Baracoa was the first city founded by the Spanish Conquistadores on arrival in Cuba. As the location of the city makes it difficult to access other then by sea the Velazquez soon lost his interest in Baracoa. Thanks to this the place kept its authenticity until this day.
The historic centre of Baracoa is quite small around the main square and the Malecon or seaside boulevard. The square has the church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is a very decrepit building but inside you have the cross that has planted by Christopher Columbus in Baracoa when discovering Cuba. Scientists have corroborated the authenticity of the cross of Barcoa and as such it is the oldest relic of Catholicism in the Americas. At the end of the Baracoa Malecon you find a bust of Columbus and a colonial castle that has been turned into a museum.
The most striking element of visiting Baracoa is the table mountain looming in the back. The name of the mountain is El Yunque or the anvil, as the mountain looks like one. Although it looks unfeasible it is quite possible to hike to the top. Excursions are sold in the tourist bureaus of the hotels. From Baracoa a mountain truck takes you to the Campismo at the foot of the mountain from where a bit strenuous hike takes you to the top in about 2 hours. The walk goes through coffee and cacao plantations and ends up at a small platform on the top where a bust of Maceo greets you. The views are quite splendid. From the campismo another walk can take you to a small waterfall of the Duaba river.
At the mouth of Toa river there is a small beach. Be careful for the undertow as the current can be quite strong here. On the Toa river it is possible to take a small row boat or cayuca.
Don’t forget to enjoy the night life in Baracoa which is concentrated around the Casa de la Trova behind the church. In the evening bands play life the traditional Cuban music in a very relaxed atmosphere typical for Baracoa.
How do I get there?
Getting there is the hardest part. Thanks to a road that was built in the 60 ies you can get there from the south from Santiago via Guantanamo. The road passes on the fringes of the American Military Base before going north through the mountains. This part is called La Farola or the Lamp Post as the road hangs over the mountains only supported by poles underneath. The roads winds through the vegetation before reaching the north coast and ending up at Baracoa. From Santiago it is about 250 km but it takes 5 hours with a normal car to do it.
The hotel choices in Baracoa are quite limited to the 3* Porto Santo and Castillo hotels. Porto Santo is right at the spot where Christopher Columbus landed in the bay and planted the cross. On the other hand the Castillo Baracoa is a better choice as it is on a hill in the centre of town with wonderful views over the area. The La Rusa at the Malecon of Baracoa is a small 2* hotel with a story to tell. Here lived Mima Rubenskaya, A Russian woman that sought refuge in Baracoa after fleeing the Russian Revolution. In the fifties she received in her hotel the guerrilleros of the Cuban Revolution and ended up offering her hotel to the Cuban State. It is a very basic hotel but a nice location right at the sea side road of Baracoa.