Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest Spanish settlement, is slightly different than any other Cuban city. It’s located in the municipality of Guantánamo Province, very close to the eastern tip of the island. Its higher amount of rainfall makes this a region of lush, almost subtropical vegetation. After all, Baracoa is all about cocoa and coconut plantations and their products. Despite being hard to reach, it shouldn’t be missed on any Cuban trip, even if you only have one day of time to spend there. You can explore the cocoa and coconut plantations, enjoy the taste of Baracoa cuisine, spend an afternoon at the beach and still have plenty of time to learn some salsa moves at night.
What’s the best time to visit Baracoa?
Baracoa weather tends not to change much during the year. The annual average temperature is around 26ºC, and the daily temperature doesn’t get much higher or lower than that. With more than 180 rainy days and high humidity, Baracoa’s rainy season seems to be endless.
What’s good to know about Baracoa?
Baracoa was first visited by Christopher Colombus in 1492 and founded by the first governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, in 1511. It is the oldest Spanish settlement on the island and was the first capital of Cuba. It’s surrounded by a wide mountain range on one side and the Bay of Honey on the other, which makes it quite isolated from the rest of the country.
One Day in Baracoa Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Baracoa.
Stroll around the city center early in the morning
Even a short walk through the streets of Baracoa makes it obvious this city isn’t much about impressive colonial architecture (unlike Trinidad and Havana) but more about the atmosphere and its people. From the very early hours, the locals gather around the park in front of the Cathedral ready for a game of chess or domino. It’s the perfect place to meet locals or fellow travelers, since this part of the town is quite busy in the morning.
Book a day excursion at a tour agency
There are several tour agencies around the city center, and all of them offer almost the same excursion packages. Book the one that combines cocoa plantations and cocoa production tour, a quick stay at Bahia de Mata, a visit to the canyon of the Yumuri River together with a river swim and some lazy time at the beach. Check more than one agency before you book, since prices can vary from 15 to 25 CUC. It’s recommended to book a tour online or via phone call at least a day in advance.
Learn about the cocoa production and try some original Cuban chocolate
Even if you don’t book a day excursion (which is recommended), make sure you find your way to a farmer’s house to see (and taste) the whole process of chocolate production. During the lesson, you’ll get a chance to taste all of the cocoa products, including the original Cuban chocolate and chocolate milk. Don’t be surprised if the chocolate doesn’t taste exactly as the one you buy at the supermarket.
Take a boat ride through Yumuri Canyon
The legend of the Yumuri tells the story of native families who chose jumping from the cliff into the river and dying with dignity over being enslaved by Spanish conquistadores. While jumping, they would scream “Yumuri”. The tour of the Yumuri river includes a boat ride through the 180 m deep canyon and a swim in the clear, refreshing river water along the way.
Spend an afternoon at Playa Manglito
Most of the tours will stop at Playa Manglito – a gorgeous, quite tropical, sandy beach. Even if they don’t, you can get a taxi and go there by yourself. The beach is not as crowded as many other beaches around Baracoa, and it mostly attracts only locals. It’s a great place to enjoy a couple of mojitos in the shade of a palm tree or have lunch at the restaurant just next to the sea.
Try the seafood in coconut milk
Whether you decide to stay at the beach or get back to the city, you’re probably super hungry by now. Since this coastal city offers a wide variety of super cheap seafood, it would be a real miss not to try it. Baracoa is famous for its grilled lobster (or shrimps or fish) prepared in coconut milk. It’s the specialty of this specific region, so it can’t be found in the rest of the country.
In Casa del Cacao, try one of many chocolate drinks
Casa del Cacao serves many cacao drinks including hot chocolate with rum. If you always have to choose between those two, maybe it’s time to try them mixed together.
Spend the night dancing salsa
There are not that many bars and clubs in Baracoa, and they are all located close to one another. Check out Casa de la Trova next to the Cathedral Square if you’re interested in learning some salsa moves or just want to enjoy some good vibes. If you’re more into seeing professional dance, head to the La Terraza – it’s a huge open-air terrace that hosts dance shows and contests. After the show, the whole terrace becomes a huge dance area.
Where to stay in Baracoa?
Casa particular (private apartments) might very well be the best choice for your stay in Baracoa (sometimes even the only one). They are not very numerous, however, so be wise and book ahead of time. You can do that even by phone if all else fails. The prices are more than reasonable, with the extra option (a few dollars more) including a breakfast.
Extra tips for visiting Baracoa
– Tipping may sometimes be included in the price (10%). If it isn’t, that’s about the amount you want to leave.
– Check your receipt! When it comes to food and drinks, the math here can get… a mind of its own, let’s call it that. Avoid paying more than you need to.
– Basic Spanish will be much appreciated here as people don’s speak English that much.
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