Posted by: Alex MacGregor | July 28, 2012

Onward to Viñales

Vinales, our first destination in Cuba is well-established on the tourist circuit–with good reason.

Not only is the town pleasant, attractive, and relaxed…

…but its natural setting is truly spectacular.

Viñales’ city center is filled with houses of the same style, with columns and patios in front.

In case you forgot you’re in Cuba, they sprinkle a few miniature Eastern-Europe-style housing blocks here and there.

Here’s a pretty smart move by the Cuban government: what first appears to be a playground is actually an open-air public gym (with a view!). It gets packed in the evenings.

Craving a bit of exercise ourselves, we set off on foot to a place called La Cueva del Indio. The guidebook said it was 5.5km north of town (it was actually over 7, but who’s counting?), so it definitely made for a day of exertion. The weather was partly cloudy, but the cloudy parts seemed always to evade us.

An organic agriculture project we passed by.

Finally! We quickly learned most normal people simply take the ubiquitous tour buses to get here (and almost everywhere else).

The cave starts out as an impressive, if not very well-protected, limestone cave. The reason Viñales looks the way it does is because water very slowly erodes limestone. Eventually, rivers erode caves through the limestone, which, given even more time, can collapse, creating dramatic rock formations.

The reason we specifically chose this cave is because it still is an underground river, and they have a boat running within the cave–pretty neat, huh? (Actually, they dammed it up a bit downstream, so it’s technically an underground reservoir. This probably completely altered the cave’s development forever, but let’s just forget about that part.)

Very difficult to get a good picture inside the cave. Using flash just illuminates thousands of little droplets falling from the ceiling, so this blurry shot was the best I could get. There’s even a waterfall inside the cave.

Eventually, the ride takes you to the end of the cave–a pretty dramatic sight.

As you might expect in any Latin American country, the attraction ends in a sprawling, tacky gift shop.

More specific to Cuba, scammers doing anything to make a CUC are active here. See those tiny puppies, sprawled on the cardboard? Probably not. Because they’re only five days old. They’re the worst of the litter, taken from their mother to look as pathetic as possible. A tout swiftly comes along and asks for money to buy food for the puppies–a disgraceful, cruel way to make a buck.

I normally try to end a post on a somewhat happy note, but sometimes that’s just not what life gives you.

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