YRH: Tell us a bit more about The Viñales Experience’s history. How did it get started?
CY: The Viñales Experience project started back in 2017. I visited Cuba as a tourist with a couple of friends and became instantly addicted to the magic of the island. I’d met a guy (not my now-husband, luckily!) and used him as an excuse to keep coming back. I made friends with some locals in Viñales and they were struggling for business in the tourism sector. At that time, WIFI was extremely hard to come by and there was no 3G still. I figured all these guys needed was a little internet promotion and some guidance in running a cuentapropista (self-employed) business. I also wanted to help other travellers like myself find some real authentic experiences which so many unfortunately don’t. And so, one thing lead to another, and The Viñales Experience was born.
YRH: What are some of your favorite excursions offered through The Viñales Experience?
CY: Our standard ‘day trips’ from Havana are the most popular, especially if visitors are short on time, but personally I love our lesser-known extended day trip. We take private groups right out into the national park, riding along hidden trails that you wouldn’t find on your own. We ride deep into the mountains to find the source of the river bed, and to marvel at the most stunning views you’ll find in Cuba. We always take a bottle or two of rum to share along the way, and Ronaldo (my husband) serenades us with his favourite Mexican songs if he’s feeling inspired. We cut our own coconuts down from the trees and sip them whilst being totally at one with nature. It’s a special trip and I can’t wait to share our hidden spots with more people soon!
YRH: What is your favorite, unique element of Cuba?
CY: I hate to give such a common and generic answer, but the main thing I love about Cuba is the people. But not for the reasons you might think. For me, my favourite part of the people is their humour! Cubans, in general, have a wicked sense of humour. They can be so politically incorrect and I absolutely love it. They’re witty, they’re not afraid to insult, and they say what they feel. In the UK and so many other more developed countries, we are so preoccupied with being politically correct, holding everyone and everything accountable, and getting our knickers in a twist about the smallest of things. But the Cubans? They let things go that aren’t worth the bother, they don’t take life so seriously, and they live for the moment. I love that and I always try and incorporate that into my attitude when I’m back in the UK – as hard as it is!
YRH: How does the concept of family (and family travel!) tie into The Viñales Experience?
CY: The Viñales Experience is a family project. I run the online and behind-the-scenes stuff, my husband is the logistical man-on-the-ground, and then all of his family and extended family have a part to play. From the driver collecting visitors in Havana to the waitress serving lunch, it’s a whole family affair. Family values in Cuba are so strong and I really wanted to incorporate that into our experiences. There’s nothing more authentic than being totally immersed in a rural farming Cuban family, smoking a hand-rolled cigar with abuelo, eating tias rice and beans whilst watching the children play barefoot in the mud with no care in the world. In the UK we don’t always have that sense of family ties, at least not in the same way, so it’s so refreshing to be able to incorporate that into our experiences.
YRH: Are there certain things you and the team wish more tourists knew about Cuba?
CY: So much! Mainly I wish that Americans understood that they can 100% still come here legally. I get a lot of messages saying “oohh, I wish Americans were allowed to go”… and you are!
Aside from that, I wish people understood the raw and authentic Cuba more. There is so much more to this magical island than just getting the cute Instagram photo in a classic car in Havana. Escaping the capital and getting back to basics with the locals is such a precious, life-changing moment. No Instagram picture can capture that, and they’re the best kinds of memories to have.