Pinar del Rio (province)
Pinar del Rio is a province in Western Cuba.
This is the name of the provice (state) as well as the name of the Capital city. Apart from car rental, the best way to get there is Viazul Bus. In feb 2006, the ticket was $12 CUC from havana and there are three buses going there in a day starting from early in the morning. The buses are comfortable safe and very tourist friendly. Make sure you book for the ticket, otherwise you will have to be lucky enough to get a seat in the reservation. Taxi costs $200CUC.
Soroa is a valley 87 kilometers west of Havana. The first place we visited was the Orquideario Soroa. The guidebook says this is world's second-biggest orchid garden, with 700 species. We also hiked up the road behind the Orquideario, to a ruined mansion and a view of the valley.
We stayed in excellent casa particulares. There are many casas along the road. There's also a tourist hotel.
The next morning we hiked up the Mirador de Venus, a mountaintop viewpoint. The hike took about two hours at an easy pace. Then we went for a swim below the Cascadas El Salto waterfall. We had lunch at the restaurant, which was excellent. The guidebook says there's a six-hour hike to the ruins of the Cafetal Independencia coffee plantation.
Parque Nacional La Güira and San Diego de Los Baños
I looked forward to visiting this national park, from the three-paragraph description in the guidebook. My driver/translator, on the other hand, didn't like it and we barely stopped. It had been the estate of a wealthy landowner, with a mansion, formal gardens, both now in ruins; and 54,000 acres of mountain wilderness. We stopped at the restaurant at lunchtime, and after a lengthy wait and a short discussion with waitress/cook my translator said that the restaurant could only serve Cubans. Indeed the prices were in MN, not CUC, but I suspect that my translator wasn't explaining everything. We left in a hurry and drove to San Diego de Los Baños, where a restaurant served Cubans or tourists, or perhaps the wait for the food was so long that tourists qualified as landed immigrants. The hotel, with a beautiful swimming pool, in San Diego de Los Baños was the only hotel I saw that was open to Cubans, and was very popular.
The road from La Güira to the Cuevas de los Portales is about 15 kilometers. It looks like it goes through the highest mountains, and the guidebook says it's very scenic. However, locals said that it's impassable by car. It might be a good hike or mountain bike ride.
Cuevas de los Portales
This is the most beautiful place I saw in Cuba.
The Viñales valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The village (also called Viñales) has with amazing people and lovely weird looking mountains called Mogotes around it.
The best and most widely used way to get it in is going there on a bus from Havana. Prior reservation is important which is possible online.
In Vinales there are a few hotels around the village, but the best place to eat is in the Casa particulares (the paid hosts). The average cost of a dinner is $5 CUC and a breakfast $4CUC.
Mojito. Lots of it. it is a cool Cuban drink.
At Hotel Emerita, you can get in for $10CUC for a whole day of swimming pool and 3 drinks or 5 cuban beers. From this place, the sunset is perfect, many come there from all over to see the sun going down if the skies are clear.