From the remote strands of María la Gorda to Varadero's smooth white beaches; from the southern Archipiélago de los Canarreos to the vertebral Cordillera de Guaniguanico—western Cuba holds a wide range of geographical treasures. The Valle de Viñales and its limestone hillocks, Vuelta Abajo and its tobacco plantations, and the wetlands of the Península de Zapata are quintessential Cuban
Western Cuba's three provinces of Matanzas, Havana (outside the capital), and Pinar del Río, along with the Municipio Especial (Special Municipality) Isla de la Juventud, offer attractions that range from the tobacco plantations of Viñales to the cosmopolitan beaches of Varadero to the wilds of crocodile country on the Península de Zapata. In addition, pristine beaches and nonpareil diving opportunities can be found off—among other spots—Cayo Levisa, the Península de Guanahacabibes, and Cayo Largo.
En route west to Pinar del Río Province, the province of Havana offers little in the way of distraction. Pinar del Río is Cuba's prime tobacco-growing country; there's a cigar-rolling factory to visit and numerous plantations to explore. The Valle de Viñales (Viñales Valley) and the curious mogotes (hillocks) form some of Cuba's most spectacular countryside. These freestanding limestone formations from the Jurassic era are surrounded by hoyos (holes), valleys or depressions filled with rich red soil ideal for the cultivation of tobacco. Far to the west, the Península de Guanahacabibes is a UNESCO-classified nature preserve on the Straits of Yucatán and a haven for nearly every kind of wildlife in the Antilles.
Matanzas Province stretches east and south of its eponymous capital city, traditionally dubbed the "Athens of Cuba" for its artistic and literary prestige. Just west of the city, the Valle de Yumurí, drained by the Río Yumurí (Yumurí River), is a rich basin of sugarcane plantations surrounded by rolling hills. To the east of the city is Cuba's premier beach resort—Varadero, a sandy paradise studded with hotels. On the slender Península de Hicacos, Varadero has two yacht marinas, a golf course, several discotheques and cabarets, and miles of silver sands. The town of Cárdenas, just east of Varadero, is known for its horse-drawn carriages. The Península de Zapata is an ornithologist's and bonefisherman's paradise, while the eastern coastline offers sandy beaches, limestone sinkholes filled with brightly colored fish, and Playa Girón.
The Isla de la Juventud is the largest island in the Archipiélago de los Canarreos, south of the Cuban mainland. Known for the diving off Punta Francés, the former Isle of Pines is the site of the Presidio Modelo (Model Jail), where Castro penned his famous "La Historia me absolverá" speech and spent 18 months for his part in the Moncada attack.