Far-flung Baracoa might be difficult to get to, but it’s the one place not to be missed on the island of Cuba.
Bound by coconut palms, cool rivers, chocolate and coffee plantations, and fringed with beaches, and archaeological sites, most travelers plan to come for a day or two, and end up staying a week.
Here are the top things to see and do while you’re there.
Founded in 1511 as the first city of Cuba, this tiny city facing the Atlantic ocean is packed with history, legend, and wild nature.
Be sure to visit Our Lady of the Ascension Cathedral, which houses the Cruz de La Parra, said to be a cross that Christopher Columbus planted on these shores in 1492.
The city was defended by a series of small forts built to deter multiple pirate attacks.
Inside one of them — Fuerte Matachín — read about the city’s history and admire a collection of endangered multi-colored local shells (Polymitas).
Another fort, the hilltop Santa Bárbara Castle, is now the city’s most attractive hotel, El Castillo.
Earlier history is captured at the archaeological museum, Cueva Paraíso, in a cave above the city. Here you’ll have panoramic views over Baracoa below.
The aboriginal Taínos were a strong presence here, and their legacy is still apparent today, especially in the cuisine.
Serving up traditional dishes are paladares (private restaurants) such as El Buen Sabor and El Poeta.
Baracoa’s nightlife is legendary, with salsa and some live music nights at the venues in town — all scattered around the tiny central park.
The flat-topped Yunque Mountain, which dominates the city skyline, is a full day hike up through the lush forest, passing endemic species. Once you reach the top, astonishing views of the coast will no doubt blow you away.
Explore the river canyon of the Yumurí River, kayak the Duaba River, bathe in the Duaba’s waterfall, and visit Finca Duaba’s cocoa plantation trail.
Head out to the Alexander de Humboldt Park, 56 km northwest of Baracoa, home to the world’s smallest bird, bat and frog. Trek through this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and take a boat trip out to spot manatee in Taco Bay at the end of your trek.
Not too far from town is the tiny, pretty village of Boca de Miel (Mouth of the River of Honey) reached by walking along the town’s beach.
Further upstream; bathe with the locals in the refreshing waters of the Honey River to fulfill the legend that all those who bathe in the River of Honey will return to Baracoa. (By this point, I’m sure you’re planning a return trip)
Baracoa’s beaches are multi-striped and plentiful. Beyond the black-sand city beach, Playa Baracoa, there’s a tiny slither of sparkling white sand, Playa Blanca.
Find custard-colored scoops of sand, 21km northwest of the city, in coves at Playa Maguana; southeast towards the River Yumurí are slithers of tiny unspoiled beaches.
At Playa Mangilito, a beach shack restaurant, will ease your state of hunger.
Tour, taxi or bike along this remote coastal road.
The eastern tip of Cuba, Punta Maisí, has, for the first time, a newly opened small hotel.
Unlike other areas of Cuba, Baracoa's regional cuisine is famed throughout the island. Many dishes are cooked in coconut milk.
Baracoa's chocolate can be drunk at the Casa del Chocolate on the main street; or buy bars from sellers on the side of the road.
Don't miss Baracoa's best delicacy, though, the cucurucho - a palm-leaf cone stuffed with mashed coconut, honey, and almonds, and sold on the side of the road.
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