Baracoa is in Guantanamo Province in eastern Cuba. Surrounded on three sides by mountains and the Bay of Honey (Miel Bay) on the other side, Baracoa is remote and isolated; it was only accessible by sea until a road through the mountains was built in the 1960s.
In 1492, Baracoa was the site of the first landing in the Americas by Christopher Columbus. A city was founded in 1511, Cuba’s oldest Spanish city and first capital.
Due to its isolation, Baracoa developed its own culture and ambiance, including distinctive food, music, and dance. It’s also one of the few places in Cuba where the influence of pre-Columbian culture is apparent and native ancestry is evident in many residents.
Local products include coffee, bananas, coconut, and cocoa brought to the island by Haitian French, who fled that island’s revolution in the early 19th century. The Baracoa area is still the main source of Cuban chocolate.
Baracoa is 4 hours by car from Santiago or 2 hours by infrequent flight from Havana.
It tends to attract more active, adventuresome travelers and in far fewer numbers than Havana and the beach resorts. The area was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, but it’s recovering well and could use tourist dollars now more than ever.
Things to do and see:
Independence Park (Parque Independencia) is the central park of this laid back, provincial town. It’s a perfect spot to people-watch and connect with locals and it’s a wifi hotspot.
Stroll the Malecon promenade, which runs about a mile along the waterfront.
Try the local treat: cucurucho – coconut, honey, mango and banana wrapped in a palm frond.
Visit Spanish colonial remains, such as el Castillo de Santa Barbara fort (now a hotel), which has sweeping views over the village and bay. On the Malecon, the Fuerte Matachin fort houses a fine little museum and the Fuerte de la Punta fort is now a restaurant. Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady of Assumption) church is home to the Parra Cross, which, according to local tradition, was planted in Baracoa by Christopher Columbus.
Visit one of the many archaeological sites of native settlements (Taino, Ciboney, Guanturabey).
The Baracoa area is known for outdoor activities and there’s no shortage of opportunities for hiking, river boat tours and birdwatching. The Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa mountain range offers many hiking trails and encompasses the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Cuchillas de Toa (Ridges of Toa River), virgin rainforest packed with an extraordinary diversity of plant and animal species, many native and found nowhere else. Humboldt National Park is within the reserve.
Rivers in and around Baracoa are the Miel, the Toa, the Duaba and the Yumuri. The Toa is the largest river in Cuba and has some spectacular waterfalls, including the Salto Fino, one of the world’s highest, with a 305 meter drop.