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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .