Cuba Destinations: Baracoa

Baracoa, originally named Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa , was founded by conquistador Diego Velázquez in 1511, almost two decades after Columbus planted a cross ( Cruz de la Parra) here. One of the original 7 Spanish settlements on the island, Baracoa briefly served as the first capital of Cuba.

Baracoa is on the northern coast of Guantánamo Province; until 1964 the town could only be reached by sea. These days you can travel via the "Carretera de La Farola" – a true engineering marvel. It rises 600m above sea level and boasts nine bridges hanging over steep cliffs.

Baracoa is a traveler’s fantasy: it has mountains (El Yunque is the 575-meter-high flat topped mountain dominating the landscape), crystal clear rivers, waterfalls and wonderful beaches, including Playa Maguana and Playa Nibujón. Because of it seclusion, Baracoa has maintained its own unique identity.

Baracoa has a distinctly colonial charm. The cobblestoned streets are lined with one-story homes – some wooden – with weathered tiled roofs and rockers on the porches.

The Municipal Museum exhibits archeological artifacts dating from the period before Columbus’ arrival as well as many photos, documents and materials related to Baracoa’s history.

The waterfront Malecón is a must see, as are the various forts built to withstand pirate attacks.

Baracoa, where cocoa trees grow in abundance, is famous for its white chocolate sold in round, flat cakes encased in palm bark. Also try cucuruchos , a local delicacy made of coconut, honey, and fresh seasonal fruit served in cones of palm bark.

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