At the end of last year, after consulting the world’s principal travel experts, the Business Insider website posted a list of the 25 most attractive destinations on the planet to visit in 2018.
Placed as number two was Viñales, ranked above great cities like Tokyo, and other fascinating places like the Swiss Alps.
Two years ago, the influential U.S. newspaper, The New York Times, included the Pinar del Río valley among its 52 places to visit in 2016.
Both recommendations emphasized its beauty, its impressive mogotes, the rural environment, and warmth of its hospitable, cheerful people, who have learned how to take advantage of tourism.
A century after the paintings of Domingo Ramos made all this known to the world, Viñales has become a hit.
The story goes that, at first, some doubted the existence of the majestic valley dotted with solitary buttes of Jurassic origin recreated by Ramos on canvas, even insinuating that the place only existed in the artist’s imagination.
This is not surprising, since there is only one similar site in the entire world, on the others side of the planet in Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
But Viñales is as real as the mountains that surround it, that the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once compared to a herd of sleeping elephants.
A total of 15,010 hectares make up Viñales National Park, located in the heart of the Sierra de los Órganos mountains, in the province of Pinar del Río, on the western end of the island.
In addition to amazing geological formations - spectacular dome-like limestone outcrops (mogotes) that rise as high as 300 m - Viñales offers history and traditions, great biodiversity, dozens of archaeological sites, and Cuba’s two most extensive cave systems.
Among its natural treasures is the cork palm, an authentic living fossil that has been declared national heritage given its importance as a plant species, having survived since the Jurassic Period.
Numerous endemic plant and animal species thrive here as well, along with a great variety of birds and mollusks, such as the Zachrysiaguanensis land snail.
Less known but equally beautiful are many of its caves, leading visitors to comment that Viñales is a lovely inside as it is outside. Experts say there are still kilometers of underground galleries which human beings have never seen.
This is the case with Palmarito, the largest cave complex in the country, with a verified length of 59 kilometers and many more yet to be explored.
They say that Federico García Lorca was so attracted to the valley that some specialists have called it “Lorca’s Cuban landscape.”
Dora Alonso, for her part, was inspired by its dazzling nature to write several of her works, and asked, at the time of her death, that her remains be buried here.
This is also the land that witnessed the birth of Adela Azcuy, the Mambi captain who fought under the orders of Antonio Maceo, and also where in 1959, on Fidel’s initiative, the first female militia, known as Los Malagones, was founded.
Thus, although residents are happy the place is popular, they are not always pleased by the simplistic manner in which Viñales is sometimes promoted as a destination - as an exuberant valley of mogotes, with colorful houses and tobacco fields.
This is, for example, how it is presented by Business Insider and The New York Times on their lists of recommended destinations. It’s not that they are not wrong… but Viñales is this, and much more.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT VIÑALES
1. Viñales was declared a National Monument in 1978 and a Protected Area in 1998.
2. UNESCO designated the valley a World Heritage Site in 1999.
3. In 2017 600,000 visitors were welcomed
4. Some 1,200 plant species have been identified in the area, 30% of which are endemic.
5. More than 130 species of mollusks and 70 of birds live in the valley.
6. Viñales is best known for its spectacular karst formations