Getting Oriented

Caves, beaches, underwater reefs and wrecks, flora and fauna—from hummingbirds to whale sharks—all abound in Western Cuba. Pinar del Río's vegas (tobacco fields), the mogotes of Viñales, the Robinson Crusoe-esque simplicity of Cayo Levisa's virgin beaches, the faded glory of the city of Matanzas, and Varadero's long string of all-inclusive hotels are all worlds unto themselves. The swampy Península de Zapata, with its crabs, crocodiles, and endemic birds, and the dive sites near María la Gorda, Playa Girón, and the Isla de la Juventud offer quieter pleasures.

Pinar del Río Province. A short distance west of Havana, this province attracts nature lovers for its pine-forested mountains, nature preserves, and plantations. Settled in the 18th century, the province was built on a mixture of tobacco, sugar, and coffee plantations.

Archipielago de los Canarreos. Isla de la Juventud caters less to tourism and isn't easy to visit. Nearby Cayo Largo does have direct flights from Havana, giving access to a few upmarket resorts and dive sites on a par with Varadero and the northern Cayos.

Matanzas Province. Cross the impressive, arched Bacunayagua Bridge, the highest in Cuba, and you are at the western boundary of the province that is home to Cuba’s best-known resort town, Varadero. Of the 4 million visitors to Cuba annually, 1 million head for Varadero. Matanzas, the faded, but once-elegant, capital, is known as the city of bridges—28 in total—while Cárdenas, a little to the east, is famous for its horse-drawn carriages, which are still the main mode of public transport.

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