In the western part of the country, the small town of Vinales is nestled in a valley of magotes (lime stone monoliths from the Jurassic period) and home to numerous tobacco, fruit and coffee plantations (also known as fincas/granjas). Traditionally it was a town of farmers and cow-boys but tourism now competes with farming as its largest industry. Biking (assuming you have a comfortable bicycle), hiking, climbing and horse-back riding are some of the popular activities here. Vinales is also a great base or jumping off point to visit the white-sand beach Cayo Levisa, and Maria La Gorda, slightly further away.
During my first visit in 2010, Catherine and I met Guillermo, a former veterinarian turned guide who offers photography tours of the area. This time we ended up living on the same street, Guillermo brought me to visit many local houses and farms less visited by the larger tour groups. We saw families roasting pork for New Year's eve celebrations - I had never seen that much pork in my life!
With Guillermo, I revisit a tobacco farmer that Catherine and I had met two year’s ago, and on New Year’s eve we visit a small neighbourhood outside of town to photograph families roasting pigs for New Year’s Eve dinner. It was a huge affair with at least three households roasting nearly two dozen pigs. At the end of January, I visited Vinales a second time to photograph the tobacco harvest.
During the second week of February, I returned to Vinales specifically to photograph the tobacco harvest. After seeing all of the hard work that goes in to growing, harvest, drying, preparing, and finally rolling the tobacco - I have a new respect for the cigar industry.
Getting to Vinales
Vinales is just over two hours from Havana. There are several ways to get there by public transportation
1) Viazul Bus (several operating each day, leaving from the Viazul station in Vedado, tickets can be purchased at the Viazul station or with the transtur operator on Obisbo - tickets are approximately $15.
2) Transtur Bus that leaves directly from downtown from certain hotels- same cost as Viazul but saves you the taxi ride to the Viazul station
3) Maquina - Across from the Astro bus station in Neuvo Vedado, many collectives will take you to Pinar del Rio, and from there you can get another collective to Vinales. The cost should be 5CUC to Pinar del Rio and 1 CUC to Vinales, however on the way there, I paid an incredible 10 CUC and 5 CUC respectively. One of the disadvantages of being a tourist, is if you don't know the real price of something, you always pay more - but hopefully never twice!