The highlight of a visit to Viñales is getting up early to walk through the valley floor. Even if you are not a morning person it simply has to be done as the benefits are incredible. Wake up at six and follow a winding path through tobacco fields and the Mogotes and you can enjoy the following:
- Stunning views as the mist rises from the valley at sunrise
- Chat to the tobacco farmers as they make their way to work
- Get it all to yourself – it starts getting busy at around 11am
- Avoid the busy thoroughfare of horses coming through
- Skip the searing midday heat – it’s a punishing long walk otherwise
- Be the first to swim in the dazzling natural pool that day!
Although our friendly casa owner showed us the route on a map, it all seems a little confusing but is ultimately straightforward. We thought we were going to the Cave of Silence but either took a wrong turn or just didn’t go far enough and were happy to settle for the natural pool.
At the beginning of the hike we passed some cute wooden houses before the trail got more wild – of course they all had iconic American cars parked outside!
The rest of the walk can seem tricky – though in actual fact most of the forks in the path just present two alternative methods of travelling the same route – a high road and a low road if you will. All in all it’s about 1.5 hours there and 1 hour back, though the route back will seem longer as the sun becomes more powerful.
But as you walk through the tobacco fields there are an abundance of friendly farmers who can point you in the right direction if your Spanish is passable. Even though we didn’t always understand what they were saying, if you follow the various water sources they will eventually lead to the natural pool. There’s even a cool little cabin where you can stop for coffee along the way!
The combination of the weird Mogotes, mist and sun on the ethereal landscape is absolutely unforgettable – it’s like a land that time forgot. There were just so many times that we wanted to take photos (they really don’t do it justice) that the walk there felt a little stop/start as a result. In terms of other obstacles – you may have to navigate a few tied cows, and some dams which have been created to harness the water, but it’s all fairly easy.
And after all the hard work you will be rewarded with this beautiful vista! A little jetty juts out into the man made pool and the water is a nice temperature, though they do have those little fish which they use in spas to eat the dead skin off your feet – which I found a little squeamish! There’s a bar and changing room there, and a sign which says that you have to buy a drink to swim, but we didn’t have to as it was so early. In fact the guys whose job it was to keep the area tidy saw us gingerly trying to lower ourselves into the water and shouted ‘Vamos – swimming’ which made us laugh!
When you do get back to your casa or hotel, you’ll find that everything is covered in red earth with is pretty hard to get out. I’d definitely suggest not to wear anything you value clothing wise!