Caribbean Tourism

Baracoa

Close to the most easterly point of the island, Baracoa is an attractive place surrounded by rich, tropical vegetation and the perfect place to come and spend a few relaxing days on the beach. It was the first town founded in 1512 by Diego Velázquez, and for three years it was the capital of Cuba.


Up until the 1960s it was really only accessible by sea until the viaduct, La Farola was built. This is a spectacular road, 30 km long, joined to the mountain on one side and supported by columns on the other. It is well worth the trip from Santiago (150 km, four hours’ drive) for the scenery of this section of road, which winds through lush tropical mountains and then descends steeply to the coast.

The area is a UNESCO biosphere, with more than 10 rivers, including the Río Toa, 120 km long and the widest river in Cuba. White water rafting is possible down the Río Toa, with different levels of difficulty. The Río Yumurí is 30 km east of Baracoa. This is the most spectacular of Baracoa’s rivers, running through two deep canyons. You can take an organized tour (US$28), rent a private car (US$10) or take a colectivo taxi or truck to the Río Yumurí where the road ends. A canoe will ferry you across or you can hire one to take you upriver for US$1. You can continue walking upriver and swim, very quiet and peaceful.

Christopher Columbus arrived in Baracoa on 27 November 1492. He planted a cross, now housed in the church, Iglesia de la Asunción, and described a mountain in the shape of an anvil (yunque) which was thereafter used as a point of reference for sailors.

The first maps of Cuba drawn by an Englishman showed the Yunque de Baracoa mountain, copies of which can be seen in the museum. Between 1639 and 1742, Baracoa’s three forts were built. The oldest, El Castillo, was destroyed in 1652 by the French. The others were Fuerte de la Punta, now restaurant La Punta, and Fuerte Matachín, now the Museo Municipal. Daily 0800-1800, US$2.

Baracoa has 56 archaeological sites, with many traces of the three Indian groups who lived there: the Siboney, the Taino and the Guanturabey. There is one surviving community of 300 Indians, called the Yateras, dating back to the Spaniards’ arrival. They are integrated with the rest of society but only marry among themselves and maintain their traditions. They live in an isolated region along the shores of the Río Toa, but a visit can be organized through the Museo Municipal.


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