Hidden behind the hills that skirt the northern edges of Matanzas, the Yumurí Valley is the provincial capital’s giant back garden, stretching westwards from the city into Havana province. Out of sight until you reach the edge of the valley itself, it’s the most beautiful landscape in the province, and it comes as quite a surprise to find it so close to the grimy city streets. There’s a new vista around every corner, as rolling pastures merge into fields of palm trees, and small forests are interrupted by plots of banana, maize, tobacco and other crops.
The valley has remained relatively untouched by tourism, with its tiny villages few and far between, and though it draws much of its appeal from being so unspoilt, this also means that there’s no obvious way to explore it independently. Several minor roads allow you to cut through its centre, but the best way to get here on public transport is to catch the Hershey train from Matanzas and get off at Mena, the first stop on the line and just ten minutes from the city. From the station you can wander in any direction and you’ll soon chance upon an idyllic scene.
For a more structured approach, book the Jeep Safari Yumurí, an organized excursion from Varadero to Rancho Gaviota, the only tourist-oriented stop in the valley, where you can eat a hearty Cuban meal and go horseriding. For the most breathtaking views of the valley, however, make your way to the Puente Bacunayagua, 20km northwest along the Vía Blanca from Matanzas. At 112m high, this is the tallest bridge in Cuba, spanning the border between Havana and Matanzas province. Up the hill from here is the viewpoint, Mirador de Bacunayagua, where a snack bar looks out to the coastline and from where a trail leads down to the sea, a thirty-minute walk away by the side of a river.