Located over the hills and far away on the wet and windy side of the Cuchillos del Toa Mountains, Cuba’s oldest and most isolated town is a thing to behold, less for the beauty of its architecture (which is scruffy and unimpressive), but more for its atmosphere, people. It has been called one of Cuba’s most charming travel destinations, thanks to the stunning diversity of local landmarks, like the distinctive flat-topped mountain El Yunque, and vibrant cultural scene, such as the annual street festival each April commemorating the beginning of Cuba’s War of Independence.
Spanish forts in Baracoa
Baracoa is protected by a trio of muscular Spanish forts.
Fuerte de la Punta
This Spanish fort has watched over the harbor entrance at the northwestern end of town since 1803. The super-thick, hurricane-resistant walls now hide a rather pleasant restaurant .
El Castillo de Seboruco
Baracoa’s highest fort was begun by the Spanish in 1739 and finished by the Americans in 1900. Barely recognizable as a fort these days, it serves as Hotel El Castillo. There’s an excellent view of El Yunque’s flat top over the shimmering swimming pool. A steep stairway at the southwest end of Calle Frank País climbs directly up.
This one, built in 1802 at the southern entrance to town, houses the Museo Municipal . The small but beautiful building showcases an engaging chronology of Cuba’s oldest settlement including polymita snail shells, the story of Che Guevara and the chocolate factory, and the particular strand of music Baracoa gave birth to: kiribá, a forefather of son.
Fábrica de Chocolate
The delicious sweet smells filling the air in this neck of the woods are concocted in the famous chocolate factory 1km past the airport turnoff, opened, not by Willy Wonka, but by Che Guevara in 1963. It’s not currently accepting visits (or golden tickets!).
Fábrica de Cucuruchu
Undoubtedly the only factory in the world that makes cucurucho, Baracoa’s sweetest treat, wrapped in an environmentally friendly palm frond. You can buy it on-site, although most people procure from the local farmers who sell it from the roadside on La Farola. It’s 500m beyond the Fábrica de Chocolate on the road to Moa.
Casa del Cacao
Baracoa, you will quickly ascertain (via your nose), is the center of Cuba’s chocolate industry; cocoa is grown hereabouts and subsequently chocolate-ized in a local factory. Thus this cafe cum museum chronicles the history of cacao and its importance in eastern Cuba as well as offering cups full of the pure, thick stuff (hot or cold) in a pleasant indoor cafe. They also sell bars of dark agreeably bitter Baracoan chocolate.
Parque Natural Majayara
Southeast of town in the Parque Natural Majayara are a couple of magical hikes and swimming opportunities plus an archaeological trail in the grounds of a lush family farm. It’s a very low-key, DIY diversion.
Passing the Fuerte Matachín, hike southeast past the baseball stadium and along the dark-sand beach for 20 minutes to the Río Miel, where a long low bridge crosses the river.
Staying straight on the track, you’ll come to a trio of wooden homesteads. The third of these houses belongs to the Fuentes family. For a donation, Señor Fuentes will lead you on a hike to his family finca , where you can stop for coffee and tropical fruit. Further on he’ll show you the Cueva de Aguas , a cave with a sparkling, freshwater swimming hole inside. Tracking back up the hillside you’ll come to an archaeological trail with more caves and marvelous ocean views.
Museo Arqueológico ‘La Cueva del Paraíso’
Baracoa’s most impressive museum is exhibited in a series of caves, Las Cuevas del Paraíso, that were once Taíno burial chambers. Among nearly 2000 authentic Taíno pieces are unearthed skeletons, ceramics, 3000-year-old petroglyphs and a replica of the Ídolo de Tabaco, a sculpture found in Maisí in 1903 and considered to be one of the most important Taíno finds in the Caribbean.
Baracoa offers beaches to suit every taste, from family-friendly to ruggedly remote, in an interesting array of colours too. Sun-worshippers can choose between the golden sands at Playa Maguana, the black sands at Playa Duaba or the gray sands around the Bahía de Baracoa.