Cuba is preparing to unveil a new tourist attraction inspired by the country's famed cigar industry. Cuba's Tourism Ministry (Mintur) announced recently it will launch the Tobacco Trail or Tobacco Route in September, during this year's tourism and nature fair (Turnat) in westernmost Pinar del Rio province, home to lush tobacco plantations. "We aim to show visitors all the steps involved in an enterprise that has distinguished this province for centuries," said Deborah Henriquez, Mintur's provincial delegate. The Tobacco Trail will begin in the town of Consolacion del Sur, the gateway to the province, and feature the verdant Vinales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the leaves used to roll Cuba's world-renowned Habanos are cultivated. Regional tobacco is prized as the world's finest, said Henriquez, who hopes the new route will help attract more tourists. "That's where we got the idea of creating a circuit that covers the complete production cycle, from the seeds to the smoke," she said. Together with the provincial administrative council, said Henriquez, "we have selected the plantations, the tobacco barns (where leaves are cured), the different facilities of the pre-processing phase, and the experienced producers." While new tobacco sowing methods have been introduced in the region, many traditional farming techniques are still in use, including old-fashioned plows powered by oxen. Tourists will also visit factories where Cuba's premium hand-rolled cigars are individually made. The national industry produces some 140 million cigars each year. Through such initiatives, Cuba aims to diversify its tourist attractions and draw visitors inland. The country's beach resort of Varadero is already well known to the three million foreign visitors that arrive in Cuba annually, mainly from Canada and Europe. Spurred by the restoration of ties between Cuba and the United States, tourism to the island has increased, rising more than 21 percent in May compared to that of the year before, according to the national statistics institute (ONEI). Cuba is home to a total of nine UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites, including the Vinales Valley, which the UN agency describes as ringed by mountains and dotted with a series of "dramatic" rocky outcrops "that rise abruptly from the flat plain."
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