One of the most popular activities in Vinales is to go horseback riding through the national park. Originally I thought this would be an activity that I’d skip in favor of more hiking, but after our morning at Los Aquaticos, I’m ready for something a little easier. Plus we can cover more ground on a horse, increasing the amount of the valley we’ll get to see.
We’re joined by two of the girls we rode to Vinales with yesterday, Daniella and Maria from Germany. They’re staying in the house next to us, and I even run into them a week later in Trinidad. I love how small the travel world is.
Our taxi drops us off on the side of the road where we’re met by our guide and set up with our horses.
I’m always nervous about riding horses in foreign countries, not knowing if they are well taken care of or not. In Costa Rica in 2007, we rode horses to the La Fortuna waterfall, and the entire time I felt so guilty because they looked so malnourished. I thought for sure the horse was going to collapse underneath my weight. So I’m happy to see that the horses we’re riding today look healthy and happy, if a bit dusty. Horses love a good roll in the dirt, after all.
I’m desperately trying to remember everything my friend Suzie taught me about riding a horse. I never did quite get the hang of posting, so hopefully I won’t bounce around too much. Good thing these horses are “automatics”, as our guide informs us.
We set off down the road, riding through coffee and tobacco fields, keeping to the right to allow cars to pass.
Our first stop is a tour of a cigar farm. Maggie and I spent the morning having a similar experience, so this is a bit of a repeat, but it’s still fun.
Again, the guide explains the process of growing the tobacco plants, how the government owns 90%, and demonstrates how to roll a cigar.
Smoking twice in one day?? I’m not terribly keen to try it again, but it almost feels rude to say no. I take a small taste before quickly passing it on.
Back outside we continue on to our next stop, our guide singing happily behind us. He speaks little English, but his enthusiasm is infectious and makes the journey much more enjoyable.
Up next is a coffee plantation. While no longer as popular as tobacco, coffee is still produced in small amounts throughout the country, though more commonly in eastern Cuba.
A guide comes out to greet us as we’re getting off our horses to show us around the very small facilities. It’s worth noting, we don’t actually get to see the plantation, just a little visitors area that has a few demonstrations set up. It feels rather contrived, but it’s a short stop. Plus we get to drink coffee at the end of the tour (for a small fee, of course).
This guy shows us how to grind the coffee beans in the traditional method using a giant mortar and pestle. His technique includes singing and salsa dancing as he goes. I’m not sure if this makes the coffee better, but it sure makes the process more fun.
Also on the premises are several pineapple plants.
True story – after we spotted the pigs in the photo below, Maggie swore she would never eat pork again because they are just too cute. This resolve lasts exactly 2 days.
Next we head towards the Valle el Silencio and on to a cave. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommends this area for some interesting hiking. I don’t have time to check it out, but riding through on a horse is quite beautiful, too.
The cost of the cave is not included in the tour, but it’s only 2CUC more. Maggie isn’t interested and Maria doesn’t like small spaces, so Daniella and I are it from our group. We have to wait for a few more people to join before the tour will commence, so I spend the time taking pictures.
Originally I assume this is the entrance to the cave we’re going to explore, but it’s not. To be honest, I never would have found the right opening on my own.
The entrance into the cave is a narrow crack in the wall that you have to turn sideways to go through. After about 20 feet, it opens up into a small cavern. It’s not the most interesting cave I’ve ever been in and takes roughly 20 minutes to get through, but there are some neat formations near the ceiling.
Back outside, the sun is blinding. Since we walked in one direction through the cave, we have to make our way back to the starting point.
Then it’s back the entrance to the Valle el Silencio for a rest and refreshments, if desired.
The views are pretty spectacular, and the clouds have finally lifted. Perfect timing.
Maggie orders a coconut to drink, but the rest of us are content with the views. Since it’s the only place where you can purchase food or drink, the prices reflect that.
Finally, with the sun sinking low in the sky, it’s time to make our way out of the valley.
With the sun out, I enjoy the scenery even more. We’re in no hurry, so I set a leisurely pace, careful to not get too far behind, but slow enough to really soak up the landscape.
This tree never ends – it’s huge!
Back at the beginning, we dismount our horses for the final time. They’ve earned a nice rest for their troubles, hauling us tourists around for the last four hours.
Vinales, you have not disappointed. You are every bit as stunning as I was hoping you’d be. If you find yourself in this part of Cuba, I highly recommend finding any way to spend time exploring the park – hiking, horseback riding, or anything else. You won’t regret it.