A Viñales Valley tour is a great way to see this stunning area. But with sights only a few kilometres away and many excellent trails, cycling is a great alternative and an excellent day out.
Viñales is one of the most beautiful destinations in Cuba. Mogotes (flat-topped hills) rise out of vibrant green valleys shrouded in a seemingly perennial layer of atmospheric fog. Burnt orange roads cut a swathe through the green where farmers hand pick tobacco plants and oxen plough the fields.
It’s a relaxed, rural place from a time gone by.
Many visitors join a Viñales Valley tour. It’s a good way to visit the rock caves, the Mural de la Prehistorica and to witness the antiquated farm life. But despite the lush mountainous scenery, the main sights are tucked along the very flat valley. This makes cycling an excellent alternative at Viñales.
Bikes can be rented for as little as CUC 10 a day. This is plenty of time to zip along windy paths, visit the caves, encounter local farmers and get up close to the most attractive mogotes. But even without the sights, a day cycling in Viñales is an adventure in itself.
There are not many signs, so it is not always clear where to go. After exploring for a few days, we’ve picked out the most interesting (and flattest) areas to check-out. So, read on for some of the best cycle routes in Viñales with our map to help you find your way.
If cycling isn’t for you, we’ve also recommended a few Viñales tours you might want to check out.
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VIÑALES VALLEY CYCLING ROUTES
Mural de la Prehistorica & Valle de Viñales
Tobacco farms and trails around Palmarito Mogote
Cueva San Miguel and Cueva del Indio
Flexing the legs all the way to Valle Ancon
Esmerelda Mogote & Coco Solo Mogote
1 – MURAL DE LA PREHISTORICA & VALLE DE VIÑALES
The Mural de la Prehistorica is just 5km west of Viñales – a very leisurely 20 minutes by bike. While the mural itself is so-so, the scenery in the area is excellent. A cycle loop consisting of paved roads, gravel roads and a couple of earth trails surround the mural passing ranches, fields of mango and towering mogotes. Surprisingly, despite the hilly scenery all around, the trails are as flat as a pancake.
On the return from the mural, a dirt track leads to the Valle de Viñales just south of the main road into town. Trapped between the hills and the mogotes, Valle de Viñales is a great spot to collect some photos of this interesting natural landscape.
The cycle out to Mural de la Prehistorica including Valle de Viñales is number 1 on the map below.
2 – TOBACCO FARMS AROUND PALMARITO MOGOTE
Just 3km north of town, a maze of paths surround Palmarito Mogote to the left of the main road. This is a particularly attractive area of Viñales with red earth paths criss-crossing through farms and tobacco fields.
Cuba has a unique history which is most present in its farming traditions. On the cycle out to Palmarito Mogote we passed farmers on homemade ploughs pulled by oxen and workers carefully hand rolling cigars in small wooden huts in the fields. It’s an interesting and beautiful way to explore the area, completely free from tourists and their touts selling tours.
The trail can get a little rough in places, and some water may be blocking some of the paths particular to the south. But, this just makes it all the more fun. There are plenty of different routes to explore and the views of the magotes are excellent.
The path is section 2 on the map below.
3 – CUEVA SAN MIGUEL AND CUEVA DEL INDIO
San Miguel Cave is another couple of kilometres north of the trail to Palmarito Mogote. It’s not worth paying to go in the cave, but around the back (where the cave tour exits) a large bar has been set up at the bottom of an almost completely enclosed vertical-sided valley. There’s a huge restaurant set up for bus groups, but if you ignore all that and pull up a chair at the bar, you’re in for a treat.
Farmers work the fields just next to the bar, hand planting and picking tobacco. Leaves are laid out to dry in the sun on wooden racks and cowboys saunter past on horseback. Somehow the tourist vibe of the restaurant, blends with the rural setting it’s enclosed in.
Continuing north from Cueva San Miguel on the main road, more idyllic rural landscapes and tobacco fields roll past as you cycle towards Cueva del Indio. Here boats ferry visitors into another cave and deposit them at the tourist shops out the back. The cave is below average but the cycle up, passing through narrow gaps in the valley walls is great fun. If it’s your thing, there are plenty of stalls to grab some souvenirs.
The route for Cuevas San Miguel to Cueva del Indio is section 3 on the map.
4 – VALLE ANCON
Valle Ancon is just the next valley over from Cueva del indio but it’s an 8km cycle. The route is all on the paved road, but it’s quite hilly in places. It could easily take over 1 hour to get there and back.
There are no big sights to see, or cafes to stop at. But, the route passes some lovely scenery that feels very much removed from the tourist spots in Viñales. This is real Cuban farmland. You won’t even find tobacco farmers coming up to you to sell a tour of their small factory. Valle Ancon is just local farmers going about their daily grind.
If you are relatively fit and enjoy cycling, this route is about flexing the leg muscles, taking in some fresh air and experiencing a relaxing authentic version of Cuba. But if you’d prefer a gentle ride in and out of the best scenery then skip this route and spend more time exploring the trails around the mogotes near Viñales.
Valle Ancon is section 4 on the map.
5 – ESMERELDA AND COCO SOLO MOGOTE
As you are heading back into town on the main road (the 241) from the caves, the mogotes of Esmerelda and Coco Solo Mogotes rise to your left-hand side. A loop of these two mogotes requires a bit more work as there are a couple of small hills to go up and down, but it’s worth the effort.
From the top, these attractive mogotes backed by the wider valley form an attractive vista. In particular, take the time to leave the main paths marked below and head up close to Coco Solo Mogote, it’s a pretty spot just outside of town.
On the route, a number of attractive cafes have been set up by locals. One, set in gazebo overlooking a lake, offers particularly enticing fresh juices. Others are a bit more interested in encouraging you to look round their tobacco farming techniques and products.
It is possible that water blocks the path between the two mogotes, in which case head back to the main road to connect up the two areas.
A few suggestions for ambling around the area are marked as section 5 on the map.
HIRING A BIKE IN VIÑALES
Due to the very low government wage, Cuba has an enormous network of locals supporting all sorts of tourist needs. The best place to rent a bike from is your casa particular host who is bound to know somewhere with a set of wheels to offer you for the day. Send them an email before you arrive or simply ask the night before and bikes should be waiting for you.
If not, there is a bike rental shop next to Casa de Don Tomás, at 140 Salvador Cisneros in Viñales. Bike rental is about CUC 10 per person per day.
VIÑALES VALLEY TOUR ROUTES
You can see the routes and loops we cycled on the map below. As a rough guide, if you want to cycle for just a couple of hours, then do sections 1 and 2. If you have another hour do section 5. For a full day out and about on your own Viñale tour, add sections 3 and 4.
Unless you head to the end of Valle Ancon, Viñales town is never far away from any of these routes.
VIÑALES VALLEY TOURS
If you are not sure cycling is for you then but you still want to see a bit more of this remarkable countryside, have a look at our article with all the instructions for hiking in Viñales.
If you don’t have Viñales on your Cuban itinerary, you can book a tour from either Havana or Varadero.
BEST TIME TO CYCLE IN VIÑALES VALLEY
It’s not just the salsa that’s hot in Cuba. With average high temperatures of about 26 degrees in winter and 31 in summer, cycling is best avoided in the hottest months of the year. Additionally, rains torment the island in May and stick around until October.
The best months to cycle Viñales are the sunny but slightly cooler months of January to April. It was still pretty hot when we did this bike ride (February) but not as scorching as it could have been.
As you cycle around there are plenty of places to stop for a drink if you need a break.
HOW TO GET TO VIÑALES
Getting around Cuba is generally fairly easy with a good bus service and colectivos available to take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Viñales valley is no exception. Being only 180 km from Havana, transport is easy.
Bus – The Viazul bus runs twice a day from Havana and takes around 3 hours, 40 minutes. The price is 12 CUC per person. The Viazul buses are generally the most comfortable way to travel around Cuba, however, they can book out. Organise your tickets in advance to save the stress.
Colectivo – Your casa particular will also be able to organise a private taxi or colectivo, both of which will take around 2 hours from Havana. A private taxi should be around 80 CUC per vehicle; the colectivo about 25 CUC per person.
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WHERE TO STAY IN VIÑALES
As always in Cuba, the best accommodation option is a casa particular. This is where locals open their home for tourists, thereby avoiding the very low government wage. The service from hosts is generally excellent and all the accommodation we tried was clean and comfortable.
Here are some suggestions from us.
Casa el Isleno is set in a lovely garden backing on to the tobacco fields, this edge-of-town propery is a great option for a relaxing stay. The lovely host will organise anything you’d like to do.
Casa el Porry provides basic clean accommodation with a terrace with enviable views of the stunning scenery. Every room has a private balcony for those early morning coffees.
TIPS FOR CYCLING IN THE VIÑALES VALLEY, CUBA
The only challenging sections are the long cycle on the road out to Valle Ancon (4) and a short steeper section passing over the shoulder of a small hill around Esmerelda Mogote on loop (5).
Waterlogged paths are common in the valley, especially after rain. So it is possible you will come across a wet section you can’t cross over. But, with the exception of Valle Ancon, none of the loops are very long so it’s easy to just go back the way you came.
1 / Before you start cycling, download the Viñales Valley area to your off-line maps in your Google Maps app – this way you’ll have all the map information stored on your phone.
2 / Save our map by clicking on the star so you have all the route information with you, and you can track where you are and where you want to go.
3 / We also suggest you set the base layer of the maps to satellite, that way, even if the trails are not marked on google, you can visually see the paths you might want to take.
WHAT TO TAKE
4 / The cycling is straight forward although the heat can be draining so make sure you take plenty of water and wear sunscreen and a hat.
5 / Don’t forget your camera as the scenery is stunning the whole way around.
6 / Comfortable shoes always help when you are hopping on and off a bike and pedalling gently (or even furiously).
7 / If you get lost try asking one of the guides or café owners in the area. While some locals wouldn’t give us instructions, we found a guide who was happy to help.
8 / The local farmers are very friendly in Viñales, however, they may want to divert you to their tobacco farm for a small fee.
9 / None of our routes venture very far off the main road which is regularly serviced by taxi, so if you get into any trouble, you’re never too far from help.
MORE CUBA READING
Cuba is a unique place. Years of Soviet-funded political ideology created a strong- if slightly confusing – sense of national identity. Soviet, American, Spanish, Caribbean and African influences fuse together to create a fascinating place to visit. Here is some more of our reading about this fascinating place.
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