I had been finding it quite difficult to find local companies in Havana that would offer day trip excursions out of Havana. I was looking to do a trip out to Vinales and nothing seem to come up with my internet searches. The tour Operator that I did my main 2 week holiday to Cuba with, quoted an extortionate amount for one day, which although it meant a private taxi & guide for the day, was almost the same cost as a cheap weekend in Europe (from the UK that is!). I thought there had to be a cheaper way of doing this!
Thanks to the forums on TripAdvisor I was able to make contact with a local Havana guide called Jorge (firstname.lastname@example.org). I emailed him asking if he would offer any trips out and what would his charges be? Jorge responded asking what our requirements for the day would be & he quoted according to the request. Now, although this was still quite expensive, it was by far, cheaper than the tour operator had quoted. in truth, there don't seem to be any local excursion companies that offer trips to Vinales from Havana (yet!), so we had no option other than paying the quoted price.
Ok, move on from price now. The day itself was probably the most memorable of the holiday. We were picked up from our hotel by a guide/driver (who spoke excellent English). He was totally knowledgeable of the region, drove safely (modern car)& made our day very pleasing.
We visited the mogotes with marvellous views of the natural beauty of the region,the tabacco fields, rich red earth and lofty palms. We went down inside a mogote to some caves "Cueva del Indio", which was pleasent, but nothing spectacular as caves go, also on the little boat trip through the cave. We then had a trip around the little town of Vinales itself, which is quite pretty with it's little brightly coloured houses and also the colonial houses.
We had lunch at a Casa Particular, where we were treated to a royal feast, fantastic & so much of it!
Finally - the main purpose of us wanting to come to this region, we went to a tobacco farm and went horse-riding over the fields. It was fantastic, just the farmer, the guide & us 2. The sun was setting over the mogotes, such a fantastic sighting. The farmer also gave us a demo of cigar rolling where we were able to take as many photos as we wished. I had found that when I'd done a tour to a cigar factory earlier in the week as part of my tour, although fascinating, they prohibited any taking of photos. Further investigation on the web reveals that the majority of the factories forbid photography completely.
The best time to go to see the harvest would be february, the time we were there, the new crop had just been planted. it would have been nice to have seen the harvesting and the full storage houses.
Ideally, a couple of days is required in this region, but we were shoty on time and wanted to see the best of Vinales in one day. I'd certainly say we got it. It was a full, fantastic day. Our driver was such a laugh too!
One other thing I will say though - make sure you agree just exactly what your price covers, as we paid out for a couple of things that we assumed were included in the cost. I will say however, that it was the exclusivity that made it special. There is a great sense of satisfaction in getting back into your private car & driving off, when you see a 52-seat coach herding it's passengers into a government controlled restaurant.
Thanks to Jorge and his flexibility for arranging all this. He met us in the hotel at the beginning of our holiday to finalise arrangements for our planned day at the end of holiday fortnight.