You already know that Havana wasn’t one of my favorite places. But rural Viñales definitely is. Viñales is Cuba’s countryside. It’s the place where people work their asses of in order to produce the so much loved tobacco that ends up in the best of sigars.

Yet Viñales isn’t the countryside you would imagine it to be, because this place has mogotes! The mogotes look as if someone dropped an overgrown hill into a flat countryside turning everything into a fairytale landscape. What makes it even cooler is that Mogotes are actually limestone caves with the occasional underground swimming possibility.
So how do you get to these underground Mogotes for some decent cave swimming?

Mogote Viñales Cuba
The bad news is you won’t get there by yourself.  There is no traffic road leading up to this place and hiking in Cuba isn’t really considered a touristic activity. There are hardly any road maps so forget about hiking maps.
vinales valley map
You could consider giving up now and you could take the tourist bus to the mogotes viewpoint, which is nice.
And you could also head to the touristic Cueva del Indio, where you get to sit in a boat and gasp at  drunken Cubans bumping heads with stalactites. But it’s a bit disappointing because you really really want to go to those underground Mogote swimming pools right?

Cueva del Indio - Cuba

So there are two ways to get there:
Most people opt for a horseback ride but you shouldn’t. You should head up to the pink house, called Villa Amarilis Léon in Viñales’ main street. The son of the house is an excellent hiking guide and knows the region like his back pocket. He even speaks a bit french and english. And on top of that, the mother is great cook! (You will see the advantage in this when you return from your hike)
Villa Amaralis Leon
Now, why should you leave the horse and take the hike? Because hiking you’ll get to discover everything at a Cuban pace. You can visit the rice fields, see the tobacco plants, listen to a local farmer on how to roll your first sigar and laugh at weird plants such as a tourist tree which turns red and peels off. (get the joke?)

Viñales horse

Vinales

Viñales

But this hike isn’t a walk in the park. Make sure you bring enough water and a decent pair of shoes. You don’t want your feet to look like mine afterwards.
On your way you’ll also visit the Cueva de la Vaca, it’s a steep climb but the cave and the viewpoint are worth your sweat.

Vinales Cueva de la Vaca

Finally after crossing the valley you’ll end up at the underground swimming cave, called La Cueva de Palmerito. The mogote entrance is guarded and you’ll have to pay a small entrance fee in order to enter the caves. After a short walk with flashlights and torches you’ll end up at a crystal clear cold water source. Now take of your clothes and take the dip, you’ll have deserved it if after that insane walk.

La Cueva de Palmerito