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Introducing Pinar del Río Province

Rust-red soil, well-tended fields of tobacco, Chevrolets and Buicks rattling along rutted roads: the images of bucolic Pinar del Río Province are Cuban to the core. Situated on the island's western extremity and within easy reach of the capital Habana, the 'Garden of Cuba', as picturesque Pinar is often called, has been attracting visitors for decades. Most come to sample the plethora of astounding natural attractions that have made the region internationally famous. Others prefer to linger, rum glass in hand, on the sun-dappled beaches of Cayo Jutías and Cayo Levisa.

Transcended by the hilly Sierra del Rosario reserve in the east and the more isolated Península de Guanahacabibes in the west, Pinar del Río is the only province in Cuba to boast two Unesco biospheres. Nestled somewhere in between lies the majestic Valle de Viñales, a geological anomaly with its complicated cave systems and craggy limestone mogotes that lures everyone from birders to rock climbers.

Southwest of the provincial capital, the Autopista gives way to the misty fields of the San Luis region; the world's finest tobacco-growing area, and a landscape punctuated by lone straw-hatted guajiros (farmers) laboring industriously under the hot, tropical sun. Continue driving for a few hours more and the road finally runs out in María la Gorda, one of Pinar's best beaches and the 'operations center' for an enthusiastic fraternity of international scuba divers who revel in its sheltered waters and dazzling underwater coral formations.