Planning Your Time

Apart from the popular Varadero beach hotels where every detail from airport pickup to daily activities is organized for you, exploring the remoter areas of Western Cuba requires an adventurous spirit and a laid-back attitude. Pinar del Río Province is best explored from a base in the town of Viñales, which has reliable, comfortable bus service from Havana, lots of lodging options, and a wide choice of restaurants. The best way to independently explore the countryside around the town is by bicycle or on a guided walking tour. Allow two to three days here to absorb the bucolic beauty of the landscape. Most tourists see the Zapata Peninsula on a whirlwind, guided bus tour. To really get the most out of the peninsula's national park, you should base yourself in Playa Girón or Playa Larga and hire a naturalist guide. Try for a stay of two days here to get an early-morning start on a bird-watching or wildlife walk.

The easiest option is to book a week’s stay at an all-inclusive Varadero hotel and take daily, guided tours to diving and snorkeling sites on the Zapata Peninsula, and city tours of Matanzas and Cárdenas. A more interesting option is to relax at the beach for a week, then add a night or two in Matanzas, staying at the exquisitely restored Hotel E Velasco, taking in a concert at the Teatro Sauto, or attending a ball game at the Palacio de los Cocodrilos.

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