Pinar del Río

The west of Cuba is blessed with an exotic landscape of limestone mogotes, caves and mountains, forested nature reserves and tobacco plantations. This is where you will find  the world’s best dark tobacco, which is hand-processed into  the finest cigars. There is world-class scuba-diving, and there  are good beaches and wetlands for migrant water fowl. The Sierra del Rosario contains the Biosphere Reserve at Las Terrazas, a must for anyone with an interest in ecology and tropical forests, as well as the orchidarium at Soroa.

The capital of the province and the major city west of Havana, Pinar del Río can be a good base for excursions as transport starts from here, while María La Gorda is a diver’s dream, low key, laid back and friendly. The small town of Viñales attracts thousands of visitors, both independent and package tourists.  Its position beside the mogotes provides spectacular views and good walking opportunities. Its beauty has been internationally recognized and the Viñales Valley has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Landscape.

The western end of the island is dominated by one of the island's three main mountain ranges, the
 Cordillera de Guaniguanico
, which is divided into the
Sierra del Rosario
in the east (rising to the
Pan de Guajaibón
, its highest point at 699 m) and the
Sierra de los Organos
in the west, which form a curious Chinese-looking landscape with steep-sided limestone hills and flat, fertile valleys. A fault line creates a sharp boundary between these mountains and a wide expanse of rolling farmland in the southern part of the province, centred on the pleasant but unspectacular provincial capital of Pinar del Río. The province contains three major nature reserves: a 260-sq-km biosphere reserve in the Sierra del Rosario, a 132-sq-km national monument in the Sierra de los Organos around Viñales, and a 1175-sq-km biosphere reserve in the Guanahacabibes peninsula at the western tip.

Pinar del Río grows about 70% of Cuba's tobacco crop and almost every agricultural area is dotted with
, curious tent-shaped windowless structures made of palm thatch, which are used for drying tobacco leaves, a process that takes at least 45 days (easy to enter and take photographs). The fields are ploughed, mostly with oxen, in September and October. The crop is transplanted into the fields in November, with the leaves picked over the following months. The cigar factory in Pinar del Río has regular tours and in the harvest season it is possible in most villages to visit an
escogida de tabaco
, where the best leaves are selected for further processing. The flat lands of San Juan y Martínez are where the very best tobacco is grown.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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