The ViÃ±ales Valley holdsÂ UNESCO World Heritage Site statusÂ for multiple reasons including its active use of pre-industrial sustainable farming practices.Â Farmers in ViÃ±ales have been growing crops, including tobacco, coffee, and fruits, in the same way for over 300 years. Plows are still drawn by oxen and crops are treated with organic fertilizer and pesticides.
For eco-tourists, ViÃ±ales is an absolute paradise. The sustainable farms are a glance at what the future of agriculture could be.
Getting to ViÃ±ales
Finding transportation to ViÃ±ales is easy. (Note: ViÃ±ales is the name for both the region and the small town in it.)Â It’s about a 2.5-hour bus or taxi ride from Havana. For many tourists visiting Cuba, visiting ViÃ±ales is practically a must.
I took a private taxi there so we could visit a few locations Las Terrazas and Soroa along the way. That way we were able to incorporate a day trip into what would have been a who day in transit. It was expensive (140 cuc) but, for me, it was also worthwhile.
On the way back, we took a “taxi colectivo,” sharing a ride with a couple that was also headed to Havana. This option cost only 30 cuc per person, less than half the price of the private taxi. But we also spent a lot more time in the car, as the driver took his time, stopping to grab coffee and lunch along the way and we were dropped off last.
Taking in the beautiful ViÃ±ales Valley
Aside from agriculture, the area is super unique geologically. All throughout the valley, you can see a series of abrupt, rounded hills (outcrops/mogotes).
The whole area is covered with all kind of green vegetation tooâ€”wild palms, coconut trees, bananas. All of these elements made ViÃ±ales Valley one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen.
Find a restaurant with a great terrace and early hours to watch the sunrise over the valley while you’re in ViÃ±ales.
Eco-friendly Airbnb stay on a sustainable farm
My partner and I opted to stay in the country rather than in ViÃ±ales town. There we experienced not only the best Airbnb but also the best accommodation we ever experienced while in ViÃ±ales.
Staying in a casa particular in the country was perfect for us because we’re far more interested in exploring nature and the countryside than restaurants and nightlife. You can see plenty of that in Havana.
Everything about Marielis and Felipe’s casa particular Coconut Corner enchanted us. (Book their casa on Airbnb here.)
Staying with Marielis and Felipe addedÂ so muchÂ to our eco-tourism adventure in ViÃ±ales. They prepared meals for us each day (5 cuc for breakfast, 10 cuc for lunch/dinner). Because they had a huge garden, nearly everything was grown right on the propertyâ€”bananas, plantains, yucca root, taro root, mint, guava, coconuts, papaya, mangos, etc. She even randomly treated us with fresh coconuts, a chocolate pudding, and fresh berries throughout our stay.
When we planned ourÂ itinerary for Cuba with ViaHero, we knew that we wanted to spend a lot of time in ViÃ±alesâ€”definitely more than a day trip. We stayed four nights in Havana before spending three nights in ViÃ±ales. Honestly, we could have used just one more day and night becauseÂ of our interest in sustainability, nature,Â and agriculture.
Airbnb Experiences: Farm tours
The ViÃ±ales Valley is best known for its agriculture because, to this day, farmers perform a majority of their task using traditional methods. Oxen draw plows in the fields instead of tractors. Farmers spray pesticidesÂ minimally and, when they do use them, use organic ones.
You don’t have to stray far from town to see these “old-fashioned” practice in action. Just book a tour and a guide will take you behind the scenes. Or, if you know Spanish and are feeling brave, you might even be able to find a friendly farmer working in the field and ask a couple questions yourself!
Coffee farming in the ViÃ±ales Valley
We booked an all-day farm tour through Airbnb Experiences. I hadn’t heard of the “experiences” before, just Airbnb accommodations, but I went on three different ones throughout my 12 days in Cuba and they were all phenomenal. I visited places I would never otherwise had access to.
We visited a coffee farm first. Though coffee isn’t a huge deal in ViÃ±ales the way it is in other parts of western Cuba (the government requires most of the farmers to grow tobacco in ViÃ±ales), some farmers plant coffee in the 10 percent of the land they get to use how they choose.
The family of coffee farmers was so friendly. Though my partner and I didn’t know my Spanish, our guide was happy to translate. The head of the household, Antonio, was more than happy to pose for photos. In fact, he told me they were very accustomed to visitors and that I could take photos of anything I liked, even the bathroom.
We looked at some of the coffee plants on their property. The farmers and our guide explained when the beans are harvestedâ€”when they’re red and look a lot like cherries. And they showed us their old-fashioned drying and roasting processes which differ from the government-produced coffee from the factory.
Together, we shared a couple of cups of coffee. Cuban coffee is served espresso-style in really little cups with sugar. We talked about how different it is from American coffee. At the end we, of course, had the opportunity to buy some beans directly from the farmers and take them home with us.
Tobacco farming in the ViÃ±ales Valley
This experience hits at the core of what ViÃ±ales is all about. You will learn everything you could ever to know about cigars directly from local experts who have been cultivating tobacco all their lives.
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