The rich soil around the northern city and province of Pinar del Río has kept this city an important contributor to Cuba’s economy ever since the city was founded by the Spanish. As one of the last city’s Spain would found in the island nation, Pinar del Río has profited and declined parallel to the country’s cigar trade.
The province is dotted with mountains from the Sierra de los Órganos range, underground rivers and series of caves. The city has been declared an important UNESCO World Heritage site and offers insight into Cuba’s once lucrative tobacco industry. Residents of Havana have long viewed Pinar del Río as a respite from the busy activity in Cuba’s largest city. Beyond the original city, more modern and taller buildings line the skyline.
The tobacco for the world famous La Flor de Isabela cigars, named for Queen Isabella and originally manufactured in the Philippines, is centered in this province. The thriving Spanish tobacco monopoly, the Tabacalera, acquired the Philippine cigar manufacturer’s right after Mexico declared their independence in 1815.
The Tabacalera brought thousands of Filipino workers to Pinar del Río to work the tobacco fields and harvest the crop for the illustrious manufacturer. The culture of Pinar del Río reflects the mixed Cuban – Filipino heritage.
The workers were known as Chinos Manila and the population continued to grow as Spain shifted its tobacco industry from the Philippines to Cuba. The tobacco fields and products manufactured in the northern region had great appeal to American neighbors to the north. Many Americans would vacation in Havana and return to the states with large stashes of La Flor de Isabela cigars.
According to Cuba’s 2004 census, Pinar del Río has a population of 190,532. The old Pinar del Río airport has been replaced with La Coloma Airport and the city also has a rail station that connects to the National Railway hub. The municipality is surrounded by Briones Montoto, Cayo Conuco, La Coloma, La Conchita and Las Ovas. The original city was dubbed Nueva Filipinas (New Philippines) as Filipinos arrived on Manila Galleons and quickly were dispatched to the fields of Pinar del Río and into the local culture. Though the culture has distinct Filipino influences, the architecture is colonial and quite spectacular.
The University of Pinar del Río is a respected educational center located in the city. Pinar del Río has produced a surprising number of accomplished musicians, artists and ballplayers for a small city which ranks tenth in population in Cuba.
Pinar del Río rooted players in Major League Baseball include:
- Danys Báez – Philadelphia Phillies
- Alexei Ramírez – Chicago White Sox
- Yunesky Maya – Washington Nationals
- René Capo – Olympic Judoka.
Well Known Pinar del Río Musicians
- Willy Chirino – singer-songwriter
- Rudy Pérez – composer and producer
- Gonzalo Rubalcaba – pianist
- Sen Dog – musician
- Polo Montañez – singer and songwriter
Prominent Pinar del Río artists
- Mario Bencomo – internationally exhibited painter
- Pedro Pablo Oliva – painter
The farming industry in Pinar del Río relies heavily on the Carabao, the water buffalo which was also prominent on Filipino tobacco plantations. The hot, humid climate makes this durable and strong animal a productive partner in the harvesting of the huge tobacco plantations.