12/11/2015 06:18 EST | Updated 12/11/2016 05:12 EST

Bliss Out In Cuba's Viñales Valley


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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