Planning a Trip
By Bus -- The bus station (tel. 48/75-5255) is located at Calle Adela Azcuy, between Avenidas Colón and Comandante Pinares. Víazul (tel. 7/881-1413 in Havana, or 48/75-2571 in Pinar del Río; www.viazul.com) has two daily buses at 9am and 2pm from Havana to Pinar del Río. The trip takes 2 1/2 hours and costs CUC$12 (US$13/£6.50) each way. This bus continues on to Viñales. If you pick the bus up here, it costs CUC$6.50 (US$7/£3.50) to Viñales, although it's only CUC$13 (US$14/£7) direct, one-way from Havana to Viñales. Víazul buses to Havana leave Pinar del Río at 8:50am and 2:50pm daily.
By Car -- Take the Autopista Nacional (A4) west to Pinar del Río. It's a straight shot, and the Autopista actually ends as it enters Pinar del Río. Two alternative routes are the old Carretera Central, which runs roughly parallel to the newer Autopista, and connects Havana with Pinar del Río, and the Circuito Norte or "northern circuit," a road that runs from Havana to Mariel to Bahía Honda. At La Palma, you'll want to head south on the Viñales highway and then on to Pinar del Río. Both of these routes are two-lane affairs that are slower and more picturesque than the Autopista. On either of these, slow-moving ox carts and heavy trucks combine with bicycle traffic, pedestrians, and potholes to slow you down -- not necessarily a bad thing if you want to take in some of the scenery. I recommend integrating the Circuito Norte route into an itinerary that encompasses Pinar del Río, Viñales, and either Cayo Levisa or Cayo Jutias.
Watch Out -- If you're driving a rental car, you will be swarmed by bicycle-riding jineteros (hustlers) offering you casas particulares and paladares (private-home rooms and restaurants) as soon as you enter town. They will latch on to your car at any traffic light, stop sign, or slow section and follow alongside if their pedaling can keep pace as you drive through town. For some reason, they are particularly aggressive in Pinar del Río. If you want to lessen the attention, you might have to roll up your windows and shake your head a lot. Ambulatory jineteros and jineteras will also try to attach themselves to you as you walk around town.
You can easily walk to most places in Pinar del Río. Taxis are also readily available all around town, and are either at hand, or can be called, at most hotels and casas particulares. Call Cubataxi (tel. 48/75-3616) or Havanautos (tel. 48/77-8015), which has an office at the Islazul Hotel Pinar del Río.
The Autopista Nacional ends and turns into Calle Martí as it enters Pinar del Río from the east. As you enter town, you'll see the Hotel Pinar del Río on your right. The heart of downtown is straight ahead. At the western end of downtown, you'll find the small, triangular-shaped Plaza de la Independencia. The main north-south byway, Calle Isabel Rubio, is also the old Carretera Central, and bisects Calle Martí by the post office.
Havanatur and Islazul have offices downtown; they're your best sources of information. For currency exchange, there's a CADECA on Calle Gerardo Medina, next to the local Coppelia ice-cream outlet and at Martí 46, virtually opposite the post office. On the same street, 2 blocks east of Coppelia, there's an Etecsa phone office where you can make local, national, and international calls and connect to the Internet. The main post office is located at the corner of Calle Martí and Calle Isabel Rubio (tel. 48/5442); it's open Monday through Sunday from 8am to 8pm. The León Cuervo Rubio hospital (tel. 48/2010) is at the junction of the Carretera Central and the Viñales highway.