Stranded out on the far side of the westernmost province in Cuba at the end of the autopista, PINAR DEL RÍO is, quite simply, a backwater of a city. Close to some more alluring destinations – particularly Viñales, just 25km to the north, but also María La Gorda and the beaches Boca de Galafre and Playa Bailén to the south – the city works best as a base for exploring this half of the province. Despite its 125,000-strong population, Pinar del Río has the feel of a much smaller place, its central streets more reminiscent of a residential neighbourhood than a town centre.
Despite being the capital of the province, Pinar del Río is comparatively undeveloped for tourism: none of the international or upmarket hotel chains is represented here, nightlife is limited and dining options and the museums could do with a rethink. On the other hand, countless casas particulares are spread all over the city. You’ll need no more than a couple of days to get to know the place inside out, and in fact very few visitors spend even that long here. The highlight is the Fábrica de Tabacos Francisco Donatién, a diminutive cigar factory offering illuminating tours, while the Cabaret Rumayor offers a taste of classic Cuban entertainment whose extravagance feels somewhat out of place in this less-than-cosmopolitan town. If you do find yourself here for any length of time you’re probably best spent seeking out a paladar or casa particular to suit your taste and retreating to one of these, or lounging around the pool and grounds of the Hotel Pinar del Río, away from the attentions of the jineteros.
To see Pinar del Río in a more favourable light, time your visit to coincide with the November Nosotros music and culture festival when musicians perform for free at stages set up around the central streets. Contact Infotur for dates.