Western Cuba is a pastoral and underdeveloped region, with some stunning scenery. When folks talk about western Cuba, they mean Pinar del Río and the new province of Artemisa. The area has been inhabited continuously for over 4,000 years, beginning with the Guanahatabey, Ciboney, and Taíno indigenous tribes that settled this section of the island prior to the Spanish arrival. In addition to the province of Pinar del Río, the general geographic area of western Cuba also includes the Archipiélago de los Canarreos (the Canary Archipelago), considered a "special municipality." The two largest islands of the chain, Isla de la Juventud and Cayo Largo, are developed for tourism.
Pinar del Río province is Cuba's prime ecotourism destination. Rock climbing, spelunking, mountain biking, hiking, and bird-watching are all excellent in this area. La Güira National Park, the Guanacahabibes Peninsula, and the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve make this one of Cuba's richest and wildest areas. The small hamlet of Viñales is widely considered one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it is rapidly becoming the region's center for nature and adventure tourism. At the far western tip of the island, María la Gorda is one of Cuba's signature scuba-diving destinations. And the diving at Cayo Levisa, Isla de la Juventud, and Cayo Largo isn't too shabby either. To top it all off, Cayo Largo has some of the nicest and least-crowded beaches in Cuba.
Pinar del Río province is also Cuba's most heralded tobacco-growing region. Cigars made from tobacco grown in the Vuelta Abajo area, just west of the city of Pinar del Río, are coveted the world over.
Note: Pinar del Río sustained direct hits from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in September 2008, resulting in considerable damage to much of the province, especially Viñales and Isla de la Juventud. Housing took a serious hit in Isla de la Juventud, with many homes completely destroyed. Many of the secadores (traditional thatched-roof tobacco leaf drying huts) in the Valley were flattened, and many homes are still being rebuilt. The fishing industry there was severely damaged and some roads that were destroyed have still not been repaired, but tourist operations have rebounded.