This morning we got up an hour earlier than usual, and by 8am we were in our very comfortable bus headed west towards Vinales National Park, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Havana. On the way, we made a stop to observe how a physician and nurse manage a rural community clinic. We made medical donations and continued westward.
In the late morning we arrived in Vinales Valley, part of the National Park. The most notable geologic structures there are mogotes, unusual dome-shaped mountains with vertical walls. The valley looks like a Vietnamese or Chinese painting. In the early morning, mists often settle above the valley, adding to the photographic appeal. Some travelers refer to this area, with its dramatic karst structure, the “Yosemite Valley of Cuba.” With the country’s recent emphasis on tourism, the valley has become world famous for rock climbing and spelunking (cave exploring). It also has some of the best weather anywhere, especially in the winter, when the highs are in the low 80’s and the low’s are in the high 60’s consistently. The only rainfall comes in occasional brief, light showers. (In the summer, it is about 10 degrees warmer during the day, and there may be thunderstorms to deal with, but it is still cooler here than in the rest of Cuba.) Numerous bed-and-breakfast inns and private paladar restaurants are scattered around the area. There are trails all over the valley and up into the mountains, usually ending in spectacular overlooks. Visitors can hire driver/guides with cars, who can drop visitors off on one side of a mountain and pick them up several hours later in the next valley. As in the rest of Cuba, it is safe, foreigners are welcome, and the locals are friendly. I highly recommend this area for a unique getaway or honeymoon.
Later we visited the Cave of the Indian, one of numerous limestone caverns located all over Cuba. We climbed up about 20 steps to enter the cavern. The temperature inside was about the same as outside—70 degrees. We wandered along the well-lit trail, admiring the many limestone formations. Eventually we came to an underground pier, located on a river in the middle of the mountain. We boarded our boat, then floated along the stream. Our guide pointed out more unusual formations that reminded us of fish, pyramids, and monsters. We finally floated out of the mountain through a huge, vertical slit on the other side.
Later we rode further into the valley to see the Prehistoric Mural, painted on the vertical side of a rock wall, 200 feet high. It was commissioned by Castro in 1961. We enjoyed a delicious lunch while gazing out at this incredible valley, and listened to Cuban musicians. On the way back to Havana, we stopped at a tobacco farm and learned about the many steps to grading and processing those world famous Cuban cigars.
We arrived back at our hotel about 6:30 in the evening. As I write this, some members of our group are getting ready to leave at 9pm to go out to a concert featuring members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I think I’ll just stay here and rest, recover, and get ready for another full day tomorrow.