For those eager to explore the countryside of Cuba, the province of Pinar del Río is a great place to start. It lies at the western end of the island and hosts a capital city by the same name. Known for spectacular mountains that ring tropical forests, the surrounding valleys are home to tobacco plantations and are popular for hiking, horse riding and rock climbing. Other attractions include secluded beaches on Pinar del Río’s keys and coral reefs and caves that attract divers. The province produces 70 percent of Cuba's tobacco crops, and these leaves are used to make many of the country’s world-famous cigars. The region has also preserved many of its traditions in architecture, farming, music and crafts.
The Viñales Valley, which lies beneath the Sierra de los Organos mountains, is especially magnificent. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 because of its beauty and cultural and historical importance. Its karst landscape is dotted with striking limestone magotes, rounded outcroppings that rise to nearly 1,000 feet. The soil of the valley is fertile and the climate hospitable to growing fruit and tobacco. Farmers in the region use century-old traditional agricultural practices, particularly with tobacco crops because more modern techniques lower the quality of the harvest. The lush area is mostly rural with simple homes and farm buildings, and the small village of Viñales hosts brightly painted colonial architecture.
In addition to the World Heritage Site of Valle de Viñales, the region has two biosphere reserves: the Sierra del Rosario and Península de Guanahacabibes. All told, Pinar del Río has more UNESCO-protected land than any other province in Cuba. Inside the Sierra Del Rosario reserve is the village of Soroa, famous for an orchidarium that features 20,000 orchid plants (hundreds of varieties) and El Salto waterfall, which cascades from 65 feet into a pool below.
Pinar del Río, the province’s capital, is the tenth largest Cuban city with a population of roughly 140,000. It was one of the last major cities founded by the Spanish during the colonial era and features many highly decorated neoclassical buildings. There are many interesting places to explore around the city: museums of natural sciences and history, a house of rum, a cigar factory, a distillery that makes a local drink from guava called Guayabita del Pinar and other attractions.
Pinar del Río translates to “pine of the river” and is a reference to the pine trees on the shores of the Río Guamá, but this name only hints at the natural beauty for which this area is famous.
Visit Pinar del Río on insightCuba's Scenic Cuba tour.
Text by Lise Waring
Photo by Robin Thom