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At the western end of the island of Cuba lies the lush landscape of the Pinar del Río Province. This region offers some of Cuba’s most unique and beautiful scenery. Here, experience rural life in Cuba with some of the most fertile lands on earth known for producing the world's best tobacco. Trust us; it is well worth the 2 ½ hour drive from Havana.

The renowned Valley of Vinales is one of the province’s national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The valley is ideal for walking, hiking and touring tobacco plantations. Savor top-tier hand rolled cigars with local Spanish-speaking tobacco farmers. The valley’s renowned “mogotes” – natural limestone formations rising out of the surrounding landscape – are an almost alien presence but utterly breathtaking. These outcroppings are the last remnants of a once towering mountain range that continue to house a labyrinthine system of caves. For the adventurous at heart, explore the caves and underground rivers. Be sure to check out Cueva del Indio, an ancient indigenous dwelling rediscovered in 1920. The underground river is now plied by motorboats.

Known as the island’s mecca for outdoor activities, the Valley offers plenty aboveground to keep you active too. Biking is one of the best means of exploring this small farming town but you’ll have to share the road with the occasional car and horse-drawn carriage. Speaking of horses, there is no more authentic way to experience Vinales than on horseback. The views of the tobacco plantations from the top of the mogotes are spectacular. If you need a break from physical activity, consider a half-day jaunt to Playa de Cayo Jutias perfect for lounging on white sandy beaches. After a rest, scuba dive/snorkel, or enjoy the waves from boat deck.

In short, Vinales Valley is the perfect place to slow down and enjoy the great outdoors. While the area is abuzz with backpackers and tourists, the authentic charm of rural Cuban life remains intact. Technically, it is close enough for a day trip from Havana but spend a couple nights in the area to more fully unwind and soak in the surrounding beauty.

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Jamie Mehrotra