Beautiful, exotic and far from the massive tourism
By Francesca Sciarra
Cubans say that “Cuba starts in Baracoa”. And they say this for two main reasons: it was the first town founded in Cuba, by the Spanish conqueror Diego Velázquez, in 1511; And it’s the most Eastern town of the island, therefore the one that every day sees the sun first.
I traveled on my own around Cuba for more than a month and Baracoa was undoubtedly one of my favorite places.
Beautiful, exotic and far away from the massive tourism, due to its geographical remoteness and the fact that, until the 1960s, it was reachable only by boat, Baracoa keeps a separate cultural identity and runs at a different pace than other parts of the island. Humid, greener, and altogether remote from the rest of the island, Baracoa is Cuba at its most tropical style!
Here you will find rainforest sceneries, hills pregnant with coconut palms, chocolate trees, and coffee bushes, and an azule Caribbean sea.
I spent 7 days in Baracoa and I wish I had stayed longer. Time passed by in a sweet, relaxing vibe. It was the perfect place to recharge my batteries. Baracoa is small, you can visit it all in less than a day. It offers just a mix of local everyday life and some mildly touristy facilities.
The town’s strength comes from its authenticity which makes it charming to wander around.
Baracoa: Caribbean sea and tropical nature
Baracoa is surrounded by beautiful bays, untouched beaches, tropical wilderness and mountains, so there are tons of excellent outdoor activities to choose from.
You can either hike to the table top El Yunque; take a boat trip to the Yumury Canyon; go trekking the UNESCO biosphere reserve Alejandro de Humboldt National Park up to the stunning 17-meter high Saltadero Waterfall, or just lay down on one of its Caribbean beaches, eating fresh lobsters under a palm tree and swim in its waters, like Playa Maguana, Playa Malanguito, Playa Blanca, just to mention a few of them.
To get to any of the above excursions, you can arrange a tour through any of the several tour operators (either official or not) hanging around in the Parque of Independencia, the town’ s main square. You can either share a car or take a taxi, a horse ride or jump on a local bus to go to any of the nearby beaches. Everything happens around the main square. You can’t miss it!
What to eat: Baracoan delicacies
The Baracoan cuisine is very nice and goes pretty further the repetitive congri rice and fried banana that you will find in the rest of the island. Baracoa has a unique cousine that uses the main resources of the area: fish, coconut and chocolate. A delicatessen that is only found locally is the tetí: a little, almost transparent, river fish, which is prepared in various ways, either cooked in coconut milk or dried with rice. Another very special dish is the calalau, which is made by cabbage leaves, boiled and mixed with coconut milk and spices. Try also the Bacàn, green banana mixed with crab meat and all wrapped in a banana leaf.
Baracoa is the cocoa kingdom: yummy chocolate bars are sold almost everywhere. The ultra sweet Baracoan specialty is the cucurucho, made from dried coconut melted in sugar, guava, orange peels, and nuts, all wrapped tightly in a palm leaf. Don’t miss the delicious Baracoan drinking chocolate – hot chocolate brewed with cinnamon leaves.
Where to eat in Baracoa
I went twice to the Restaurant La Terraza: it has a very nice terrace and it serves excellent local delicatessen as the tetí cooked in coconut milk and huge fresh river prawns. Don’t miss the chocolate and coconut cake! Prices are around 15-20 CUC [14-18€] per person.
Baracoando restaurant is one of the best restaurants I was when in Cuba. Despite not being a vegetarian, the food was so good that once I discovered it, I ended up eating there every night. The owner Aristidis is a gifted inventive chef: every day he and his partner create new, different dishes and you will be surprised every time with unknown tastes, flavors, and textures. Everything is made with love and with fresh, organic vegetables. There is no set menu and what is served is just what the owners have prepared that day and depends on what ingredients are available at the time. There is an option of 5 or 8 dishes as a meal. Price is around 10 CUC [9€].
Where to stay in Baracoa
I stayed at the guesthouse (“casa particular”, as they call the licensed accommodation) Casa Ramon and Mima. I booked the room through Airbnb a couple of days before my arrival. Yes, Airbnb is there too and in my opinion, if you want to stay in a Cuban “casa particular” and experience the real Cuban lifestyle, Airbnb is the best quality/price option. Mima and Ramon were excellent hosts, they made me feel like a part of their family all the time. My room was clean, spacious with a private bathroom. A huge, yummy breakfast was included in the price. I absolutely recommend it. Price: 13 CUC [12€] per night.
How to get to Baracoa
If you decide to fly to Baracoa, you have to depart from La Habana or from Santiago de Cuba.
If you go by bus, there’s a Viazul bus that runs between Santiago and Baracoa via Guantanamo City. It takes about 5 hours to get there.
You can also get there by passenger truck or taxi. If you are coming from Holguin province like I was and you are up for a more thrilling trip (with a bonus of breathtaking view, passing through the National Park of Alejandro Humboldt), in Moa you can jump on a passenger truck or on a shared 4×4 taxi and take the dusty Moa route. It’s a 3-hour ride approx and cost me around 5CUC [4,5€].
- Francesca Sciarra is an Italian photographer living in Barcelona. She’s in love with traveling and cats, besides being an enthusiastic swing dancer. All the photos in this post are hers. She’ll be hosting our webinar Travel Conversations about Cuba on July 16th, 2019.