Holidays in Pinar Del Rio
Not far from Cuba's bustling atmospheric cities and leisurely tourist beaches, a far more tranquil area lies nestled in the beautiful rural surroundings of western Cuba. True to its name - 'The Pinewoods of the River' - Pinar del Rio province is also home to a fertile agricultural area, remote sandy beaches and authentic Cuban culture.
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Pinar del Rio has long been a desirable travel destination, in part because it lies at the heart of some of the world's most fertile tobacco-growing lands. A stopover in the area gives you a glimpse of authentic Cuban culture and a chance to sample magnificent locally-grown tobacco, as well as delicious everyday Cuban fare. The country's most westerly region offers a delightful green experience with more UNESCO-protected land than any other province in Cuba.
Perhaps the most popular destination for visitors to the province is the Vinales Valley, which boasts a unique and surreal beauty with breath-taking views from various vantage points. You can enjoy its lush landscape by hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, or just taking a walking tour. The primordial landscape of the Vinales Valley and its towering boulder-like mountains pitted with limestone caves are a must-see for any visitor to Cuba.
At the westernmost tip of Cuba, the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and National Park is one of the country's largest natural reserves. It's a nature-lover's paradise where travellers can enjoy diving, snorkelling and bird watching amid pristine tropical scenery.
Just off the northern coast of the province, the beaches of Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutia greet visitors arriving by boat with a panorama of white sand, crystal-clear turquoise-tinted water and azure skies. Blended into one lovely vista, the beaches are unparalleled in their natural beauty and provide the best place in the region for diving and snorkelling.
Another worthwhile stop for visitors to north-west Cuba is the rural mountain eco-retreat of Las Terrazas. With its orchid gardens and biosphere reserve situated around the beautiful San Juan river, the town is perfect for travellers who enjoy learning more about local culture and ecology. Excursions to the area's many natural treasures can be easily arranged from Havana.
Cigar-making is a huge highlight of the area. To experience the production of world-renowned Cuban cigars, you can take a guided tour of the Fabrica de Tabacos Francisco Donatien where you can learn about the process, try one for yourself and purchase tobacco-related mementos at the shop nearby.
The province's main city of the same name, Pinar del Rio is home to a fantastic natural history museum - the Museo de Ciencias Naturales Sandalio de Noda - that you won't want to miss. Its lush garden was established by a local doctor and world traveller in 1914 and is still open for the public's enjoyment today. The exterior is a quirky mixture of styles and shapes that includes stone seahorses as well as a series of delicate stone arches.
The strong Spanish-Catholic colonial influence in Cuba can be seen in much its urban architecture and Pinar del Rio's beautiful cathedral exemplifies this history. The Catedral de San Rosendo lies at the heart of the city and is well worth a look, though check in advance for visiting times if you are planning on going inside.
This region is also known for its unusual Caribbean-Latino cuisine. Try dining at El Meson for classic rice and beans dishes that are brimming with spices. If you are brave enough to try your hand at cooking your own version of Pinar del Rio's delicious fare, you can buy locally grown produce and other regional items at The Mercado Agropecuario. Either way, your culinary experiences in Pinar del Rio will be something to savour.
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