Baracoa was the first settlement founded by the Spanish conquerors back in 1511. Quite quick due to the remote location the Spaniards moved their operations to Santiago and later on to Havana. Baracoa became a remote outpost, a small port surrounded by tropical jungle and mountains. It forms its charm and identity. Baracoa is all about being small, authentic and in harmony with nature. It is one of the few places in Cuba where you still find the presence of the original Indian population of Cuba, in the food, the habits of the locals.
Getting here is the most difficult part but once you are here you will appreciate the history of this place, the overwhelming nature around the city, the friendly and open people.
Historic Center of Baracoa
The main church of the city is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary as the 15th of August was the day the city was founded and the city was officially called “Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa”, uniting a Christian element with the local Indian culture. This church has a cross which according to the legends was planted there by Christopher Columbus on his first discovery voyage to Cuba. If so, it is the oldest relic of Christianity on the American Continent. You will find also the Malecon or Seaside Promenade quite typical. A walk along it takes you to the historic castle Matachin, now a museum about the history of the city. You have other castles in the city like La Punta at the other end of the Malecon and one up the hill converted into a hotel (El Castillo). Don’t be shy to walk in even if not lodged there. The views over the city and the surroundings are spectacular.
Nature around Baracoa
Where the village ends begins the jungle. In Baracoa it is that simple. There are great opportunities to discover the dense foliage, the hidden coconut and cacao plantations, the abundant rivers and waterfalls. Nearby the village you have Finca Toa and Finca Duaba, named after the rivers which are next to it. Here you can see the culture of the Baracoa farmers who cultivate coconut and cacao in the jungle. Rio Toa is the biggest river and you can navigate on it with the local cayuacas or river boats. Over the city looms the Yunque in the form of a Table Mountain. It is not too difficult to climb and a real experience. You can also visit Yumuri about half an hour out from Baracoa, for an authentic fishermen’s village at the mouth of the river with the same name.
Near Baracoa there are several beaches like at the mouth of the river Toa. There are no hotels, just a few locals trying to sell coconuts. Even the river banks have beaches and there are plenty of rivers like Toa, Duaba, Río Miel. Around an hour from Baracoa westward there is the pristine beach of Maguana, a great starting point to visit the Park Alejandro Humboldt.
To get to know the jungle around Baracoa you need to hike. The best park is Parque Alejandro Humboldt at about one hour from Baracoa. Here with the help of a guide you have a choice of trails through thick jungle that take you to hidden waterfalls where you can even swim in. The hike can end as well at the beach of Maguana for a swim there or resting in the hammocks. Adventurous is as well the hike up the mountain Yunque which is easier than it looks. In the Bay of Taco you can take a boat trip and with luck you’ll see the manatees that live in these shallow waters.
Nightlife and music
The local Casa de la Trova next to the church is a great spot for some authentic music and low-key atmosphere. Locals and tourists drop by and join together to enjoy life music and dance.
The kitchen in Baracoa is quite unique in Cuba thanks to the mixture of Spanish, African and Indian traditions. Especially the use of local ingredients like coconut, cacao and fish create it an enriching experience. In the center you find many paladars catering this kind of cuisine. You can also visit cacao and coconut farms like Rio Duaba and Rio Toa to learn more about the cultivation of local products and taste them fresh.
Punto de Maisi
You can venture out to the most eastern point of Cuba, the Punto de Maisi. On a clear day you can see Haiti. The area has incredible natural beauty with a rugged coastline of terraces and cliffs, hidden beaches and great swimming opportunities.