Introducing Pinar del Río
You might well smell Pinar del Río before you see it: Cuba's tobacco capital, plunked in the middle of the fertile Vuelta Abajo, has prospered from its proximity to the plantations from which the best cigars on the planet are made. Not surprisingly, the place boasts its own tobacco factory (open for visits) plus an affable population of leather-faced cigar-imbibing locals keen to show visitors there is more to their sleepy city than smoking puros (cigars) and the jineteros (tourist touts) for which the otherwise tranquil Pinar used to have an unfortunate reputation.
Pinar del Río was one of the last provincial capitals on the island to take root, and still seems a tad stuck in the slow lane. Overlooked by successive central governments who preferred sugarcane to tobacco, the city became an urban backwater and the butt of countless jokes about the supposedly easy-to-fool guajiros who were popularly portrayed as simple-minded rural hicks. But the city fought back. It's overcome neglect, derision and most recently a category 4 hurricane, and is busily overturning its negative connotations. A truly inspirational art scene is now alive and kicking, and there is a glut of palatial colonial-era buildings, which include two intriguing museums and a stupendous recently revamped theater.