Baracoa: Cuba’s Undiscovered Paradise

Baracoa: Cuba’s Undiscovered Paradise

Baracoa in Cuba’s eastern tip is the land of chocolate and coconuts, jungle-covered mountains and hidden sandy coves – yet remains undiscovered by tourists.


, colour-splashed Trinidad and Viñales’ prehistoric
landscape are top of the list for visitors to
, but Baracoa – a municipality in the eastern tip of the
country – rarely gets a look in. Yet this is the land of chocolate
and coconuts, jungle-covered mountains and hidden sandy coves.
Among Cubans, it’s said to be home to the country’s most beautiful
scenery, while for tourists it remains a little-known paradise.
While Cuba is relatively flat, in Baracoa the country folds up into
mountains which encase the small town, threaded with 29 rivers with
melodic names which roll off the tongue: Toa, Duaba, Yumurí, Miel.
These rivers slowly wind their way through rows of palm trees down
the ocean, an azure front that Baracoa backs onto. It’s a beauty
that photographs struggle to translate, when your cheeks sting from
sweat and the sun and you hear the rustle of the palms as you slip
along the mauve-tinged waters of one of its rivers at sunset.

Getting to Baracoa has never been easy. For nearly 500 years –
until the 1965 La Farola road was built – the town was practically
cut off from the rest of Cuba. The mountain road is torturous but
the journey is worth it, finishing in a place even older than
dilapidated Havana. This was the first town in Cuba, built in 1511
in a place whose beauty seduced Christopher Columbus in 1492. Power
and influence may have drifted up coast long ago, but what remains
today is a vibrant town enveloped by a natural Eden.

Base yourself in Baracoa to enjoy the town’s compact charm,
while it is also a good launchpad from which to explore the
surrounding area. At Baracoa’s heart is the bustling Parque
Independencia, from which streets lined with low-level pastel-hued
houses radiate out towards the Malecón. As elsewhere in Cuba, the
best way to experience life is to stay in a casa particular, a room
in a Cuban home, which can be booked through Airbnb. An en-suite
room usually costs around $25CUC and you can fuel a day’s
adventures with a typical Baracoan breakfast of thick hot
chocolate, fresh fruit, and fried eggs ($5CUC). Escape the city
with a trip to Playa Maguana, a beach 25km northwest of town where
Villa Maguana sits on
its own secluded cove and offers 16 double rooms housed in rustic

In a country often bemoaned by travellers for its monotonous
cuisine, Baracoa firmly goes against the grain. Here, catch of the
day includes red snapper, swordfish and lobster, and sometimes the
mysterious tetí, a small fish that can only be caught under the
light of a waning moon. Make the most of the fresh fish and seafood
with a beach shack lunch on Playa Maguana; pull up a chair outside
Victor’s home and try prawns in a creamy, curried coconut-milk
sauce, or zesty-orange marinated red snapper hot from the grill.
Unsurprisingly, as the home of Cuban chocolate, Baracoan’s have a
sweet tooth, so tuck into the chocolate-heavy menu at Casa del
Chocolate (Maceo no.121), a quaint national peso café.

In the evening, head to El Poeta (Maceo no.159 esq. Ciro Frias),
a restaurant located just a stone’s throw from Parque
Independencia. This is the place to indulge in the region’s coconut
bounty – at its best in their homemade ice cream served in a cacao
pod. After dinner, catch the live music at Casa de la Trova. Set on
a corner of the main square, this small but lively venue is the
best place to enjoy authentic trova – the legendary sound of
19th-century Cuban troubadour musicians. Performances are daily
(5-7PM and 9-11.30PM) and cost $1CUC; come to the later show when
the chairs are pushed back as writhing dancers gradually fill the
room and spill outside.

The true draw of Baracoa, however, is the surrounding landscape.
Infotur, Ecotur and Cubatur, all of which are based in the
town centre, offer a range of day trips. Start with a climb up El
Yunque, Baracoa’s iconic mountain ($17CUC). Even in a region of
soaring mountains, this 575m slab – a remnant of vast primordial
plateau – has a singular presence. The trek up the forested slopes
takes you to the summit, where you can survey the land: the rivers
running out to the ocean, the rolling mountains, and little Baracoa
nestled on the coast. Having seen it all from above, delve deeper
with a day exploring the Parque Nacional Alejandro Humboldt
($24CUC). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its
biodiversity: it’s home to the smallest bird, frog, bat and male
scorpion in the world. Here narrow paths weave through the
mountainous jungle. Reach a viewpoint and the scenery is
breathtaking: beneath a searing blue sky a wrinkle of mountains
undulates out to the ocean, coated in a dense blanket of palm and
coconut trees that sway in the breeze. Trekking further, falcons
and hawks cast intermittent shadows across your path and as your
eyes scan the greenery there are flashes of brightness – the
iridescent flicker of a hummingbird, the spec of a tiny acidic
green lizard. After so much walking, a dip in a waterfall is a
fitting reward. Hidden from view, follow the low rumble of water as
you wade through a shallow stream before reaching a deep icy pool
fed by a rushing cascade.

For a less strenuous day out, head to the Yumurí river valley
($25CUC). Start off at the local fishing village, where the
turquoise river bleeds into a deep blue ocean, and take a rowing
boat through the steep-sided valley. From a stony peninsula in the
middle of the river, you can spend a few hours swimming in the
cool, clear waters. Another relaxing day trip is the charmingly
untamed Playa Maguana ($5CUC). A short drive from Baracoa, a bumpy
track leads to the beach where a tangle of undergrowth tumbles down
to the fine bleached sand, and a handful of shacks serve fresh
seafood to a clutch of visitors and locals.

As Cuba swells with wave upon wave of visitors, Baracoa remains
unlike anywhere else on the island. Protected by its arm of soaring
mountains and its historic isolation, Baracoa has retained its
elusive, untouched nature. Come now and you’ll have it much to
yourself. Swim in its waterfalls, discover its secluded beaches,
and stand surrounded by mountains listening to the rustle of the

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