Cuba is synonymous with beaches but, on a recent trip to the lush Viñales Valley, white sand was (miraculously!) the furthest thing from our minds. After two days in Havana, a 1950s Chevrolet whisked us west to the tranquil valley, deemed a UNESCO world heritage site for its majestic mogotes (limestone rock formations). With endless trails to hike and organic food to taste, it's no wonder this is a backpacker -- and honeymooner -- hot spot.
stay: Get acquainted with locals in one of the many Chiclet-coloured casa particulares (guest houses). Take the owners (like Nelson of Villa Nelson's) up on their offers of a home-cooked seafood dinner or tropical fruit breakfast. Can't wait to explore the valley? Book horseback riding, bike riding and hiking (or beach day trips) through your casa. Villa Nelson, Calle Camilo Cienfuegos N0 4, Vinales, Cuba.
sweat: Grab a local guide to lead you along red-soil paths through the valley's tiny farming communities and dish on the area's flora, culture and politics. On our trek we traversed lush mango and guava groves (gorge-fest and all), oxen-plowed fields and coffee plantations. By happy hour we'd reached a tobacco farm where we were greeted with fresh mint mojitos and hand-rolled cigars. Perfect planning, we must say.
savour: Feast on home-cooked Cuban fare -- succulent roast pig, fritters, rice, beets, stuffed plantains -- at the always-packed family-run organic farm and restaurant Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. To-die-for views of the Valley of Silence below, an over-the-top array of daily specials delivered to your picnic table and a frothy rum-cinnamon Stress Reliever cocktail are why we're proud to admit we dined there three times in five days. Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, Carretera Al Cementerio KM 1 1/2, Vinales, Cuba
salsa: For some of the smoothest moves we've seen, head to the nightly party at Centro Cultural Polo Montañez. Salsa skills less than stellar? Find a local to lead you -- or come prepared with a few lessons under your belt. Salsa Centro Cultural Polo Montañez, cnr Salvador Cisneros & Joaquin Pérez, music from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Viñales, we'll definitely be back. --Lise Boullard
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