to find a baseball stadium where your kids can run the bases. More often then not you’ll find local kids playing too. The sun sets just behind the stadium so bring a drink or two and enjoy the (free!) show.
Tips for your horseback ride through Vinales Valley
As picturesque as the town is, the real reason you’ve come to Vinales, Cuba is just beyond the colorful homes. The valley’s tall, steep-sided limestone hills, known as mogotes, draw nature enthusiasts from all over the world. This is why you’re here! It’s time to find your way into the heart of Vinales Valley!
There are a number of valley tours available but the two most popular are via horseback and walking. The terrain is moderate, but the walk is long (somewhere between 5-8 miles, I would guess) and since Alina is an animal lover, horseback rides were on our agenda.
Here are a few tips for your horseback ride excursion through Vinales Valley:
First, don’t overpay! We were quoted $25 CUC for a 3-hour excursion by our Air BnB host but, since we talked with people in Havana, knew that negotiating directly with the vaqueros would garner us a better deal.
Walk down the same Calle Adela Azcuy Norte past all the homes until it becomes a dirt road. At the bottom of the hill, you’ll find a gathering of vaqueros (or in our case, a tiny woman). Start asking them for prices and set up a time to meet (usually they depart in the morning and afternoon). The tour is the same regardless of what you pay: a 3-hour ride to the tobacco fields to visit a working farm, explanation of how the plant grows and eventually rolled into cigars in the city factories. You then head over to an area set up for tourists to buy coffee beans, honey and spend money on drinks until a thatched roof hut. We opted to buy the cigars and coffee beans from the farmers but skipped the tourist trap cafe. The kids were anxious to explore anyway, so having a private tour allowed us to break away from the crowd and do our own thing.
For what would have cost us $200 CUC for 4 people, we paid $50 CUC… which also included a $10 CUC tip! We made a reservation for the following morning and since I promised Alina as many rides as possible, found a vaquero to take us out for a one-hour, sunset ride for $10 CUC. All in all, we paid around $5 CUC/hour/person for all our horse back riding adventures in Vinales.
Vinales Cave Tours – Mural de Prehistoria
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tour any of the cave systems that are popular in Vinales because of rain, but check it out in you’re in Cuba with kids! El Cuevo del Indio has a short boat ride through a cave that’s super cool and Cuevo Tomas is a walking tour, but the biggest cave in Vinales. I took both tours during my 2016 visit and would have definitely taken the kids this year if able to do so.
Another noteworthy thing to do in Vinales with kids is seeing the Mural de Prehistoria. Castro commissioned the mural in the 1960s and it’s a fun, family photo opp…. but that’s about it. Truth be told, I didn’t take the kids. I went in 2016 and since were were busy riding horses, the mural wasn’t a priority this time around. Tourist areas are set up there, so you can have lunch or grab a drink.
And my last tip for Vinales, Cuba with kids: don’t miss the sunsets! Whatever you do, take in as many Vinale sunsets as possible! Whether from the rooftop of your Air Bnb, the stadium as your kids play baseball or, my favorite, from the small cafe at the end of the dirt road (veer to the right once you hit the end of Calle Adela Azcuy Norte), watch nature put on a stunning show as the sun slips behind the giant magotes. I promise your kids will be in awe, too.
Kids Favorite: Vinales Cuba
After two weeks of exploring Cuba, Vinales continues to be my kids’ favorite experience. The pace was slow, nature is awe-inspiring and the horseback rides were nothing like what we have here in states! Alina was ecstatic to finally gallop for the first time! It felt like a true adventure and exposed to the kids to the life of a Cuban campo.
Have you been to Vinales or plan to take your kids to Cuba? Let me know in the comments! And also feel free to pin this Cuba with Kids article for later. Or, feel free to check out the other posts from our Cuba with Kids series!