Baracoa

Baracoa is a major reason (if not the main reason) to make the journey to the harder to reach eastern end of Cuba. For many of the travellers who make it this far, Baracoa is their standout favourite place in Cuba. It is a unique town with a remote location, insouciant feel and small town atmosphere. Most houses are simple wooden structures, and the flat layout of the town makes for an interesting and easy stroll in whichever direction you take.

The town of Baracoa in Cuba with the Bay of Baracoa and the Yunke mountain in the background

However, the principal attraction of the town is its stunningly beautiful natural surrounds. Lush verdant mountains, clear freshwater rivers, and beaches of a variety of colours are just some of the features of the surrounding countryside. There are also caves, waterfalls, cocoa farms, coffee plantations, and coconut groves, making this destination a hidden gem for travellers and a veritable paradise nature lovers.

Wander

You’ll find great satisfaction in just wandering around, and the best method is walking, as many attractions are close to each other. As you stroll past locals in the street playing intense but friendly games of dominos and chess you’ll notice the colourful colonial houses that surround. It isn’t all a palette of colonial infrastructures though; there are post-revolution apartment blocks especially in the Malecon district. There are 2 main points of reference that can act as meeting points in the village and they are the plazas of Parque Independencia and the busier Parque Marti, which is rimmed with street stalls and shops.

History

Baracoa was one of the first places the Europeans reached in the new world. In 1490 Christopher Columbus recognised the value of the harbour here and christened the town as Porto Santo. 21 years later Diego de Velazquez founded Baracoa for the Spanish. Thankfully, despite their best efforts, the Spanish never wiped out the indigenous population completely meaning there are direct descendants living here, which adds to the town’s diversity and pride.

Visit

In town, the Museo Arqueologico is fascinating. First of all to reach the museum, you need to climb through dense forest to Las Cuevas del Paraiso, a network of caves that were in the past used for local indigenous rituals and ceremonies. Today, they are home to the museum, which holds precious pre-Columbian artefacts and treasures. Eerily the museum holds human remains too which are on display in the foetal position. Their positions and deformities that you witness are believed to be carefully manufactured for ritualistic and practical purposes.

Beaches

As you come to the end of the Malecon wall on the east side, you’ll bump into a stone monument to Christopher Columbus himself, who guards Playa Boca de Miel, Baracoa’s main town beach. Despite being a dark sand and stony beach, it is popular with locals of all ages. Playa Blanca, further on from Boca de Miel, is a smaller simple beach spot that the locals swear by. Further away and in opposite directions from the town, you can reach the beaches of Playa Duaba and Playa Maguana.

Countryside

With glorious countryside in and around Baracoa, there are plenty of options for you to experience the nature here. Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt is UNESCO Heritage listed for its biodiversity. This park is a perfect place to get your hiking boots on and trek away with the help from one of the qualified local park guides. El Yunque mountain is an unmistakable landmark from just about anywhere in Baracoa. It resides within its own national park and climbing it with a local guide is a great option if you want some adventure and enjoy a physical challenge. On the slopes of this mountain is the pretty Saltadero waterfall. A trek here makes for a great for a day trip, and upon reaching the waterfall you will be rewarded with the opportunity for an exhilarating dip in its deep and crystal clear swimming hole.

Indulge

Many travellers to Cuba discover that they enjoy the nightlife and entertainment in the smaller towns more than in the bigger cities. This no doubt is because in the small towns, the locals are more laid back, friendly, and welcoming to the foreigners, the atmosphere of the bars is more intimate, and therefore accessing the local culture and meeting people is easier. Baracoa is no exception to this pattern. The night spots aren't difficult to locate. Close to Parque Marit are the Casa de la Musica and El Patio with live traditional music from local bands. And up on the hill is the even more lively Ranchon bar. A couple of nights a week the dance troupe Barrarumba puts on one of the best shows of this kind in the whole of Cuba, in the Casa de la Cultura .

View of Baracoa Bay, Cuba A view of Yunke mountain near Baracoa in Cuba A view of the city of Baracoa, Cuba
An aerial view of Baracoa, Cuba An aerial view of Yunke mountain near Baracoa, Cuba The town of Baracoa, Cuba
A view of Baracoa airport, Cuba The main square of Baracoa, Cuba A bicycle taxi in Baracoa, Cuba
A busy street scene in Baracoa, Cuba A bicycle taxi with passengers on a street in Baracoa, Cuba Men relaxing outside a house in Baracoa, Cuba
Two men relaxing out the front of their house in Baracoa, Cuba Women gathered at the front of their house in Baracoa, Cuba Children playing in the streets of Baracoa, Cuba
A couple sitting on their doorstep in Baracoa, Cuba Dominoes players in Baracoa, Cuba A man resting in a bicycle taxi in Baracoa, Cuba
Fit looking youths on the way to the beach in Baracoa, Cuba A man looking out his front window in Baracoa, Cuba Children playing in Baracoa, Cuba
A view of countryside near Baracoa, Cuba A view of lush countryside near the town of Baracoa, Cuba A view of Yumuri valley near Baracoa, Cuba
A rowboat on Yumuri river, Baracoa People walking along Yumuri river near Baracoa, Cuba A group in Alexander Humbolt national park near Baracoa, Cuba
Yunke mountain, Baracoa, Cuba A man climbing a coconut tree near Baracoa, Cuba People swiming at the Pellizcaso near Baracoa, Cuba
The Duaba River near Baracoa, Cuba The natural rock tunnel on the road between Yumuri and Baracoa in eastern Cuba School children near Baracoa, Cuba
Residents of Manglito beach near Baracoa, Cuba A family at Manglito beach near Baracoa, Cuba Donkeys carrying green bananas near Baracoa, Cuba
People swimming in the Yunke waterfall pool in Baracoa, Cuba A polymita snail from Baracoa, Cuba Children from Manglito beach near Baracoa
People playing music near Baracoa, Cuba People dancing and playing music at the Pellizcaso near Baracoa, Cuba A lady from Baracoa, Cuba
Children swimming in the river in Baracoa, Cuba Murals of Fidel and Raul Castro in Baracoa, Cuba Walking across the mouth of the Rio Miel in Baracoa, Cuba
A view of the bay of Baracoa, Cuba A man pointing out the Yunke mountain in Baracoa, Cuba A burro carrying bananas in Baracoa, Cuba
Climbing up a rock face on wooden ladder near Baracoa Cuba A tall royal palm tree near Baracoa, Cuba Crossing the Duaba river in Baracoa, Cuba
A side view of Yunke mountain, Baracoa Climbing the Yunke mountain in Baracoa, Cuba A man with his face painted by achiote on the Yunke mountain climb, Baracoa, Cuba
A rest stop on the way to the top of Yunke mountain, Baracoa, Cuba A view from the top of Yunke mountain, Baracoa, Cuba A group at the summit of Yunke mountain, Baracoa, Cuba
A picnic on the banks of the Duaba river in Baracoa, Cuba Tourists bathing in the Duaba river in Baracoa, Cuba A tourist drinking a mojito while bathing in the Duaba river, Cuba
A man carving up a pig on the spit next to the Duaba river in Baracoa, Cuba Tourists riding in the back of an old American car in Baracoa, Cuba