Written by: Miguel
Located in Pinar del Rio, in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range, Las Terrazas is a community that was built in the late 1960’s, as part of a plan to restore an area devastated by 19th century French coffee plantations and heavy deforestation.
Barely a one hour drive from Havana, you notice at once that the calm you feel upon arrival, is worlds’ away from the hustle and bustle of the city. After passing by a cabin at the entrance, where you pay a small fee, which allows you access to the main valley, surrounding facilities, and historical sites.
Definitely worth a visit, while in the area, is Las Terrazas community. Cute blue and white homes dot the surrounding terraces. The terraces were originally built to avoid erosion (Las Terrazas means terraces in Spanish). All of the terraces spread away from the large lake in the center of the town. The town is very different from the mish-mash of architecture that you see in other places in Cuba. It’s almost like a gated community in the US with a guard and matching model homes. The residents of the village, about 1,000 of them in total, mostly work in tourism development in the local surrounding area, but they all are originally from farming families, who moved in to the community, when it was first built, so they could have easier access to schools and medical care.
What I like most about this place is the great possibility for interaction with the people of the village. You can just sit near the lake or walk by any of the houses and start a conversation with the villagers. There are many eager residents that love to recount the history of the town and those who have lived there in the past. There is also a lot of replanting projects constantly going on, along with several other types of community projects. Some of them include, workshops for local children that teach them everything from ecology to multimedia film projects. Also, several renowned Cuban artists live in the small community, which gives you the opportunity to check out their works of art and definitely lend the impression that a lot of creativity is happening in this small village.
However, the community isn’t only enjoyed by its residents. A pleasant eco-hotel with a great view of the whole valley is perched on top of a nearby hill partly camouflaged by trees. Instead of cutting down the trees, the hotel was built around them with a gigantic tree growing straight through the lobby. The views over the lake and town are certainly soothing.
Besides being a model community for progressive land uses and ecological study, Las Terrazas welcomes tourists in a completely different way that in the rest of Cuba. The goal is to have people visit with the purpose of getting in touch with the local residents, while having an enjoyable eco-tourist experience. For food, there are nice paladars (privately owned restaurants), as well as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Cuba. One of my favorite parts of visiting Las Terrazas was having a coffee at Maria’s Coffee-house. She makes some of the best coffee in Cuba and because so many people were always stopping by her apartment to drink coffee, she eventually was able to open up a little shop with a great view.
Of course, for those who enjoy more active attractions, there’s a fun zip-line, which is great for a quick trip downhill through the canopy of trees and if you feel like taking a walk or doing a little bird-watching, Las Terrazas is a perfect place. During a recent visit, I had the opportunity to see some colorful and rare Cuban birds.
For the history buffs, a visit to the French Buenavista coffee plantation, built in 1802, is a can’t-miss. Nestled in the hills is an old historically accurate plantation home which had more than a hundred slaves in its heyday. You can visit the ruins of the slave barracks and the traditional coffee drying platforms. Both left-over artifacts provide historic witness of the region’s sordid past.
Las Terrazas is typically a feature on our Havana and Pinar Del Rio program, so when you travel legally with insightCuba, you have the ability to visit this unique are. Have any of you ever been to Las Terrazas? If so, what did you enjoy when you visited?