Arriving in Viñales is a breath of fresh air after Havana's polluted streets. A tiny rural town in western Cuba, Viñales is right in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by huge limestone rock formations (mogotes) and tobacco plantations.
The town itself is cute, with colourful wooden houses and more horses on the road than cars. But this area is really about exploring rural Cuba – hiking up to viewpoints, cycling around the countryside and horse riding through the valley.
We went on two hikes in Viñales. The first was at sunset; we visited farms and a lake, our guide pointing out various medicinal plants along the way. Our last stop was a tobacco plantation where we learnt how to hand roll cigars and watched the sun set behind the mogotes.
The second hike was a muddy scramble up to a viewpoint over the valley. Less enjoyable, but the views were worth it.
Five minutes out of the town centre and you're in the countryside, cycling past farmland, tobacco plantations, grazing cows and the odd cowboy. There are cycling tours through the valley or you can rent a bike (ask at your casa) and head out in any direction.
The first time I rode a horse, about 10 years ago, wasn't a great experience (think me clinging on to the reigns, desperately trying not to fall off as my horse runs wild). So I was a bit apprehensive, but this time it was totally different. We started with an introduction on how to ride safely and our horses, Mojito and Estrella, were really well behaved. We spent the day riding through the valley and visited areas that would have been impossible to get to any other way.
Where to stay: Of the three casa particulars (home stays) we stayed in, Casa Milagros y Yamile was our favourite.
Where to eat: Being surrounded by farms means that casa particular meals are especially good here; El Olivo is a solid option if you want European food; and the peso pizza stand on the main road is a great cheap lunch spot.
Excursions: All trips and tours can be organised through your casa or the tourist information office on the main street.
If you're heading to Viñales, you may want to check out my guide to planning a trip to Cuba.