The Viñales Valley in the Sierra de los Organos near the western end of the island of Cuba is an outstanding karst landscape encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome-like limestone outcrops (mogotes) that rise as high as 300 m.
Colonised 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. Traditional methods of agriculture have survived largely unchanged on this plain for several centuries, particularly for growing tobacco.
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 illustrating the cultural development of Cuba and the islands of the Caribbean.
The striking karst landscape of the Viñales Valley is notable for its mogotes, a series of tall, rounded hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley. It 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-honoured methods such as animal traction are still used.
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. The village of Viñales, strung out along its main street, has retained its original layout and many interesting examples of colonial architecture, mostly one-storey wooden houses with porches.
The 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.