If you go to Cuba you must see how a cigar is being made. And the best place to do that is in the tobacco growing area.
We talk about the western part of the island which is filled with natural beauty like coral reefs, caves, waterfalls, coffee plantations, but the most important resources are the tobacco plantations which are said to have the best tobacco leaves in the world.
With only one day available, we chose a trip organized by a travel agency, but the area can be accessed in several ways.
How to get in Vinales?
Trip organized by a travel agency – it is a good option when you don’t have much time or don’t know the area.
You can rent a car – gives you freedom. You can visit what you want and can linger all you want, but you must have an idea about the area. Do not forget that there aren’t many road signs.
You can take the bus – this option is perfect if you’re planning to spend a few days here. You can arrive by bus, you can stay with a local and explore the places by bike, horseback or simply on foot. The advantage is that you have the chance to see Vinales, which is different from the rest of Cuba.
Our trip cost 59 Euros and included a visit to a rum factory, to a cave, to a local tobacco farm, a high panorama spot where you could admire the beauty of the area and also included the lunch.
After about three hours we reached Vinales form Havana and the landscape has changed dramatically and we were now surrounded by low mountains with rounded edges. They are called Magotes.
First stop was at a small and rudimentary factory that produces a local drink called Pinar del Guayabita. The factory had just three rooms. One had the bottling equipment, another was the aging room and the third one was a retail shop.
Guayabitadel Pinar is a local liquor which can hardly be classified either as rum, nor as whiskey. But his reputation extends beyond Cuba. The liquor links to the colonial period when a few families of Spanish tobacco growers settled in the area, and used to drink something strong in the morning. In time they added the tiny fruit of a tree that grows in this area, called “Guayabita”, so this is how this famous drink appeared.
We didn’t have a tasting area and after seeing how they were bottled, I wasn’t very eager to try. But this is one of the many factories in the area and as everyone praise this drink, I guess it is quite good.
We next stopped was for lunch, in a beautiful place. The restaurant was right next to the painted wall of one of the little mountains. The landscape was beautiful, but the food did not impress us much.
Surrounded by mountains, Vinales is a small town lying along one main street, with typical Cuban houses that have a small terrace in front, dominated by the famous rocking chairs.
Another attraction is the Indian Cave. There are many caves in the area, some even converted into bars. We passed on foot the first part of the cave up to an underground river where a boat was waiting for us. We crossed the cave on the running water to the surface.
Afterward, we went to a local tobacco producer. Unfortunately, now it was the time to plant tobacco and we hadn’t had the opportunity to see their true plantations, we only had an idea. The farmer showed us how to make a real cigar. I would have liked to be able to try to make it.
Making a cigar
The leaves of the Tobacco plant will be collected only until they bloom. The youngest leaves being more elastic will be used to wrap cigars. The rest of mature leaves will fold and will form the inside layers of the cigar.
Of course, we are talking about an art and every farmer has his secrets, but everybody will respect several rules:
– the leaves must be perfectly dried without being too brittle. Then the cigar is too dry. Cubans use barns with a specific shape, never outdoors.
– the cigar must be made from whole leaves without stalks.
– when lit it must burn equally over all its surface.
For rich flavorings, the leaves must be fermented with rum, honey, cinnamon or other essences.
During this trip, we had a guide who was very present. For Cuban guides, tips are very important, given that their monthly salary is between 20-50 euros. So each of them will do everything in order for you to feel good. But each has his technique. Our guide for Vinales was very empathetic and affectionate.
6 Things you have to do in Vinales
- Make a cigar
You mustn’t come to Vinales without seeing how the famous Cuban cigar is made since the process is very interesting.
- Try a cigar on the terrace of a traditional house alongside a Mojito
- Visit the Indian Cave
It is interesting to ride a boat along an underground river that takes you out through a crack of the mountain.
If you are fond of riding, the best place to ride is the rural area between tobacco and coffee plantations. You can rent a horse Euro 10 / hour.
- Go to a waterfall
Soroa waterfall is 90 km from Vinales and is over 20 high. On a hot day, you can cool off in the waters of the waterfall with a Pina Colada prepared by the locals.
- Try cane juice
In many places, you can find presses to obtain cane juice.