You’ve been tickled by the vintage cars, danced at midnight on the Havana Malecón, dined at a paladar, and had one too many mojitos. That means you’ve seen everything you need to see in Cuba, right? Well, not really. About 615 miles east of Havana, the isolated town of Baracoa offers remarkable nature, delicious indigenous-influenced food, and some of the island’s most interesting history. Book a two-hour flight on Air Cubana, secure a room at a bed and breakfast, and get ready to explore this almost untouched part of the island.
Located in the province of Guantánamo (yes, unfortunately, that Guantánamo) Baracoa is Cuba’s oldest settlement—a colonial village at the site of where Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba on his 1492 voyage. Expect even more patina than Havana: squat, brightly colored buildings with tile roofs line cobblestone streets and dirt roads. The best places to stay in Baracoa are the casa particulares—the bed-and-breakfast spots—most of which will cook you meals made with black-market fresh seafood.
Food and Drink
We’ve said it before, but Cuba is not known for its cuisine. Communism is mostly to blame for that sad fact. However, because of Baracoa’s seclusion from the rest of the country—there were no roads there until the mid-1960s and no flights until the 1990s—much of the island’s Spanish and indigenous cuisine survived. Think lots of coconut, okra, seafood, and fresh tropical fruit. You can find men hawking cucurucho, a sticky mix of shaved coconut, honey, nuts, and fruits like guava or pineapple in a palm-leaf cone, all over the city. Because of the many cocoa trees in the area, fresh white chocolate abounds, sold in cakes wrapped in palm bark. For a taste of the region’s native food, check out La Terraza, a restaurant on the roof of a B&B, for fresh octopus and fish in coconut milk, plus amazing views of the Malecón and the ocean.
Some of the Caribbean’s Most Untouched Nature
Baracoa is home to one of the largest untouched rainforests. Hike through the Cuchillas de Toa mountains, a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, or ogle the Salto Fino waterfall, the tallest in the Caribbean. If you want to play in some choice swimming holes, head southeast to Yumurí Canyon, where you can explore the many deep pools on foot or by rowboat. Or if you’d rather take in nature from a distance, you can marvel at El Yunke, the limestone tabletop formation that was one of the first things Columbus saw when he landed.
Speaking of Christopher Columbus, you can see a giant statue of the controversial explorer on Baracoa’s Malecón. The city is also surrounded by historic Spanish forts; one, Fuerte Matachín, is home to the Museo Municipal, a museum depicting the history of Baracoa and much of Cuba’s history in general. Another museum to hit? The Museo Arqueológico “La Cueva del Paraíso,” which is housed in natural caves and located just uphill of town. This unique museum features remains, artifacts, and stories of the indigenous Taíno people—making it a great place to get a feel for what Cuba was like pre-Columbus.