North of Pinar del Río, the road leads across pine-covered hills and valley for 25 km to Viñales, a delightful, small town in a dramatic valley in the Sierra de los Organos. The valley has a distinctive landscape, with steep-sided limestone mountains called mogotes rising dramatically from fertile flat-floored valleys, where farmers cultivate the red soil for tobacco, fruits and vegetables.
As in so much of rural Cuba, horses, pigs, oxen, zebu cattle and chickens are everywhere, including on the main road. An area of 132 sq km around Viñales has been declared a National Monument. Viñales itself is a pleasant town, with trees and wooden colonnades along the main street, red tiled roofs and a main square with a little-used church and a Casa de Cultura with an art gallery.
Two km west is the Mural de la Prehistoria, painted by Lovigildo González, a disciple of the Mexican Diego Rivera, between 1959 and 1976, generally disliked as a monstrous piece of graffiti. One hundred metres before the Mural is Restaurant Jurásico, from where you can see the paintings and there is a swimming pool nearby. Bar open 0800-1630.
Six km north of Viñales is the Cueva del Indio, a cave which you enter on foot, then take a boat (US$3 for foreigners) with a guide who gives you a description, very beautiful. There is a restaurant nearby where tour parties are given a lunch of suckling pig (lechón).
The coast north of Viñales is worth a visit if you have transport. The best and closest, 50 km, beach is at Cayo Jutías, near Santa Lucía. A 6.7 km cay reached by a causeway, it is open to foreigners only, US$2 entrance, Rumbos bar/restaurant.
Further east is Cayo Levisa, part of the Archipiélago de los Colorados, with a long, sandy beach and reef running parallel to the shore, with good snorkelling and scuba diving (lots of fish). Cayo Levisa is 15 minutes by boat from Palma Rubia. The jetty is on the south side and you follow a boardwalk through the mangroves to get to the hotel on the north side. Take insect repellent. Day trips or longer stays are organized by Horizontes; you can even visit by helicopter.