Baracoa, Cuba: Ultimate Travel Guide
Welcome to Cuba’s oldest colonial city: the isolated, enchanting, and inspiring town of Baracoa. So remote that it was only accessible from the rest of the Cuban mainland by boat until the 1960s, Baracoa is one of those destinations that feels like you’re stepping back in time – which is saying a lot when considering this is Cuba! Much more easily accessible now than it was a few decades ago, Baracoa retains its off-the-beaten-path, relaxed feeling, and you’ll love exploring this hidden gem.
This ultimate travel guide to Baracoa, Cuba includes all our favorite tips for visiting this quintessentially Cuban destination, including how to get to Baracoa, where to stay in Baracoa, and the best things to see and do in this tiny but rich destination. From waterfall hikes to lazy beach days and super-fresh, delicious food, Baracoa truly has a bit of everything you’re looking for in Cuba.
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Located on the far eastern edge of Cuba’s northern coast, Baracoa is a hidden gem among Cuba’s most beautiful and historically-significant destinations. Just a small town, it packs a real punch for travelers, seemingly offering everything you could look for in a trip to Cuba. Think beaches, absolutely delicious food, adventure travel, gorgeous scenery, and enough historic charm to knock your socks off.
Despite having so much to offer, its isolated location means it isn’t overrun with travelers; this is part of what makes it so appealing. It takes a bit of time and planning to get here, so a day trip is out of the question. Most visitors stick around for at least 3-5 days, just enough time to fall in love with all that Baracoa has to offer.
Baracoa is surrounded by lush, dense jungle studded with mountains, which made the city so difficult to access prior to the creation of the road known as La Farola, one of Cuba’s many construction projects after the Cuban Revolution, connecting it to the city of Guantánamo on Cuba’s southern coast. In fact, prior to the 1960s, Baracoa was only accessible to the rest of the Cuban mainland by boat!
The mountains and jungle surrounding Baracoa today make for an attractive feature for visitors. One of the highlights of a trip to Baracoa for many travelers is hiking through the gorgeous area, exploring nearby Alexander de Humboldt National Park, and hiking El Yunque, the stunning table mountain that sets apart the “skyline” of this charming town from its bay.
Who Founded Baracoa?
The city of Baracoa was founded by the first governor of Cuba and Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar on August 15, 1511, several years before the founding of Cuba’s other most important cities like Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and Trinidad. This has earned it the name of Cuba’s Ciudad Primada, or First City.
Baracoa was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on November 27, 1492, and recorded in his diaries. In fact, Taino indigenous populations inhabited the area for generations before the Spanish arrived.
What is Baracoa Cuba Known For?
Baracoa, Cuba is known for being the oldest colonial city in Cuba – but it is also known for much more. The town’s historic charm, as well as its unique local food, and stunning natural bay with impressive mountainside surroundings, all make it stand out among other spots in Cuba.
The distinctive El Yunque anvil-shaped table mountain is also one of Baracoa’s many claims to fame. It makes for incredible hiking excursions providing stunning views and is considered one of the best destinations for hiking in Cuba.
Why Should You Visit Baracoa?
Baracoa’s more or less isolated destination means it’s certainly off the beaten path, and though it’s becoming more popular with travelers, it’s still not considered a booming tourist hotspot by any means. This is what makes it so quintessentially Cuban, and so worthy of a visit – carve out a few days on your itinerary for all that Baracoa has to offer.
Gorgeous, historic streets that feel laid back as opposed to the frenetic streets of Havana, relaxed beaches, unique and delicious local food, and mountain views – it’s all here in Baracoa waiting for the travelers willing to make it to this corner of the island.
Map of Baracoa Cuba
Baracoa is small, so it’s quite easy to navigate, even if it’s your first time visiting. You’ll have no trouble walking almost everywhere, and shared or private taxis can take you outside of town to beaches and hiking spots.
In this map of Baracoa, we’ve included all the spots that we love in this charming town and all the places we mention in this article. From tiny local restaurants to Baracoa’s best beaches, you’ll find everything you need in Baracoa for your ultimate visit. You can even download this map and keep it handy for your trip to Baracoa!
Things To Do in Baracoa
One of the greatest pleasures of visiting Baracoa is just exploring the historic town. It’s the perfect town for wandering, though you’ll want to bring comfortable shoes as cobblestones on older streets can get bumpy.
The town is anchored by a few important and historically-significant monuments. Parque de la Independencia and the town’s main street, Antonio Maceo, are great places to start. Also worth a visit is the Museo Fuerte Matachín, an impressive fortress-turned-museum with seven rooms displaying exhibitions on everything from Cuba’s colonization to its revolutionary history.
You’ll also want to visit the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion; this cathedral in the heart of town is home to La Cruz de la Parra, one of 29 wooden crosses crafted by Christopher Columbus himself and planted on his journeys in the Americas. It’s the only one of these crosses that remains and is considered the oldest and most significant artifact of Columbus’ journeys.
Baracoa Cuba Beaches
Baracoa proper is home to a few spots of beachfront, very popular with locals and travelers looking to stick closer to town. Located in central Baracoa, Playa de Miel is the most conveniently located beach. Though the sand is a bit darker, probably not the dream Caribbean beach you’re looking for, it’s great for spending a couple of hours on the sand near calm waters.
Alternatively, head just around the bay to Playa Blanca for a slightly nicer, though smaller, beachfront. You’ll find tour providers in town offering half-day or full-day excursions to Playa Blanca, which include visits to some of the nearby caves and a beautiful overlook with an incredible view of Baracoa. This can be a convenient way to have the logistics of your day covered, though you can visit on your own as well.
By far the best beach near Baracoa is Playa Maguana, a stunning white sand beach about 30 minutes drive north of Baracoa. It’s a drive, but it’s well worth it to visit this laid-back, beautiful beach, which feels quite untouched and is surrounded by palms.
You’ll find all the amenities you’re looking for in a convenient beach day, with a restaurant beachfront and some smaller local spots nearby, which are a bit more affordable (and better, in our opinion). You’ll also find a small dive shop nearby to rent gear for snorkeling or for diving excursions, which are a great choice as just off the beach there’s a nice reef.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
Northwest of Baracoa, the stunning Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is a true national treasure, its isolated location meaning it sees far fewer visitors than its stature and importance in Cuba and the world would otherwise indicate.
Named after German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who extolled the important endemic flora and fauna of this pristine spot, this unique park is one of the most important natural sites in Cuba. It was officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, recognized by the organization as “one of the most biologically diverse tropical island sites on earth.”
Highlights of the park include spotting unique flora and fauna, particularly birds and stunning tropical flowers; guides are incredibly well acquainted with the area and do a great job of spotting and explaining the features of the park. You’ll love the stunning coastal views and swimming in the river; it’s incredibly idyllic.
A visit to the park is truly a highlight of a trip to Baracoa. You’ll find plenty of tour operators in Baracoa offering trips to the park, though we recommend booking ahead on Civitatis for the most complete experience with a reliable guide.
Excursions usually include a trek through the park (the excursion offered by Civitatis is relatively easy, though requires a basic level of physical fitness) and opportunities for swimming and photography. Excursions can also be combined with a trip to Playa Maguana if you’re looking for a quick trip to this stunning beach as well. Overall, this is a much easier day trip than hiking El Yunque, though if you’re an adventurous traveler, both are fantastic ways to spend a day, and you won’t feel them to be repetitive.
El Yunque de Baracoa
El Yunque, in English, the anvil is an almost perfectly flat tabletop mountain towering just outside of Baracoa. It’s been making a big impression for years and even earned a mention in Christopher Columbus’ diaries, serving as irrefutable evidence for the date of his passage near Baracoa. Today it’s protected as one of Cuba’s National Monuments and is a highly-recognizable image of the region.
Don’t confuse El Yunque in Baracoa with the other famous El Yunque in Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico’s El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States, and El Yunque tours are some of the best things to do in Puerto Rico.
While you’ll be able to see El Yunque from every corner of Baracoa, visiting El Yunque is a highlight of a trip to Baracoa. More than just an invigorating destination for hiking in Cuba, making the trip to El Yunque is a great way to connect with rural Cuba, sample delicious local food, and swim among waterfalls – for many travelers, it’s a highlight of a trip to Cuba. You can find excellent excursions on Civitatis that provide the full experience and offer English-speaking guides.
While the trip to the top of El Yunque requires a degree of physical fitness, the excursion itself isn’t too challenging. Upon arriving in the park, you’ll start off with a shaded, tranquil, and mostly flat walk through gorgeous nature, along rivers and past local homes where owners often cook food for visitors. The last part of the hike, actually ascending the tabletop, can be a bit steep and rocky, though it’s just a short part of the journey.
Views from the top are absolutely incredible, as you can imagine. All of Baracoa is spread out below, with stunning and expansive views of the coastline.
Read More: 6 Best Hiking Destinations in Cuba
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Where To Stay in Baracoa
No major hotels or resorts here! Baracoa is home to an array of quaint, charming guesthouses, perfect for getting to know your host over homecooked meals. While we always recommend staying in guesthouses – called casas particulares in Cuba – no matter where you travel in Cuba, Baracoa is a great spot for it if you haven’t yet.
These are some of our favorite places to stay in Baracoa, which we always recommend to travelers for their friendly hosts and great locations.
Casa Fernando y Natacha
Easily one of the most beloved guesthouses in Baracoa, Casa Fernando y Natacha is just steps from Plaza de la Independencia and some of the best things to do and see in the heart of Baracoa. This friendly guesthouse has lovely hosts, large, comfortable rooms, and a great terrace with views over the entire town – a great place to start the day with breakfast. If you find space here where you’re traveling, jump on it; you’ll love your stay.
Casa Yamicel is located in a colorful and historic building in the heart of historic Baracoa for a memorable place to stay in the heart of the action. Rooms are quite basic but spotlessly clean, and hosts Yamicel and Neoris are spectacular – incredibly friendly and warm people, always available to guests. Breakfast is included and delicious!
Casa La Marina
This tiny guesthouse offer just two rooms – enough space for six travelers in total – but is an affordable and comfortable favorite. Casa La Marina is run by a lovely family who genuinely love connecting with travelers and can organize everything from taxis to excursions and more. The very best part? The rooftop terrace is covered, perfect for late afternoon drinks out of the sun, and offers absolutely stunning views of El Yunque.
Restaurants in Baracoa
With its lovely balcony catching the harbor breeze and offering expansive views, it’s hard not to fall in love with La Colina, in the very heart of Baracoa. If you’re looking to try Baracoa’s local favorite dishes like calalú, this is definitely the place – their calalú is excellent, and they offer a great number of seafood options.
Baracoando is by far the best place to eat in Baracoa, so much so that it’s highly recommended to get a reservation to make sure there is space in this small, homey restaurant. Don’t worry, your guesthouse host can certainly take care of this, or drop by its central location as you explore town. Baracoando offers the best of Cuban dishes done well, and local Baracoa favorites; the chef also goes out of his way for guests and offers private cooking class (a highlight if you have time in your itinerary).
While we generally choose seafood or meat dishes, especially in Baracoa, I’ve heard from vegetarian travelers that Baracoando is the best place in town and offers an array of options.
Restaurante Don Pedro
Restaurante Don Pedro is a Baracoa staple with great food, service, and affordable prices. Local favorites cooked in coconut milk abound, as well as more classic Cuban dishes you’ll find across the island. A favorite!
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Getting to Baracoa
How Do You Get to Baracoa Cuba?
Baracoa is notoriously isolated, even with the addition of the La Farola highway in the 1960s finally making it accessible to the rest of the island. Driving into Baracoa from nearby towns can take hours. Today, a small domestic airport in Baracoa makes it easier than ever to access Baracoa from the rest of the island. Though flights are infrequent, it’s a great option to consider.
Many travelers that are already exploring eastern Cuba choose to arrive by bus or car. If you can’t find a flight to fit your itinerary, consider flying into the airport in Guantánamo or Santiago de Cuba and making the drive from there; you’ll be able to see much more of Cuba in the process.
Havana to Baracoa
Most travelers from Havana fly to Baracoa, by far the most convenient way to reach Baracoa. However, flights are currently only running twice a week, meaning it can be tricky to fit into an itinerary that is relatively inflexible. Most travelers consider driving from Havana to Baracoa directly to be out of the question, as the trip takes at least 15 hours.
Consider looking at flights into Santiago de Cuba or Guantánamo instead; while you’ll still have a 2-hour drive from Guantánamo or a four-hour drive from Santiago de Cuba, flights are much more frequent, and you’ll love these other impressive areas of eastern Cuba as well.
Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa
You’ll find many more transportation options from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa, with more frequent buses and taxis you can generally split with other travelers. Viazul operates daily buses from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa, though they generally take a bit longer than five hours – expect the drive to be around four hours if traveling by car.