Vinales - Cuba's Garden of Eden
Our second week in Cuba took us to the west of the island - to Pinar del Rio province, and the town of Vinales, nestling in a gorgeous green valley that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. This is an agricultural area, rich in coffee, fruit and vegetables, and of course, tobacco, which is used to make fine cigars. This is a truly magical place, filled with trees, flowers and agricultural land as far as you can see.
The town of Vinales (top) was colonized and developed by tobacco planters from the Canary Islands in the early 19th century. It was previously inhabited by runaway Taino slaves, and their story is told when you visit the caves just outside the town. But the landscape is very distinctive because of the strange shaped mogotes or hills (above) that surround it, which can be seen from everywhere in the valley.
Vinales is also home to a magical miniature garden - right in the centre of the town, opposite the gas station, which I visited while staying there. Rather grandly named the Casa de Caridad Botanical Garden, it is indeed, filled to bursting with thousands of plants and trees, all clustered round the house of its founder, Caridad (pictured above, with me standing alongside looking hot!).
This little bit of paradise, filled to overflowing with an eclectic mix of fruit trees, medicinal plants, bromeliads, succulents and gorgeous tropical flowers, is a wonderful showcase for all the plants that grow in Cuba. And although it doesn't cover the same acreage as the Botanical Garden in Cienfuegos, you will find many fascinating species here, as well as palm trees and orchids.
You walk through the garden gates are are met by the most astounding display of lush foliage and colour (above), and every inch of land adjacent to the house is filled to bursting with plants. It's a wonderful sight and as you look closer, you see just how many different plant species there are here. Further away from the house there are swathes of fruit trees - bananas, peaches, oranges and pineapples.
At the end of your tour, you get offered fresh fruit from the garden, which you can sit and eat on the terrace outside the house (above) in a typical Vinales rocking chair. There's no entry fee here and contributions are voluntary, but this is a delightful garden well worth visiting and making a contribution to the owners at the end of your tour. Today the garden is still run by the family, who continue to care for Caridad's garden. Definitely one to put on your list when you get to Cuba!