Western Cuba: Places to Explore

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Valle de Viñales

The valley is justly ranked among Cuba's most beautiful landscapes, an expanse of lush green studded with the famous mogotes—freestanding, flat-topped, sheer-sided rock formations. Don't fail to stop at the Hotel Los Jazmines for a breathtaking view over the valley; immense mogotes tower over deep green vegas that stretch into the distance and are backed by the Sierra de los Órganos (so called for the peaks' resemblance to the pipes of an organ). The mogotes are the remains of the limestone meseta, or plateau, that rose from the sea some 160 million years ago to form the Cordillera de Guaniguanico. Subsequent erosion left a karstic terrain replete with sinks, ravines, underground streams, and hoyos—rich depressions of red soil ideal for cultivating tobacco. The hidden canyons and natural tunnels leading into them provided shelter for pre-Columbian peoples and later for communities of cimarrones (runaway slaves).

The valley's flora includes many unique treasures: the underbrush, ferns, and rare cork palms on the mogotes; the silk-cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra; the royal palm; the caiman oak; and the mariposa, Cuba's national flower. Fauna includes the world's smallest hummingbird, the zunzuncito, as well as various snails native to the mogotes.

The town of Viñales itself is a national monument, a charming rural collection of small houses shaded by pine trees. The de rigueur José Martí monument in the main square is surrounded by graceful wooden houses.

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