| 6 min read
On our first day we did a horseback riding tour through the valleys of Vinales that included a visit to a tobacco farm, a coffee plantation and a natural pool. We were stunned by the beautiful sun-soaked valleys and rolling mogotes, and had so much fun riding our trusty steeds, even though they could be very stubborn at times…
At 9AM, our guide Juan picked us up in the guesthouse and walked us to the horses. We were introduced to Caramelo (my horse), El Negro (Bart’s horse) and Mojito (Juan’s horse) who would accompany us for the next four hours.
Riding the wild-spirited Caramelo was quite an adventure. As soon as I gave him a spur, he ran ahead so quickly that I had to hold on tight. Meanwhile, Bart’s horse was trotting behind in a laid-back style. They were quite a pair. Together, we rode through a picture-perfect scenery with high mogotes and tobacco fields which were being ploughed by old men and their tough oxen.
Unfortunately, this idyllic scenery was swamped by tourists who were all following the same trails and often holding us up. As opposed to our little company of three, the large groups kept a slow pace to make sure everyone could follow. As soon as our guide considered us to be comfortable with the horses, we were free to spur the horses and gallop.
Visit to the tobacco farm
When we reached a tobacco farm, we dismounted the horses to take a quick tour through the tobacco farm.
One of the plantation workers led us to a tobacco field to explain the harvesting process. The seeds are planted between October and November with a layer of grass to protect them. When the plants are large enough, the nicest ones are replanted in another field where they can keep on growing. If properly irrigated, a plant can get one meter high. Apparently, the upper leaves which get more sunlight, are of a superior quality and are used for the famous Cohiba cigars, whereas the lower parts of the plant are used by cheaper cigar brands.
Harvesting is done in March, in dry season. The guide took us to a large wooden shed where the leaves dry for three months. This process gives them their distinctive smell.
During the fermentation, the leaves are sprayed with a water and guayaba mixture, after which they’re wrapped in a palm leaf package for at least another three months. Thanks to this process, the nicotine isn’t too concentrated and the cigars can be conserved for a period of three years.
After the tour, the time had come to try a cigar. The guide dipped a few cigars in honey and passed them around. (He also recommended trying it with rum, vodka, cognac…) As I don’t smoke myself, I couldn’t really judge on the quality of the cigars, I was too much focused on not coughing my lungs out every times I inhaled.
Apparently, the government claims 90% of the total tobacco production (approximately 3000 cigars), which leaves the farm with some 10% they can sell. One cigar here cost 3 CUC a piece.
Visit to the coffee farm and a natural pool
Meanwhile, Caramelo and El Negro had been patiently waiting to hit the trail again. About 15 minutes later, we got to a coffee farm where we also received a quick tour (which I personally found less interesting than the tobacco tour). Most of all, the guy was obiously hoping we’d buy some of his coffee beans, honey or guayabita rum.
We had been trying some different rum brands while in Cuba, but it was the first time we saw this one. Although typical of this region, Guayabita is hard to come by and very expensive. That is because it’s made with wild guayaba which harvest is limited. One bottle costs around 20 CUC (four times the price of a random bottle) on the farm or as much as 80 CUC on the black market. It’s understandable that Cubans keep this bottle for special occasions.
Down the hill behind the coffee farm was a small natural pool where we stopped for a break. We hadn’t brought our swim gear, so we sat by the pool sipping from a cocoloco cocktail with our feet dangling in the water.
Juan seemed to approve of our horse-riding skills, so he let us return via a longer alternative route taking in a look at the mural de la prehistoria, a massive psychedelic painting symbolizing the theory of evolution.
It was really fun, but after one intensive hour of horseback-riding, we were happy to get off the horse as our butts had become really painful!
Around 1PM, we got back to our guesthouse, which left us with enough time to hike up to the viewpoint at Los Jazmines.
- We booked our tour via Visita Vinales. The tour cost 30 CUC per person and last about 4 hours.
- Although the horseback riding tour is really fun and I’d recommend anyone to do the same, beware that it can be a painful experience for your backside. My boyfriend also strongly recommends to wear tight underwear. For obvious reasons. If you’re also planning on doing a bicycle tour, it would be smart to do the horseback riding afterwards (and not before as we did.)
Have you got questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!