If I have one complaint about Cuba (aside from the food…ok two complaints, but that’s it!), it’s that their transportation system is unnecessarily difficult. Everything I read online, and even our host Lindiana said to arrive at the Viazul bus station in Havana an hour before the bus is scheduled to depart. Tickets should still be available. Except they are not. So let me explain how this process works.
When you arrive at the bus station, you will be accosted by taxi drivers offering to take you wherever you want to go, telling you the bus is sold out, don’t even bother going in. Probably they’re right. But if you have the time and want to save money, feel free to check it out for yourself. In low season, there might actually be tickets available for sale day of.
For day of tickets, you need to go in to the main station, not the little ticket both at the entrance. This is for buying advanced tickets. Since you’re already here, I highly recommend doing this for any other bus trips you’re planning to take in the future. At the main ticket booth, there will be two lines – one for people who already have tickets and need to check in and one for people waiting to purchase tickets. You have to wait in the latter line until everyone has checked in for the bus you are hoping to take. If there are any tickets available at this point, they will be released to the people in line to purchase. Unfortunately for us, everyone checks in and no tickets are available to purchase.
So it’s back outside to the waiting taxi drivers. But now they know you have no other options and your negotiating power has been reduced. Your best bet is to find enough people going to the same destination and share a cab with them. We are luckily able to find three other girls headed to Vinales and with my best negotiating tool (Maggie), we get the price down to 17 CUC per person. The bus would have been 14CUC, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. Too bad it’s the last time on our trip we’ll have this little trouble getting where we want to go. More on that to come in future posts.
Via car, it takes roughly 3 hours to get to Vinales. Immediately I’m struck by how colorful it is here. We’re nowhere near the water, but it feels much more “Caribbean” than Havana.
Nearly every house we pass has a room available to rent. Even still, we’re told some travelers are unable to find accommodations here. There are so many tourists, I’m almost taken aback. I knew Cuba was a popular spot for European travelers, but apparently I grossly underestimated just how popular. Plus, with American tourism on the rise, I’m not sure how places like Vinales will be able to adapt. I hope they are able to retain their charm, but they will need to figure out better ways to accommodate everyone, too.
People always mention the classic old cars in Cuba, and how that reminds them of times gone by. But even more so, ox and horse pulled carts take you further back. They are quite common in more rural areas like Vinales.
Oh look, people on their phones. There must be wifi here. Turns out, there’s also an ETECSA office just off the main street. The line is about an hour long to get in, but Maggie decides she needs her access and is willing to wait.
While Maggie stands in line, I walk through town to explore. The main park in town has internet, as also evidenced by all the people on their phones.
Main street kind of reminds me of an old southwest town, with its pillars and red tiled roofs. Also worth noting, this is where you can find the Viazul bus station in Vinales, in case you
want need to buy your ticket ahead of time.
Further down the street is a cute little market selling mostly touristy souvenirs. I arrive just as they are starting to pack up for the evening, and it’s fairly quiet.
These Panama hats are very popular among tourists. Everywhere we go, I see people wearing them.
As the sun sinks low on the horizon, I meet Maggie back at the ETECSA office. Rick Steves recommends having drinks on the ridge at sunset to watch the changing colors over the Vinales valley. The problem is, I don’t know what or where the ridge is. My guidebook doesn’t mention anything about a ridge, but it does say the view from Hotel Loz Jazmines is delightful. I decide the hotel and the ridge might be the same place, so we grab a taxi to see what we can find out. And guess what, I was right!
The sunset itself is hidden by trees, but the colors changing over the valley are quite pretty. And any time of day, these views are pretty spectacular. If you do the hop on, hop off bus tour, the route comes this way so you check it out during the day. It stops running before sunset though, so you still need a taxi if you want to to see the changing light.
For 3CUC you can order a pina colada from the outside bar. The bartender mixes everything up, hands you a bottle of rum and allows you to pour in as much as you’d like. I wish I liked hard alcohol! Maggie takes full advantage, but I pour the tiniest of drops in mine. At least we even each other out?
Back to the views.
This is a popular spot for sunset watching so make sure you get up here early enough to get a seat up front.
When we’re done, we head to the hotel to call a taxi. It takes over 30 minutes for one to show, and we share it with a Swedish couple. While we wait, I check out the hotel. It’s nice and I definitely wouldn’t mind hanging out by the pool. Unfortunately, it’s well out of my price range.
Back in town, it’s early to bed. We have a very early morning hike and I can’t wait to share those photos with you!