Best things to do in Baracoa Cuba

The Best Things to Do in Baracoa, Cuba

Many of those who make it as far as Baracoa agree that the countryside around Baracoa is the most beautiful part of Cuba. The city is located at Cuba’s southern tip and protected by glorious mountain ranges. There aren’t that many travelers who do make it here though, as even getting here is a bit of an adventure.  It does mean, however, that Baracoa has managed to avoid the more detrimental effects of tourism. Baracoa is a somewhat isolated, self-contained place that vibrates with a unique energy.  If you get here, then you’ll find it home to a unique mixture of people as there are many residents of Jamaican and Haitian descent.   Baracoa is a great place to kick back, relax and enjoy a unique part of Cuba – so here’s our guide to the best things to do in Baracoa, Cuba.

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Baracoa’s historic, old town area has a mix of classicist architectures with quirky French influences, which makes it look a little similar to Cienfuegos.  Its distant position, far from Cuba’s principal and most popular tourist points of interest, has protected it from mass tourism for the time being. However, Baracoa has the perfect recipe to seduce visitors: the combination of sea, mountain, and chocolate!  The backdrop to the city of Baracoa is stunning with serene blue waters and verdant forests, as well as hidden, private coves.   All this conspires to make Baracoa one of the most beautiful places in Cuba. 

Baracoa is also a long way from Havana, the center of power and finance in Cuba – it’s often last to receive funding for road and building repairs.  You’ll find the crumbling elegance of Cuba in spades here, but it has a charm that will remain with you for years to come.    Baracoa also gets more than its fair share of rain, which accounts in no small part for the stunning rainforests you’ll find around here. 

The Best Things to do in Baracoa

Baracoa, one of Cuba’s most fascinating places to visit, is a big effort to visit.  I recommend, if you’re adding Baracoa to your Cuba Itinerary, that you bring it to the start of your trip – perhaps just after Havana.  The journey here by Viazul Bus is long and on roads that aren’t always paved it’s not necessarily a comfortable ride.  At least, though, if you travel to Baracoa first, you’ll be heading homeward bound after that.

Baracoa is located in the Guantanamo Region, on the southeastern tip of Cuba. Even if you’ve made it as far as Santiago de Cuba, it’s still a further 5+ hours from there.  And so you’ll need to make the most of your visit here.  A good three days here will get you around the main sites and give you time to explore.  On our first visit to Baracoa, we spent 5 days here.  Here’s what you should squeeze into your time here

Walk along the Malecon in Baracoa

Baracoa’s position on the coast, surrounding the Bahia de Miel (the bay of honey) drives many of the things to do here, and to orient yourself I recommend checking out the Malecon.  The 1.5 kilometer (about one mile) long Malecon in Cuba is an esplanade or avenue that follows the coast around the city.   There’s little to no shade available, and the best time to stroll along Baracoa’s Malecon is in the early evening.  It’s when Baracoan residents come out too.   You’ll find makeshift cocktail bars set up – and our best Mojito was had here, joining the locals on the deck for a US$5 cocktail of dizzying strength.

Baracoa cocktails on the malecon

Stay at a Casa Particular in Baracoa

If you haven’t prebooked your accommodation in Baracoa – which we recommend that you do – and if you arrive on the Viazul Bus you’ll find Casa Particular owners meeting the bus with photos of their homes to tempt you in.    Casa Particulars are a great way to experience a little more local Cuba.  They’re a type of guest house or bed & breakfast that rents rooms to travelers looking to live in a private residence, close to the authentic country, and within the heart of its neighborhoods and people. We’ve stayed in casa particulars the length and breadth of Cuba and love them.  Baracoa’s friendly residents make this type of private accommodation the best choice. Our guide to Casa Particulars is here for more details on the history of this unique Cuban experience and how it works. 

And for casa particulars in Baracoa – here are our recommendations.

There are two sites that I recommend where you can prebook and prepay for casa particulares in Baracoa – HostelWorld and Homestay. 

Casa Buena Vista:  Baracoa – great clean rooms with private bathrooms and lovely views.  Ivan has been hosting guests since 2005.  The top floor room has a private terrace with lovely views.  It’s only 200 meters from the Viazul Bus station.  A great option in Baracoa – book the top room here.

Oceanfront Paradise, Baracoa – this is a glorious option close to the ocean with stunning views and a great location near the Viazul bus station too.  You can even see El Yunque from the terrace!  Check rates and book now

Casa Enrique Y Maria Leyda Baracoa – Enrique and Maria get amazing reviews and provide incredible breakfasts too.   They also make the best homemade fish stew which you have to experience to believe.  Enrique speaks English, so if your Spanish is a little rusty, this is a great option.  Check rates and book now.

Eat Amazing Food in Baracoa

Cuban food can be delicious but it won’t inspire your taste buds. That all changes in Baracoa.  We’ve had some great meals in Cuba and some good meals.  What you can expect in Baracoa is a very different cuisine from the rest of the island.  This part of Cuba’s cuisine is very different from the other regions. It is full-flavored, more diverse, and so, so tasty.

Baracoa’s unique regional cuisine is renowned throughout the island.  However, the cucurucho, a palm-leaf cone filled with honey, mashed coconut, and almonds and sold along the side of the road, is Baracoa’s most famous delicacy.

Baracoa cucurucho

Baracoa cuisine reflects the region’s natural resources and the immigrant nature of the population here.  While the cucurucho might be the most famous delicacy, for me, it was the coconut sauce-based dishes – shrimp or lobster that were my favorite.  It’s spicy but delicate at the same time and so moorishly tasty that you’ll remember it for a long time to come.

Baracoa cuisine

It is even possible to learn how to prepare those local specialties with a local family. You’ll learn how to prepare them under the supervision of your host and then enjoy the finished meal.  It’s a great way to explore even more of the local life.  If you opt for the Casa Enrique and Maria as your casa particular, you’ll benefit from having a superb cook, who might just teach you the basics of Baracoa cuisine.

Drink Fabulous Cuban Cocktails in Baracoa

You’ll have some good cocktails in Cuba and you’ll have some great cocktails here.  The mojitos in Baracoa are beyond compare.  You’re much more likely to find a Baracoan mojito made with wild mint and it’s seriously good.  Ask at your casa particular or take a walk on the Malecon on an evening and see what you can find.

Our guide to Cuba’s cocktails – including recipes, the history of Cuban cocktails (and there are some great stories!) is here.

Cuba is a paradise for cocktail lovers. It offers the perfect mix of rum produced in the country and a variety of tropical fruits, and all the sugar you can imagine. As a result, Cuban cocktails are refreshing, sweet, and seriously STRONG!

Have a Drink at Hotel El Castillo

There’s no better spot than the Hotel El Castillo’s terrace at the end of the day. Here you can enjoy a fantastic cocktail while looking out over Baracoa – it’s the best place for views over Baracoa.  The Hotel el Castillo is perched high above the city of Baracoa. It was originally built between 1737 and 1742. At one time, it was one of Baracoa’s three original Spanish fortresses called El Castillo del Seboruco. It was built to defend the city from attacks by pirates and buccaneers. Centuries later it hosted the general quarters of the Village Guards through the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

View from Hotel El Castillo

See Baracoa’s Independence Park

Formerly the Plaza de Las Armas, this is the main park in Baracoa.  You’ll find cafes surrounding it and both the Baracoa Cathedral and the bust of Hatuey here. 

Visit Baracoa’s Cathedral

The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is found in the main square of Baracoa, Parque Independencia.  It’s here that you can see the only cross remaining for the original 29 of those left by Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage.    The Sacred Cross of Parra – La Cruz de la Parra is the oldest artifact connected with Columbus that remains in Cuba.  It was offered to Pope John Paul II by the people of Cuba on his visit to Cuba in 1998, but he wanted it to remain in Cuba. 

Baracoa la cruz de la parra

Pay Homage to Hatuey – freedom fighter and hero in Baracoa

Opposite the entrance to Baracoa’s Cathedral is a bust of freedom fighter and hero, Hatuey.  You’ll see the image of Hatuey throughout Cuba.  There’s a Hatuey beer brand in Santiago de Cuba and the logo of the Cuban cigar brand, Cohiba, is an image of Hatuey.

Baracoa statue of Hatuey

See the statue of Christopher Columbus in Baracoa

At the end of the Malecon, there’s a small park with a statue of Christopher Columbus, commemorating his visit here in 1492.   The statue was carved out of a large piece of wood and is close to one of Baracoa’s original Spanish forts, Fort Matachin, which now serves as the sometimes open, sometimes not Baracoa Municipal Museum.

Baracoa statue of Christopher Columbus

Visit the Matachin Fortress Museum aka the Baracoa City Museum

The Museum is located in the old Fort Matachin.  There are displays and details of the original natives of the area and the history of Baracoa.  You’ll also find rooms displaying artifacts and information on local archaeology, pirates, colonialism, the Cuban war of independence, and the Republic.  Opening times are sporadic.  Your best bet is to wander in if it’s open when you walk past.

Explore the History of Chocolate in Baracoa

It was the French, fleeing the revolution in Haiti that introduced cacao to Cuba and it was here in Baracoa that they brought it.  Baracoa has many incredible things to offer to its visitors, including unique Cuban chocolate. Baracoa is the hub of Cuba’s cacao production.  You’ll see cacao plants around the region, especially if you head to El Yunque.  You can buy Cuban chocolate, visit the “chocolate museum” and also try a tour of Finca Duaba, a local cacao farm that can provide a unique and delicious experience.  This tour includes a visit to a cacao farm and a tasting too.

You’ll have to try “chorote” that you’ll find, usually at breakfast in Baracoa.  A chocolate drink, it’s a mix of cocoa from Baracoa, coconut milk, plantain flour, and cinnamon.  It’s silky, smoky, and distinctly different enough from hot chocolate for you to know you’re drinking something special.

Cuban chocolate is similar to chocolate in Central America – it’s not the refined taste and texture that you’ll be used to.  Mostly there are sugar crystals in it, almost as though they’re not combined or melted enough.  But heck, chocolate is chocolate, right?

Often called the “chocolate museum”, the Casa de Cacao in Baracoa’s main street has drinks, cakes, hot and cold chocolate drinks, and chorote.   

Best Day trips from Things to do near Baracoa, Cuba

Baracoa is a hidden gem and is surrounded by stunning landscapes.  You’ll want to make the most of your time here by exploring some of the area.   You can arrange with your casa particular owner to visit these places or prebook a trip using our partner, Civitatis. 

Baracoa is surrounded by the Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve.  It’s a site of stunning biodiversity in Cuba and one of the most important in the Caribbean.   It’s named after the River Toa and within the biosphere is the Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt  (Alejandro de Humboldt National Park), declared as a World Heritage Site in 2001 for its size, altitude range, landform diversity, and sheer wealth of endemic flora and fauna.    The Biosphere Reserve also contains Parque El Yunque, El Yunque Park, which contains the symbol of the city of Baracoa – here’s El Yunque from Baracoa.  Also, close by is Parque Yumurí (Yumurí Park) – with an almost picture-perfect landscape of dense vegetation and the Yumuri River.  And then there are the beaches.  The beaches in Baracoa itself aren’t much to write home about, but you can head to Maguana beach for something really special.

Here are some of the best things to do around Baracoa, Cuba

Hike El Yunque near Baracoa

Explore El Yunque Park near Baracoa and take in one of Cuba’s best hikes.  You simply can’t miss hiking El Yunque when you’re in Baracoa. It is one of the most well-known hikes in Cuba. The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular and well worth the climb.   You’ll take a full day to explore the El Yunque Natural Reserve which is about 6 miles from Baracoa.  This tropical rainforest hike takes you from the base to the top of “the Anvil” at 2000 feet above sea level, where the flat summit will give you stunning views of the surrounding landscape.  There’s time for lunch in a local restaurant, a dip under the waterfalls, and in the pools of the River Duaba before heading back to Baracoa in time for cocktails.  Find out more about visiting El Yunque from Baracoa and book your trip here.

El Yunque Baracoa

Explore the Yumuri Canyon 

Yumuri Canyon is a favorite excursion for visitors to Baracoa. Yumuri Canyon is approximately 30 km from Baracoa. It covers an area of 8,7 kilometers of forest and is characterized by clear and freshwater.  You’ll not only get to visit the tropical forest, but also visit a cocoa plantation to learn about the chocolate produced here.  And yes you get to taste it too!

Yumuri River Baracoa

You’ll cross the Yumuri River in a small fishing boat and take a short 20-minute hike to a glorious natural pool for a refreshing dip.  There’s time for lunch at the beach – fresh fish anyone? – where the River Yumuri meets the ocean and then relaxation on this lovely beach before heading back to Baracoa.  Find out more about how to visit the Yumuri Canyon here.

Visit Parque Nacional Alejandro Humboldt

The park is a true treasure of ecotourism and a great place to explore Cuba’s amazing biodiversity. The park is home to 16 of Cuba’s 28 endemic species of plants and several species of parrot, hutia, and snail.  This visit to the Alejandro Humboldt National Park includes a 2-mile trek along the El Recreo trail during which you’ll get to learn more about the flora and fauna of the area. 

Alexander Humboldt National Park Baracoa

You’ll get to visit a spectacular viewpoint of the bay and be able to spot orchids, Mayari pines, and then take a dip in the river Recreo.    This trip also includes time on the glorious Maguana Beach, where you can eat lunch and chill out after your hike.  Then it’s back to Baracoa in time for cocktails.  There’s more on this visit to Parque Nacional Alejandro Humboldt, including booking details here.

Go to Maguana Beach near Baracoa

This beautiful beach is located about 20 km North of Baracoa. It is very popular in the Guantanamo region because it is a truly stunning beach. This beautiful white sand beach is an excellent option for a day trip from Baracoa.  

Maguana Beach Baracoa

The trip takes about 40 minutes if you take a transfer – which you can prebook here – and you’ll get around 6 hours in this gorgeous location.   If you prefer to take a little exercise, then ask at your Casa Particular about renting a bike and cycle.  The route here is easy – there are no huge hills, but you’ll need to ensure you’re back before dark.  Book your transfer to playa Maguana Baracoa here.

Explore the River Miel, the Honey River of Baracoa

This river’s unusual name comes from a legendary love story.    A woman with honey-colored eyes fell in love with a sailor, and he with her, to the extent that he couldn’t leave Baracoa.   The legend continues, that if you visit the Rio Miel, and bathe in its waters (or drink them), then you will fall in love with Baracoa and never leave.  It’s worth a visit then!  And while it might also sound like the stuff of legend, the next tale is true.  The Rio Miel in Baracoa is known as being where Luis Manuel Pérez Abad gives swimming classes to hopeful newcomers as well as Olympic athletes as there’s no municipal pool here.

A trip to the River Miel starts in Baracoa and journeys to the mouth of the River.  You’ll see mangroves and natural terraces and some stunning views.  You’ll visit some of the small local villages and then stop at a freshwater cave – the Cueva del Agua (here’s where you’ll want to taste the water and tempt the legend).  Take a dip in the cooling water, and fuel up on lunch before heading to the White Beach (Playa Blanca) with turquoise waters for a relaxing afternoon before returning to Baracoa.  See more about taking a trip to the River Miel from Baracoa and book your tickets here.

Where is Baracoa?

On the northeast coast of Cuba’s easternmost tip, Baracoa is where Christopher Columbus visited in 1492. He called the region Porto Santo and referred to a nearby “table peak” that he could see, which is now known as El Yunque.  Baracoa was only accessible by sea up until the Cuban revolution. This hidden gem is nestled among mountains with beautiful endemic vegetation and paradisiacal beaches. It is, without a doubt, the most exotic spot on the island.

How to Get to Baracoa

There are many options if you choose to fly. You can fly directly to the Baracoa National Airport in less than two and a quarter hours from Havana. Another option is to travel to Guantanamo National airport and then take road transport that will take you to Baracoa within two hours. You will still need to travel more than 5 hours by road from Santiago de Cuba International Airport, even though it may be your entry point in Cuba.

You have many options if you’re already in Cuba’s East. These include private or collectivo transfers, but it is best to hire them before arriving in Cuba.

Flights to Baracoa

The Gustavo Rizo airport is a small airport that allows you to fly to Baracoa from the island’s airports. This Airport can be found 4 km northwest of the city, right behind the Porto Santo Hotel.  Although flights are not frequent, the Cubana de Aviacion airline operates from Santiago de Cuba or Havana. You can also fly through Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba airports.

Buses to Baracoa

Baracoa was only accessible by sea until 50 so years ago, when the highway known as “La Farola”, was constructed in 1964.  Cuba’s Viazul Bus service runs a scheduled bus to Baracoa every day from Santiago de Cuba.  The bus from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa takes 5 hours and 15 minutes.  In the current timetable, from Havana, you’ll need to first go to Santiago de Cuba (15 hours and 15 minutes) and then on from there

The bus station in Baracoa is located on the Avenida Los Martires near the entrance to the Bahia de Baracoa.

You can read more about the Viazul Bus service in our guide here

Driving to Baracoa

It’s a long drive to Baracoa from pretty much anywhere, but our guide to rental cars in Cuba is here.

A Brief History of Baracoa – Cuba’s First City

Baracoa is Cuba’s oldest colonial city, known as the First City of Cuba.  Baracoa is located in the province of Guantanamo and is uniquely exotic with the Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt (Alejandro de Humboldt National Park) on its doorstep. 

The province of Guantanamo is famous for the song “Guantanamera” – with the words of the poet, freedom fighter, and leader, Jose Marti put to music by Joseíto Fernández.  It’s also infamous for the American military base in Guantanamo Bay.

Christopher Colombus stopped here in November 1492, writing in his logbook that he’d found the most beautiful place in the world, but the Baracoa that we know today was founded by the Spaniard, Diego Velázquez in 1511.  The city was named “Our Lady of the Assumption of Baracoa.”   The history of the city and the cultural and natural attractions led the entire city to be named a National Cuban Monument.

Baracoa was the capital of Cuba from 1518 to 1522.    The name, Baracoa, stems from the meaning “the presence of the sea” in the indigenous Arauaca language.    Baracoa is surrounded by a mountain range, which includes the Sierra del Purial, and is on the Bay of Honey (Bahia de Miel).  It wasn’t connected to the rest of Cuba by road until 1964 when the 120-kilometer road named La Farola joined Guantanamo to Baracoa.  It is a beautiful drive from Santiago to Baracoa, through stunning landscapes.

The original inhabitants of Baracoa were Taino Indians, who were virtually eradicated by European diseases.    There’s a statue of a local hero, Hatuey near the Cathedral in Baracoa.  He’d fled from the Spanish in Hispaniola and raised a Taino army to fight the Spanish in Cuba.   After being betrayed by one of his group he was sentenced to be burned at the stake.  To help him attain salvation upon death, a Catholic priest tried to convert him.  When hearing that Heaven was where dead Spaniards went, Hatuey declined the offer, preferring to go to Hell.  He is known as the first prominent freedom fighter of the Americas.  There’s more on the history of Hatuey here.

The isolated location of Baracoa made it a great location for illegal trade with the English and the French and at the beginning of the 19th century, Baracoa became a haven for the French fleeing from the revolution in Haiti.  They brought with them coffee and cacao.  Baracoa is Cuba’s main chocolate manufacturing area.

Travel Tips for Exploring Cuba

Final Words on the Best Things to do in Baracoa

Baracoa is charming and small, with friendly people who make it a great place to visit. This beautiful and unique place is well worth the effort and time it takes to reach. It offers a rich culture, delicious cuisine, and breathtaking beach scenery.    It’s often said that getting there is part of the adventure and that’s certainly the case with Baracoa.  It will take you almost 24 hours to get here on a bus from Havana, but I think it’s well worth it.  Here you’ll discover a completely different type of Cuba that very few people actually get to see.  Come on down to the end of the island and let me know if you love Baracoa as much as I do.

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