Viñales National Park, Cuba
Home to the town of Viñales and surrounding countryside, the Viñales National Park encompasses a beautiful, mogote-studded valley in western Cuba. It’s different from other national parks in that it contains population centers, but it’s still undeniably one of the most scenic places in all of Cuba.
The Viñales National Park is located in the northwest Pinar del Río Province. The Sierra de los Órganos mountain range extends throughout the park, with dramatic formations known as mogotes towering over the landscape. The mogotes – large, rounded mountains – are all that’s left of a limestone plateau that existed here 160 million years ago.
Over time, water eroded the limestone and left behind the mounds that you see today. Rainwater produces a carbonic acid when it interacts with limestone, a process that helped dissolve parts of the plateau and carve out the caves that exist in many of the mogotes. You can tour some of these caves while exploring the national park—watch for stalactites, stalagmites, and even blind crustaceans. The tops of the mogotes lack deep soil but are still covered with ferns, epiphytes, and cork palm. Incredibly, there are even some snail species that are only found on a handful of the mogotes.
One look at the mogotes and it’s obvious that they are perfect for rock climbing. Some routes have been mapped along the cliffs, but there is still a lot of virgin territory to explore. Climbers can book tours to the best spots in the park. Hiking excursions can also be arranged, as can bike tours through the surrounding countryside.
Farmers tend plots of corn and tobacco in the fields that surround the town of Viñales. This is actually one of the best places in the country to grow tobacco, which will come as no surprise after you see the region’s deep red soil. Because the valley is a national park, the tobacco that’s grown here is organic—locals claim it’s the best in Cuba. Travelers can visit tobacco farms to learn more about the growing, harvesting, and drying process.
The town of Viñales is set within the heart of the valley. It’s a small, quaint town with a range of casa particulares and a smattering of good restaurants.