Baracoa Cuba might be new to the tourism scene, but it is the island’s oldest city. Located in the Guantanamo Province in eastern Cuba, the city was the first in Cuba to be settled by the Spanish. Today home to some 80,000 people, the scenic city is benefiting from the grown of tourism in Cuba. Nestled between the Bahia de Miel (The Bay of Honey) and a rim of mountains, the city is prized for its scenery as much as its history. It’s also the center of Cuba’s chocolate production thanks to the cocoa farms, and a prosperous place for growing bananas. The beaches of Baracoa, Playa Maguana and Playa Nibujón, also delight.
Diego Velaquez de Cuellar settled the city in 1511, in the place where Columbus had landed on his first journey to the New World. The famed explorer and his ships arrived in port on October 27, 1492, and he called this “the most beautiful place in the world.” A statue dedicated to Columbus overlooks the same water today. De Cuellar was appointed governor those years later, making Baracoa the first capital of Cuba. Over the centuries, this protected place became a haven for pirates and others who needed a place of shelter nestled between the bay and the mountains. The town remained pretty isolated unless people arrived by sea, but it continued to grow slowly. Those arriving by road had to wait until after the Cuban Revolution. After the road was cut through the mountains in the 1960s, Ciudad Primera, the First City, really began to flourish.
Before the Spanish arrived, the land between the bay and the mountains provided a home to the Taino Indians. They lived on islands that would later become The Bahamas and other islands surrounding Cuba. Relatives of the Arawaks, the Native Carib People, the Taino People were largely wiped out when the Spanish overlook Cuba—but not in Baracoa. It’s one of the last places in the region where descendants of the Taino Indians still live. Today, it’s the guajiros who keep the traditions alive. The people called the guajiros, the mostly rural inhabitants of Taino descent, serve as gatekeepers to the past.
The chocolate everyone enjoys begins as cocoa beans, grown under the tropical sun. Baracoa has ideal conditions for growing the beans with high rainfall and mountain terrain. Many of the cocoa farmers share their crop with vendors who sell their treats at the shops in town. One of the local specialties is a disc of white chocolate wrapped in palm bark. Another favorite is cucurucho, a mix of the local coconuts, fruit and honey, also served in palm bark.
Baracoa Cuba Hotels
Baracoa Cuba Hotels
While Baracoa lies off the beaten path, it is not devoid of places to stay. Its hotels include a collection of lodging properties, many with a small collection of rooms—almost with a bed-and-breakfast feel. If you’re looking for Baracoa resorts, your best bets are the Hotel Porto Santo and Hotel Castillo. The first overlooks the bay and offers 80 rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV service and an outdoor pool. The Hotel Castillo also offers resort-style accommodations with 35 guestrooms at its site in the city center.