For the third time since 2000, Pinar del Río will showcase the many qualities which make it Cuba’s number one nature tourism destination. Playing host to the 10th International Nature Tourism Event (TURNAT), from September 22-27, the island’s largest catalogue of nature tourism products (43) will be presented in Cuba’s western-most province.
According to Débora María Henríquez, Ministry of Tourism representative in the territory, TURNAT 2015 is expected to promote and reaffirm the excellence of nature tourism offers, which since January to date have attracted close to 300,000 visitors.
Henríquez also stated that more than 150 tour operators, travel agencies, researchers and tourists – fundamentally from Germany, Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark and Panama – will attend the event which aims to promote theoretical debates and the most popular activities of so-called alternative tourism (horseback treks, bike tours, hiking, agro-tourism).
Taking place in the Valley of Viñales, the 10th edition of TURNAT, organized by travel agency Ecotur, will also offer secondary-programs including fishing, sailing and scuba diving in Cayo Jutía, Cayo Levisa and María La Gorda beach.
According to Ivania Díaz, director of Infotur offices in Pinar del Río, one of the obligations of nature tourism is to design and implement products which support sustainable development from an environmentally friendly perspective, which is why all products are endorsed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
GREATER INFRASTRUCTURE FOR NATURE TOURISM
Although the commercial policy of the region, considered to be the “green Varadero” of Cuba, is geared toward day excursions, provincial authorities are also directing efforts toward the development of products which will see national and international clients stay for longer periods of time.
José Antonio Aguilera, director of Cubanacán travel agency in Pinar del Río, noted that 80% of tourists who come to Viñales stay in Matanzas or Havana. “There is a great deficit of evening activities while accommodation capacity must be increased. We are seeking to fill all hotel and non-hotel establishments (which have undergone renovations for TURNAT 2015), and support the incorporation of non-state tourism offers, which will be fundamental to increasing the duration of stays,” he affirmed.
Nature tourism, Aguilera added, is different throughout the world. “It is adapted to varying climates, topography, vegetation, fauna. Pinar del Río has high levels of endemic species and has a lot to offer in this area. It must be exploited in a moderate and regulated way in order to conserve the beautiful environment.”
TWO PREMIERS DURING TURNAT 2015
In addition to the inauguration of Cuba’s second canopy zip line, the event will also see the launch of the Ruta del Tabaco (Tobacco Trail), a project which has been developed over three years, directed by the Caracol Business Group and which will cover four tobacco producing municipalities: San Luís, San Juan y Martínez, Consolación del Sur and Pinar del Río.
The Valley of Viñales will play host to TURNAT 2015. Foto: Ronald Suárez Rivas. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org
The canopy consists of a zip line network across a range of platforms of varying heights. Henríquez emphasizes that “The area chosen for this product covers almost 1,000 meters and will have a service center where clients can acquire all the necessary equipment as well as light food options. There are eight platforms from which the hillocks of Viñales can be admired.
“Although it is smaller, we imagine that the views are better than that which already exists in the Las Terrazas Tourist Complex,” Henríquez explains.
For Aguilera, the canopy, which will be managed by non-hotel group Palmares, is a fantastic adventure tourism option, adding that “There are even skydivers who fear this activity because it’s so awesome; it gives Viñales a touch more vitality. If in an analysis of the life cycle of the valley, declared Cultural Landscape of Humanity, it was said to be declining; now it’s being completely renovated with fresh products. The future introduction of a vertical climbing wall is also planned.”
Meanwhile, Ivania Díaz states that the activity to make the biggest impact, even at an international level, should be the Tobacco Trail. “It’s being debuted as an all-round, emblematic and cultural product. It will give tourists the opportunity to learn about the process of tobacco cultivation from planting to smoking and promote campesino traditions. The tour will include visits to six tobacco farms, exchanges with producers and food and lodging options.
“The tour, of approximately 100 kilometers, will begin at Héctor Luís Prieto’s farm – Cuba’s youngest Habano Man Award winner. Héctor has been receiving training for some time now in order to supply him with the necessary tools and skills to provide quality service,” notes the representative.
In this regard, Aguilera states that the route is flexible as it can be molded to the visitor’s taste. The trail includes tours of factories, museums and communities; however participation in all the program’s activities is optional.
She adds that “It is nothing more than a way to learn and understand the difficult process of tobacco cultivation. Tobacco is as iconic of Pinar del Río as Viñales. It is a symbol of cubanía. It’s not like sugar cane which was imported. We are without a doubt the land of the best tobacco in the world.”
According to the ministry representative, the real impact of TURNAT 2015 will be seen once the event concludes. “From there, we will see its real contribution. Nature tourism is less expensive than beach or city activities. We make the most of the resources and investment is minimal. What we have done in regards to the creation of products and renovation of infrastructure, will contribute to the development of Pinar del Río as a tourist destination,” she highlights.