Baracoa, a Special Place in Eastern Cuba

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Boats in Baracoa Bay with El Yunque (The Anvil) mountain in the background

Baracoa in Cuba’s far eastern Guantánamo Province has unique a history, location and environment. Founded in 1511, the city is the island’s oldest Spanish settlement and Cuba’s first capital. Historically, people could only visit Baracoa by sea or air with the first mountain-piercing road connection opening in the 1960s.

A cannon sticking out from Baracoa's ancient fortified wall

A cannon sticking out from Baracoa’s ancient fortified wall

Baracoa is known for its food, including seafood, cacao and coconut. Unfortunately, little fresh produce was seen during Rocio and my December 2016 visit. Two months earlier Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage, destroying almost all crops. North of Baracoa is Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, famous for its endemic plants and animals including the northern hemisphere’s smallest frog. Baracoa’s food, hurricane damage and the national park feature in separate blog posts.

A mural near Baracoa's stadium commemorating the city's founding and featuring its colourful snail symbol; note the adjacent hurricane recovery construction materials

A mural near Baracoa’s baseball stadium commemorating the city’s 505th anniversary in 2016 and featuring its colourful snail symbol; note the adjacent post-Hurricane Matthew reconstruction material

In Baracoa we stayed at the lovely Casa Fernando with friendly hosts and ocean views for only 15 CUC (US$15) per night. This post’s featured image was photographed from Casa Fernando.

Children having fun with a kite on Baracoa's coastline

Children on Baracoa’s coastline watching a kite controlled by the middle child

Baracoa Fever

Rocío, Chris and I arrived to Baracoa after an action-packed time post-Fidel Castro’s death. I felt slightly unwell on our epic trip from Santiago de Cuba. Waking up in Baracoa I had a fever. Getting sick in Cuba is not recommended, let alone in an isolated city recovering from a hurricane. Rocío cared for me wonderfully using the limited resources available.

The first day Rocío scoured all over Baracoa looking for fresh ingredients to make a healthy meal. Our hosts at Casa Fernando kindly provided cold sachets left behind by a Mexican guest. Drinking tap water in Cuba is not recommended and Baracoa stores only sold small bottles. When Rocío saw a shop with 5 litre bottles, she bought three and, with her tenacity, carried all 15 kilograms back to our room.

Antibiotics from the local pharmacy officially priced at 1.10 CUP (~US$0.04)

Ciprofoxacin antibiotics from the local pharmacy officially priced at 1.10 CUP (US$0.044)

By the third day my fever remained and a concerned Rocío visited a local pharmacy for medicine. Officially, local pharmacies and their subsidised medicines are restricted to Cubans. Non-Cubans have foreigner-specific pharmacies and hospitals. However, Rocío was able to obtain antibiotics. She paid 5 CUP (US$0.20) for 20 tablets (5 days’ worth) although they wanted to give her more. The next day I felt somewhat better and left our casa for the first time in almost four days. Thankfully, in the following days we were able to get out and explore and city and region.

Paradise Cave Archaeological Museum

On the way to Baracoa's Archaeological Museum

On the way to Baracoa’s Archaeological Museum

Baracoa’s Paradise Cave Archaeological Museum (Museo Arqueológico La Cueva del Paraíso) contains many pre-Columbian artefacts in a series of caves that were formerly Taíno burial chambers. Located in a hillside in the suburb of Paraíso, the museum is a worthwhile detour from central Baracoa. Don’t miss the panoramic views of Baracoa and surrounds from the museum lookout.

A pre-Columbian Taino sculpture at the Archaeological Museum

A pre-Columbian Taino statue at the Archaeological Museum

Baracoa Public Art

Baracoa has many examples of public art. Following are some of my favourite photographs:

A musical and colourful Baracoa mural

A musical and colourful Baracoa mural

A sculpture in central Baracoa

A sculpture in central Baracoa, probably pre-Columbian inspired; during our stay a coat of paint was added

Tiled mural commemorating Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo's arrival in 1895

Tiled mural commemorating Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo’s arrival to Cuba in 1895

People waiting for transport stand near a peaceful sculpture not far from Baracoa's airport

People waiting for transport stand near a peaceful monument not far from Baracoa’s airport

Finca Duaba

From  we caught a passenger truck north west past the chocolate factory on the Moa-Baracoa Highway. Our destination was farm Finca Duaba, a 1 kilometre hike from the highway. Helpfully, some musicians led us to the farm. There we enjoyed refreshing pineapple soft drink on this hot day and a guy showed us a Cuban trick box.

Rocío attempting to open a puzzle box at Finca Duaba

Rocío attempting to open the trick box at Finca Duaba

Finca Duaba is a state owned tourist restaurant that also offers guided tours of their cacao path (when not damaged by a hurricane). Few cacao and other fruit remained on the trees with most crops lying perished on the ground.

A beautiful lizard at Finca Duaba

A beautiful lizard at Finca Duaba

Around the farm and walking back to the main road we spotted lizards, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and tadpoles.

This bird has a red ring around its eyes

This bird has a red ring around its eyes

Locals with and sheep chat outside Baracoa

Locals with sheep and dog chat on the road leading to Finca Duaba

A woodpecker in a coconut palm

A woodpecker in a coconut palm

Stunning red and purple flowers

Stunning red and purple flowers

A red dragonfly

A red dragonfly

Walking back a local chatted with us from his front yard. He was selling pure cacao balls and we bought two for 1 CUC (US$1). Upon reaching the main road we continued back along to the chocolate factory which emitted a nice smell. Che Guevera inaugurated the factory in 1963 (see Baracoa food post)

Returning to Baracoa in the back of a truck

Hitching a ride in the back of a truck

Returning to Baracoa we hitched a free ride in the back of a B-plated (government) truck.

Other Excursions

A beautiful reflection on the Macaguanigua River between the town and airport

A beautiful reflection on the Macaguanigua River between the town and airport

One morning we walked out of Baracoa over the Macaguanigua River and to the airport, returning via local bus. Later that day we caught more local transport north west to the Toa River where the Moa-Baracoa Highway was cut off when Hurricane Matthew destroyed the bridge.

The moon shining through palm trees outside of Baracoa

The full moon shining through palm trees between the Toa River and Baracoa

On Rocío and my final full day based in Baracoa travelled across the Toa River and continued onto Alejandro de Humboldt National Park to see one of the world’s smallest frogs.

Dramas Departing Baracoa

In a horse and cart travelling along Baracoa's waterfront to the bus station

In a horse and cart travelling along Baracoa’s waterfront to the interprovincial bus station

With our pre-purchased tickets we were due to catch a modern Viazul bus back to Santiago de Cuba. Arriving to Baracoa’s Interprovincial Bus Station (Terminal de Interprovincial Omnibus) we discover our service had already left. I received the blame because at the agency I misunderstood the Spanish and thought the departure time was when we should be there. Oh well. It was only a minor drama as we caught a shared private vehicle (colectivo) for 10 CUC (US$10) each instead, ending our feverish 9 days in recovering and friendly Baracoa.

3 thoughts on “Baracoa, a Special Place in Eastern Cuba

  1. Pingback: Awesome Hot Chocolate and Other Baracoa Food | Where is Joe.in?

  2. Pingback: Hurricane Matthew and its Impact on Baracoa | Where is Joe.in?

  3. Pingback: From Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa via Guantanamo Bay | Where is Joe.in?

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