Viñales Valley, in far western Cuba, exhibits an outstanding karst landscape, encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome-like limestone outcrops that rise nearly 1,000 ft. The valley is home to an original culture who once worked the tobacco plantations.
Viñales Valley (Valle de Viñales), in the Sierra de los Organos mountains near the western end of the island of Cuba, exhibits an outstanding karst landscape, encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome-like limestone outcrops (mogotes) that rise nearly 300 m (985 ft).
The valley is a karstic depression of about 132 sq km (51 sq mi), located in the Sierra de los Órganos mountains (part of the Guaniguanico range), just north of Viñales in the Pinar del Río Province.
Colonized at the beginning of the 19th century, the valley has fertile soil and a climate conducive to the development of stock-raising and the cultivation of fodder and food crops.
Tobacco and other crops are cultivated on the bottom of the valley, mostly by traditional agriculture techniques. Traditional methods of agriculture have survived largely unchanged on this plain for several centuries, particularly for growing tobacco.
Many caves dot the surrounding hill faces (Cueva del Indio, Cueva de José Miguel). The conspicuous limestone cliffs rising like islands from the bottom of the valley are called mogotes. They can be up to 300 m (984 ft) tall.
The quality of this cultural landscape is enhanced by the vernacular architecture of its farms and villages, where a rich multi-cultural society survives. Its architecture, crafts and music illustrate the cultural development of Cuba and the islands of the Caribbean.
The village of Viñales, strung out along its main street, has retained its original layout and many interesting examples of colonial architecture, mostly one-story wooden houses with porches.
The lush landscape is largely rural in character. Most of the buildings scattered over the plain are simple, built of local and natural materials and used as homes or family farms.
Viñales Valley is also significant for its cultural associations, particularly its traditional agricultural practices related to growing tobacco. Because mechanical methods of cultivation and harvesting lower the quality of tobacco, time-honored methods such as animal traction are still used.
Viñales Valley is home to an original culture, a synthesis of contributions from indigenous peoples, Spanish conquerors and African slaves who once worked the tobacco plantations.
An excellent illustration is the musical expression of the field worker (veguero), of which Benito Hernández Cabrera (known as the Viñalero) was the main interpreter. Traditional crafts also flourish here.
Cubans identify strongly with the Viñales Valley because of the beauty of the site and its historical and cultural importance. In the visual arts, the valley has been transformed into a symbol of the Caribbean landscape by various artists.
The karst landscape is also part of Viñales National Park. The high authority responsible for management is the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (National Council of Cultural Heritage).
Many endemic plants and animals are specific to this valley. Flora found in the region include Bombax emarginatum, mountain palm (Gaussia princeps), Ekmanianthe actinophilla, and Microcycas calocoma. Fauna includes bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae, zunzún), Cuban trogon (Priotelus temnurus), Cuban tody (Todus multicolor), Cuban solitaire (Myadestes elisabeth) and Cuban grassquit (Tiaris canorus).