Baracoa, the oldest town in Cuba, was capital for just a brief four years before Diego de Velazquez moved his power base to Santiago, since which time the community has lived in peaceful isolation due to its remote position on the eastern tip of Cuba. Indeed it was not until after the Revolution that a spectacular mountain road was built (La Farola) linking the town to Santiago and the rest of Cuba.
Visitors are charmed by the friendliness of its people, some of whom are direct descendants of the native Taino tribe, the only ones in Cuba as this is the sole area where they were not completely wiped out by invaders. The town’s seclusion over the years has meant that much of the ecosystem has survived intact, and many people describe this as the most beautiful place in Cuba with its beautiful lush national parks, virgin forest and pristine coves.
Places to Visit
Cross of La Parra
This ancient cross, carbon-dated to 500 years old and supposedly the oldest European relic in the Americas, is said to have come across with Columbus on his first visit in 1492, although this is now thought to be unlikely as the wood is indigenous to Cuba. However, its significance is such that it is housed in a glass case in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Ascension, with metal protection on the four tips to prevent pilgrims removing splinters as mementoes!
Fuerte Matachin museum
This museum does a splendid job tracing local history, from pre-Columbian archaeological finds, to the years of pirate activity, documents and paintings relating to the Spanish colonial area, and exhibits on the War of Independence and the Revolution. There is also a small collection of Polymita snails, endemic to the Baracoa area, with brilliantly coloured stripes resembling the careful craft of a master painter. Their intense beauty has led to much gathering over the years, such that they are now an endangered species.
Once part of a huge plateau from millions of years ago, the Spanish name for this dramatic flat topped mountain means ‘the anvil’. Over the millenia unique species of ferns, orchids and palms have evolved, many of which are still thought to be uncharted or recorded, and the slopes have been declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Guided excursions can be arranged locally at the El Castillo hotel [link] or Fuerte Matachin museum in town. The hike is not unduly strenuous and should take about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can drive to the summit, although make sure you choose a four wheel drive or similarly robust vehicle!
Cuba’s largest river is part of a recently created nature reserve aimed at maintaining the delicate ecological balance of the area. You can travel up the river on a ‘cayuca’, a raft similar to the one used by the native Indians, and during the trip get an excellent view of the soaring Pico Galan, (over 3,000 feet) and the many waterfalls cascading into the river. You can stop for lunch under the palms and watch the local artesans carving wood and coconuts into exquisite shapes in the blink of an eye!
A little corner of paradise, this is an idyllic palm fringed white beach, a must see if you are in the area. It takes its Indian name from an archaeological area nearby where some Taino ceramic pieces have been found, and offers plenty of shade and wonderful snorkelling over the coral reef offshore. There is a tiny guesthouse hidden among the palms but otherwise the shore is completely undeveloped. Local fishermen will cook their catch for you on the beach and don’t forget to try the local delicacy cucurucho, made from coconut, sugar and guava, wrapped in palm leaves, incredibly sweet but delicious!
Casa Particular, Spanish for ‘private house’, is a private homestay, quite similar to a B&B. These are normally run by Cuban families and are a chance to really experience Cuba and interact with the locals. Each Casa Particular is different and they are normally quite small (1 – 2 rooms available). Rooms are clean, safe, upgraded to tourist standards and will generally fit basic needs and expectations. Casa Particular’s are popular with the independent traveller and we recommend home stays to get a real feel of Cuba whilst staying with a Cuban family, but remember to keep an open mind!
We currently can book Casa Particulars in Baracoa, Trinidad, Cienfuegos & Vinales. The name of the casa where you will stay will be informed before you travel, however due to local circumstances, this might have to be changed to a similar casa. If you are interested please contact us for further information and prices.
Please note Casa Particulars may not be suitable for those with limited mobility.
Places to Eat
Housed in an old fortress, and offering traditional Creole food. A pleasant place to eat with good views across the bay.