August 11, 2014
Over a hundred miles from Havana, on the Western edge of the Cuban mainland, lies one of the most beguiling places in the Caribbean. The Viales Valley has ancient heritage – its striking landscape dates back to the Jurassic Period, while its craggy caves housed indigenous tribes for many centuries – and today, the picturesque area remains wondrously lost in time.
All around you are signs of the old world, and long-ago traditions that have managed to survive the test of time. There’s the terrain of the Viales Valley itself: fertile with tropical fauna, it’s also crowned by rugged mogotes – soaring limestone formations covered with foliage. Inside these structures, which are known to offer some of the best climbing in the Caribbean, are a number of caves made for exploring. And elsewhere, stretching as far as the eye can see, are endless fields of tobacco, pineapple, and other crops. It’s no wonder that this region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
The Viales Valley may be ancient, but the small town of the same name is comparatively new, having been formally established in 1875. Here, you’re greeted with distinctly Cuban buildings made of locally sourced materials, while colourful mid-century cars trawl the avenues.
For those visiting Viales, there are a number of ways to immerse yourself in the region’s unique ambiance. For cigar aficionados, this is ground zero. Here tobacco is harvested and dried the old-fashioned way, with animal-pulled ploughs, because of the belief that the tobacco remains purer without industrial processing. The Casa del Veguero, a nearby plantation that offer tours, is the ideal place to get a glimpse at this process, or even pick up a cigar if you fancy.
The town of Viales offers a number of other attractions that provide a window into this unique region. The JardÃn BotÃ¡nico may be on the petite side, but it’s home to a rich array of tropical plants, including dozens of orchid varieties: as the work of a local artist, it also has a number of quirky touches throughout. The Museo Municipal, meanwhile, delves deeply into the region’s history, as well as into the past of Adela Azcuy – a local heroine who fought in Cuba’s war of independence.
After you’ve brushed up on your history, it’s time to head out of town, specifically into the Valley’s caves. The Cueva del Indio is ideal for first-time spelunkers, while the Gran Caverna de Santo TomÃ¡s makes for a more intensive session given that it’s the second largest American cave system. However, the sights are certainly rewarding. While you’re out of town, cast an eye towards the colourful, even garish Mural de la Prehistoria. Despite its name, it was only painted after Fidel Castro took power in the early 1960s. The controversial landmark inspires strong opinions, so be sure to have a look for yourself.
Now on to the practicals: If you’re seeking luxury in Viales, there a few different hotels that provide a retreat feel. Hotel La Ermita, overlooking a stunning Viales vista, has an enviable outdoor pool, while the Rancho San Vicente is another stunner, and also offer horse riding, mineral baths, and other experiences. Viazul buses run regularly from Havana to Viales, and are one of the easiest ways to get between the two destinations; taxis are a more expensive option, while renting a car may allow for the most flexibility.
What would you do on a trip to Viales? Which of these images inspires you the most? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen