With Cuba officially open for tourism again, travelers are flocking to the main sights of Havana and Viñales to experience places that were off-limits for so long. We loved those places, but we also wanted to get off the tourist trail a bit more. In that effort, we visited Baracoa, Cuba, one of the oldest towns in the country. Baracoa is a modest but charming place, with the people really making it a fun place to be. Surrounding Baracoa, you can find rolling plantations, lush jungles, and snaking rivers waiting to be explored.
While it wasn’t without its mishaps, our visit to Baracoa, Cuba was thoroughly enjoyable! Here are eight reasons why it should be on your bucket list too.
8 Reasons to Visit Baracoa, Cuba
Baracoa, Cuba, became the country’s original capital city after it was visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492. While there are a few colonial buildings to visit such as the Baracoa Cathedral and the Matachin Fort, there isn’t so much see here in the way of architecture. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit.
The star of the show in Baracoa’s old town is really the people. Spend some time simply wandering the streets, people watching and enjoying the atmosphere.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
If you’re a nature lover, then don’t miss Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Located northwest of Baracoa, it’s a massive national park full of vegetation and wildlife. When we visited, we trekked about 15km (9.3 miles) through the jungle with our guide. Although we were required to hire him in order to enter the park, he gave us a great tour and was very knowledgeable.
The park is known for its rich biodiversity with a large number of species that are endemic to the area. Alejandro de Humboldt has been protected by UNESCO since 2001 and gets its name from the German scientist who visited the island in the early 1800s.
El Yunque Mountain
Just outside the Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, you’ll find El Yunque. The mountain gets its name from the Spanish word for “anvil” referring to its flat-topped summit that overlooks Baracoa. This hike is a perfect eco-adventure for avid trekkers or for those that just want to find some of the best views in town. It will take you a full day to hike up the mountain and back.
Preserved Indigenous Culture
If you love history and culture, then Baracoa, Cuba should be one of your top destination in the country. It has more than 50 significant archeological dig sites in the surrounding area that reveal secrets of the indigenous culture of the region. An archeological museum is stationed inside a cave overlooking the city and offers many interesting insights into the region’s past, especially regarding the native Taíno people.
Delicious Local Food
The food in Baracoa is excellent, with local dishes often consisting of seafood and coconut milk in some combination. During our time there, we had a specially prepared dish of lobster that was fantastic! In addition, you’ll find plenty of meats, rice, and fried plantains. The food in Baracoa, Cuba is known as some of the best in the entire country.
If you’re discovering the delicious food, it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the sweets. Cucuruchu, a Baracoan specialty made of coconut, fruit, honey, and nuts, really hits the spot after a tasty meal. In addition, don’t leave without trying some chocolate. With so many plantations, cocoa is a core part of Baracoa’s identity and visiting a plantation is a great way to experience the local culture. If you’re really interested in chocolate production, then head to the Casa del Cacao, a restaurant and museum that shows more about the process (and has some heavenly chocolates for you to taste too!)
Being a Caribbean island, Cuba has no shortage of beautiful beaches, and many of them can be found in Baracoa. Playa Baracoa is the main beach in town. It’s dark sand and placid water is appealing, but it is far from the best beach in town.
To find the real gems, head east to Playa Blanca. This white sand beach has views of the whole bay and is the perfect place to watch young kids scrambling over rocks and playing in the water. Another one of the best beaches in Baracoa, Cuba can be found 20km (12.4 miles) northwest of the city inside of Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. Here, you’ll find Playa Maguana, a beautiful stretch of sand in front of the jungle and a favourite spot among locals.
The Yumuri Canyon
About half an hour east of town, you’ll find the Yumuri Canyon. One of the best things to do in Baracoa, Cuba is to take a boat tour on the river. You’ll see many native plant species along the way and have ample opportunities for bird watching. When the day heats up, go for a swim in emerald green waters.
There are a number of hiking trails in the area for those who’d rather go by land. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can undertake the 7km (4.3 miles) hike to the famous Belete Waterfall.
Unlike flashy Havana, Baracoa, Cuba isn’t known for its impressive architecture or refined taste. Here, the people are the real highlight. We came across so many locals out at the beach enjoying themselves and playing tourist in their own city. We saw people partying and dancing, having a great time in the middle of the day. Our local guide at Alejandro de Humboldt was informative and very friendly. We even watched young children fearlessly jumping off a rickety old bridge that we were clutching to for dear life! Salsa music and smiling faces can be found around every corner. It’s safe to say that the fun-loving locals are an integral part of Baracoa’s appeal.
Our time in Baracoa, Cuba was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. We had as much fun trekking in the jungle as we did laying on the beach, and would recommend Baracoa to anyone who likes to adventure off the beaten track without eliminating the chance to take it easy on some days too. Baracoa is truly one of the country’s hidden gems and a great place to visit for any traveler in Cuba.