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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Baracoa Public Art
Baracoa has many examples of public art. Following are some of my favourite photographs:
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.
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.
Around the farm and walking back to the main road we spotted lizards, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and tadpoles.
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 we hitched a free ride in the back of a B-plated (government) truck.
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.
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
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.