Cuba travel guide:
Some of Cuba's most striking scenery: mogotes, verdant valleys, tobacco, coral sands and crystal waters.
Western Cuba is blessed with some of the most spectacular scenery on the island. The Cuban national tree, the Royal Palm, is everywhere and gardens grow bananas and other fruits in abundance.
Flaming flamboyas, purple bougainvillea and red hibiscus stand out against vibrant green tobacco fields and rice plantations. The soil is rich here and ideally suited to the growing of tobacco.
Pinar del Rio province is renowned for its uniquely luscious, hazy tropical valleys dotted with mogotes, limestone hills that rise sheer from the tropical landscape below.
As in many parts of Cuba, one has a sense of going back in time. Farmers use oxen to plough the fields for their crops, including growing rice in flooded paddy fields. Here you can explore Cuba’s colonial past via its agriculture and tobacco industries and learn about more recent Cuban events and history, while enjoying a pleasant tropical climate, idyllic landscapes and white sand palm fringed beaches frequently to the accompaniment of the rhythms of Cuban son.
Pinar del Rio is a prosperous province by Cuban standards. The people are loyal to the revolution and have benefited enormously from the huge number of tourists that visit their beautiful region and its beaches at Cayo Levisa and Maria de la Gorda and from the ever popular tobacco industry that also provides them with plenty of work. The region grows 70% of Cuba’s world-renowned tobacco. Its particular aromatic and mild flavoured tobacco leaves are in demand throughout the world. This is a very popular Cuba holiday destination.
If you have time, it is worth visiting one of the famous vegas (tobacco farms) in Cuba’s most famous and best tobacco producing area Vuelto Abajo just south west of Pinar del Rio City along the Carretera Central. Farmers harvest the large fleshy green tobacco leaves, stitch them into pairs and hang them up to dry under steeply pitched palm thatched barns vegas which dot the landscape. When the leaves have turned reddish gold they are bundled together for about a month to ferment before being classified then stored for a further two months to mature further transported to the cigar factories where they are still hand-rolled to create one of the nation’s most famous exports.
The local climate is also ideally suited to growing orchids and the village of Soroa, nestling in the hills of the Sierra del Rosario, hosts an Orchidarium with over 700 species of which 250 are native to Cuba. The Sierra del Rosario is also a good spot to enjoy birds, butterflies, dragonflies and lizards. There are plenty of walking trails around Soroa, the Las Terrazas Biosphere Reserve or around Vinales and the scenery as already mentioned is exquisite.
La Cueva del Indio Indian’s Cave is where the Arawak Indians found refuge when the Spanish arrived on the Island in the 16th Century and drove them almost to extinction. Visitors can walk and explore the interior by rowing boat to reach a small waterfall.
With its pantile roofed, colonnaded buildings running the length of the main street, Viñales, in the dramatic Viňales Valley, designated a UNESCO world cultural landscape, with its picture postcard wooden houses surrounded by neatly fenced gardens, is the tropical answer to small town suburbia. However, its rich planting and innate sultriness belie that image and, in spite of its exquisitely pretty rural small town appearance, the town hosts a school uniform factory on its main street!
Visiting Western Cuba during your Cuba holiday
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Mogotes are remnants of eroded limestone sedimentary layers originally formed in shallow waters and gradually layered through tectonic activity to create limestone dome or plateau shaped mounds usually with underground caves.
They are a distinctive feature of the Vinales countryside in Western Cuba and unique to this area.
Cueva de las Portales, a natural cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites, is where Che Guevara, Cuba’s Defence Minister retreated to the safety of a remote area to direct operations during the tense period of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
If you are more interested in caves than in Che then there are far more interesting caves to visit in this region, Cueva de los Indios for example, but it is worth a visit to witness where an important event in 20th century history unfolded and reflect on what might have been.
Cueva de las Portales is not far from the grounds of Hacienda Cortina (now known as Parque La Guϊra), an early 20C folly reminiscent of Stourhead and Giverny that is a surprising find in this tropical environment and a relaxing place to stop for a picnic.
If you are interested in plants and gardens the Casa de Caridad Botanical Garden is well worth a visit.
The name sounds very grand but it is in fact a private house where the family maintains a tradition of growing plants and fruits endemic to Cuba. The lush gardens feature a mix of ornamental and medicinal plants and flowers, as well as orchids, bromeliads, palms, and fruit trees.
If you're really lucky, they will offer you some lovely fresh fruit. No charge but donations welcome!
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