Palenque De Los Cimarrones

Situated 5 km northeast from Viñales is one of Cuba's more unusual settings to stop for lunch. Tucked away inside the murky recesses of a limestone cave is Palenque de los Cimarrones, a large restaurant serving tasty criollo cuisine. The cave also has a plantation slavery museum and a 24-hour bar, while on the weekends the interior is transformed into a disco that's a big favourite with locals.

As far as peculiar locations for a restaurant go, Palenque de los Cimarrones takes some beating. Set in a limestone cave known as Cueva de San Miguel, this uniquely situated restaurant offers a cool, shady spot – making it an ideal place for diners looking to escape the heat of the sun over lunch.

Palenque de los Cimarrones is actually made up of several rustic cottages known as kimbos, which are symbolically decorated using the colours associated with various Afro-Cuban deities. The menu itself offers a nice selection of traditional criollo food with the marinated roasted pork and chicken dishes particular favourites. Diners are also serenaded by live music while they sit enjoying their meal.

More than food

At the other end of the restaurant is a small slavery museum which looks to show how cimarrones (runaway slaves) in the area might have survived while on the run from their masters. Cimarrones that successfully made a break for it to would often seek refuge in a hideout (Palenque) such as Cueva de San Miguel, setting up a basic settlement for themselves that while far from comfortable, offered a decent shelter to survive.

Thanks to a simple reproduction, visitors to Cueva de San Miguel can get a sense of what one of these temporary living quarters might have looked like. The reproduction includes an assortment of cooking implements and basic tools, including a selection of original pieces that the runaways once used.

Entrance to the cave is 2 CUC per person and comes with an alcoholic drink. The tour that comes included is relatively short but offers an interesting insight into the slave trade of Cuba’s past.

The restaurant opens up for lunch and serves from noon till 4 pm. The packed out daily tour buses that arrive here mean it can pretty crowded with tourists during the middle of the day.

Beyond the museum and main restaurant, there’s also a separate bar that’s open 24 hours a day. On Saturday and Sunday nights, the space is transformed into a weekend disco where live music and round-the-clock serving policy attracts a loyal following of locals who pack out this cavernous venue.

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