When travelling around Cuba, one of our favourite areas is undoubtedly Baracoa in Oriente province (literally translates as the ‘eastern’ province). Christopher Colombus first arrived in Cuba in 1492 but it was not until 1511 that Baracoa was established as the first of the seven cities to be built on the island by the Spanish. Travelling eastwards from Guantanamo along the ragged limestone coastline with views over the deep aqua blue sea until the road starts to climb up and over a high mountain pass called La Farola, you get a sense of why Baracoa is so unique. Cut off from the rest of the island and only accessible by boat until a road was contructed in the early 60s, Baracoa is unlike any other part of Cuba and still retains much of its individual character and local colour. The following are our top 5 recommendations for what to do in Baracoa:
HIKING IN ALEXANDER HUMBOLDT NATIONAL PARK
The Alexander Humboldt national park lies adjacent to Baracoa and is recognised by UNESCO as “one of the most biologically diverse tropical islands sites on earth”, with an abundance of exotic and endemic flora and fauna.
A full day of hiking trip here is heaven for keen trekkers and takes you through primary forest and rainforest, as well as tropical and subtropical forest. Baracoa has a micro climate which supports a wide range of tropical vegetation and hiking through small villages where local farming families live you can drink fresh coconut water straight from the coconut, or some sweet juicy oranges straight from the trees. Then go for a swim in a natural waterfall pool to cool off before heading back to Baracoa. On the way back, you can stop off at an isolated beach before arriving back into Baracoa.
CLIMB EL YUNQUE MOUNTAIN
El Yunque (translates as ‘the anvil’) is a distinctive flat topped mountain on the outskirts of Baracoa that can be seen from afar. It was declared a Cuban national monument and is possibly the most iconic of the landmarks you will find in the region. A challenging hiking trail takes you to the top of El Yunque, at a height of 575m, and from the top there are spectacular panoramic views of Baracoa and its surrounding area. After descending, you can swim in the cool fresh water of the River Duaba before returning to Baracoa. This trip is a definite must-do for keen hikers!
LEARN HOW TO COOK TYPICAL BARACOAN FOOD
Ingredients in typical Baracoan cuisine reflect the natural resources of the area – fish in coconut milk is a speciality in these parts, and super sweet cucurucho – made from dried coconut with sugar or honey, guava and sometimes nuts too, all wrapped tightly in a palm leaf – is a firm favourite too. You can learn how to prepare these local specialities with a local family, where you will prepare local ingredients under the watchful and friendly eye of your host, and then eat the resulting meal when it is finished.
VISIT A LOCAL COCOA FARM AND MUSEUM
Cocoa plantations are abundant in this region and it is little wonder that Cuba’s only chocolate factory was established on the outskirts of Baracoa, inaugurated in 1963 by Che Guevara himself. Cocoa and chocolate products have been exported all over the world ever since, and the small museum in town tells the history of cocoa production and the importance it has played to the local economy. You can also have a cup of local hot chocolate in the cafe on the premises, and all over town you can buy bars of locally produced chocolate. On a trip to the Yumuri canyon (see below), you can stop at a local cocoa farmer’s house to learn about the process of growing, harvesting and preparing cocoa.
TAKE A BOAT TRIP THROUGH THE YUMURI CANYON
This impressive canyon can be approached on foot or by boat and is located on coast north of Baracoa. There are wonderful views from Bahia de Mata (Mata Bay), a small fishing village which was once the main port for the exportation of locally grown fruit. A bit further on you have the first breathtaking views of the canyon before taking a local fisherman’s boat up through the canyon itself to appreciate it from a different angle. You can also walk further into the canyon and swim in the river. End up the day by going to a beautiful quiet beach to have lunch at a local restaurant serving traditional dishes from Baracoa with time to relax and swim.