Surrounded by beautiful verdant countryside and enriched by its proximity to the world’s best tobacco-growing terrain, the city of Pinar del Río emits a strange energy, exacerbated by its famous jinteros (touts), who can abrade the most thick-skinned traveler. As a result, the place probably has more detractors than fans, especially since the bucolic jintero-free paradise of Viñales is so close by. But a stopover here needn’t be purgatorial. There’s a good tobacco factory to visit, some weirdly interesting architecture, and a hot, frenetic after-dark scene if you’re up for it.
Despite this, Pinar often feels like a city in the slow lane, an urban backwater that has become the butt of countless jokes about the supposedly easy-to-fool guajiros (country folk from Pinar del Río province), who are popularly portrayed as simple-minded rural hicks. Not so. Check out the local art, for starters, or pop by in July for the Carnaval.