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Bounded to the north by the Atlantic, and in all other directions by rivers, mountains and forests, Baracoa is still largely isolated, which is one of its prime attractions. It has been called one of Cuba’s most charming travel destinations, thanks to the stunning diversity of local landmarks, like the distinctive flat-topped mountain El Yunque, and vibrant cultural scene, such as the annual street festival each April commemorating the beginning of Cuba’s War of Independence.

Music lovers will appreciate Baracoa’s unique changüí music, which can be heard echoing through the streets of nearby villages Virginia and Yateras. Baracoa is also the home of the Tumba Francesa, a Creole dance inspired by the French minuet.

Baracoa’s lush rainforests are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, many of which are rare or endangered. The diversity of the landscape – semi-arid cactus, fertile mountain plantations and seaside paradise – makes travelling throughout the region as enjoyable as the destination itself. Memorable excursions include the UNESCO biosphere reserve Cuchillas del Toa (which contains Alejandro de Humboldt National Park) and the stunning 17-metre high Saltadero Waterfall.

Local flavour

As you drive along La Farola (the region’s main highway), say yes when local vendors offer to sell you a cucurucho – a melt-in-your-mouth mixture of coconut. honey, mango and banana wrapped in a palm frond.

Baracoa offers beaches to suit every taste, from family-friendly to ruggedly remote, in an interesting array of colours too. Sun-worshippers can choose between the golden sands at Playa Maguana, the black sands at Playa Duaba or the gray sands around the Bahía de Baracoa.

Playa Maguana

Sink your feet into the shining white-gold sands of this beach, located 22 km from Baracoa. Protected by a coral reef, Playa Maguana is popular with local families and visitors alike. There’s a small village here, should you choose to spend the night.

Playa Nava

This remote beach is located off the beaten path, 6 km west of Playa Maguana. It’s a good bet if you prefer to sun in seclusion.

Playa Duaba

The striking black sand makes this beach worth a stop. It also features a bust of War of Independence hero General Antonio Maceo.

Bahía de Baracoa

To the west of town, a gray-sand beach wraps around the sparkling turquoise bay, beautifully framed by a mountain range.

In the mountainous ‘far east’ of Cuba, cascading rivers offer as many diversions as the sea itself. Boat tours on the Miel, Yumurí and Toa are a refreshing alternative to hiking for anyone wanting to explore what is arguably one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Boating and sailing

On your rainforest river-ride, keep an eye out for endangered birds, such as the Caguarero sparrow hawk. Also exclusive to the region are two species of fresh-water fish: the Guajacón and Joturo de Guantánamo.

Bahía de Baracoa Yacht Club

Hop aboard a catamaran for an excursion to the lovely Miel River Cove.

Río Toa

Cuba’s widest river springs from the peaks of Guantánamo’s mountains, flows through tropical rainforest and meets the sea near Baracoa. Arrange a boat or kayak trip at the Rancho Toa.

Baracoa is built for hiking, with its abundance of flora, fauna and readily accessible trails. Climb to the top of the famous tabletop mountain El Yunque. Or take a road trip to explore the diversity of the tropical jungle, mountain forest and semi-desert that Baracoa’s surrounding area has to offer.

Excursions

Nobody will be asking, “are we there yet” during breathtaking drives along roller-coaster roads through this mountainous terrain. Soak up the local culture in nearby Yumurí, learn about rural life in Toa Ranch, take a ‘cayuca’ trip along the Toa River or get back to nature at the Maraví ecotourism farm.

Maraví

Wander among fragrant coconut groves, orchards and palm trees at this ecotourism farm on the coast north of Baracoa.

Cayuca (Canoe) Excursion on the Toa River

Treat yourself to a unique experience by taking a cayuca (kayak) tour along the Toa River. You’ll get in a great workout while paddling past farmers’ plantations and the magnificent Sagua-Baracoa Mountain Range.

Toa Ranch

Ever wanted to learn how to harvest coffee, cacao and coconuts? Find out here, where you can also hear about what the rural life is like around Baracoa.

Yumurí

Enjoy the beautiful 35 km drive from Baracoa to the town of Yumurí. Watch out for the Bay of Mata, as well as the Barigua and Manglito beaches along the way.

Hiking

Trek into the lush mountain forests, where you will find a mind-boggling array of only-in-Guantánamo plants, birds and reptiles (none poisonous). Indigenous wildlife includes the Polymitas Pictas, exquisitely coloured snails that are now on the endangered list.

El Balcon de Iberia

This is a hiker’s paradise. The trail leads through the spectacular Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt (Alexander von Humboldt National Park), which UNESCO recognizes as “one of the most biologically diverse tropical islands sites on earth.” Careful where you step: you will pass some of the world’s smallest vertebrates on your way to the El Majá Waterfall, which cascades over 82 feet.

El Yunque (The Anvil)

A vegetation-rich trail that runs through the Quibiján-Duaba Ecological Reserve leads to El Yunque. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars: this is a bird-watching hot spot. Once you reach the tabletop, you’ll have a great view of the Duaba and Toa Rivers, as well as Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt (Alexander von Humboldt National Park).

Baracoa is an ideal destination for eco-tourists, thanks to its pristine natural attractions ranging from one of the best-preserved mountainous ecosystems in the Caribbean to spectacular caves and a spectacularly high waterfall.

Biospheres

Cuchillas de Toa

Spend an afternoon at this UNESCO biosphere reserve. As one of the world’s last untouched rainforests, it boasts a large number of endangered plant and animal species, including the Cuban land snail, which is about two inches in diametre with striking spirals of colour.

National parks

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park

This UNESCO site, the heart of the Cuchillas del Toa Biosphere Reserve, is located 40 km northwest of Baracoa. Widely recognized as the best- preserved mountainous ecosystem in the Caribbean, it is full of diverse flora and fauna, which prompted UNESCO to declare it “one of the most biologically diverse tropical island sites on earth.” It was named after German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt, who first arrived here in 1801.

Nature

Natural attractions are well worth exploring include Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, the heart of the Toa Biosphere Reserve, as well as El Yunque, Duaba and Maguano beaches, the Miel and Toa Rivers, and the Yumurí River Valley.

Cueva del Aguas (Cave of Waters)

Bring your bathing suit: this cave contains a cool, freshwater lagoon. After you take a dip, you can make your way up the hillside to an archaeological trail that boasts great ocean views, as well as more caves.

El Yunque (The Anvil)

No visit to Baracoa is complete without a visit to the region’s famous tabletop mountain covered in rich vegetation. It rises 575 metres above sea level and is situated between the banks of the Duaba and Toa rivers.

Salto Fino

Stop by Salto Fino to see the Caribbean’s highest waterfall. At 305 metres high, it’s the 20th highest water chute in the world, propelled by a sudden drop in the Arroyo del Infierno (Hell’s Stream).

Cactus Garden

Cactus lovers, unite. This huge garden grows 2,000 cacti in this semi-arid southern region along the Guantánamo-Baracoa highway

Río Toa

Go bird watching along Cuba’s third-largest river that serves as an important plant and bird habitat.

Finca Duaba

Walk along the aromatic cocoa trail surrounding this farm that houses a rachon-style restaurant.

Baracoa offers everything from historic churches and fortresses to archaeological sites.

Architecture

Barocoa’s fortresses are well worth a visit. Don’t miss the famous Parra Cross, housed in the Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Plaza Independencia

Mingle with the locals in this small triangular plaza also known as Parque Centra. It features a bust of the legendary Indian leader Hatuey.

Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

This historic church was built in 1833 on the site of an older church. It houses the famous Parra Cross, which is believed to be the only material evidence of Christopher Columbus arriving here in 1492.

El Castillo de Seboruco

Stop by to see the great view of El Yunque, or spend the night at this Spanish fort that has been converted into the Hotel El Castillo.

Fuerte de la Punta

You can have lunch or dinner inside this fort that has been protecting Baracoa’s harbour since 1803.

Fuerte Matachín

This Spanish fort located at the southern entrance of the town was built in 1802, and now houses the Museo Municipal.

La Farola

Take a drive along this famous highway that winds deep into the mountains near Cajobabo, the beach where national hero José Martí disembarked in 1895. The scenic road has 11 bridges suspended over the abyss and is listed as one of the seven wonders of Cuban architecture.

Dance

The nengón, the kiribá and the tumba francesa (a Creole dance inspired by the minuet) are among the French aristocratic dances brought to the island by slaves and French slave owners in the 18th century. These dances took root not only in Baracoa but in Santiago de Cuba as well.

Museums

From fortresses to caves to coffee farms, these museums are located in some unconventional places.

Museo Arqueológico (Paradise Cave Archaeological Museum)

What a novel idea: a museum about caves located inside of a cave. This museum located inside Las Cuevas del Paraíso, 800 metres south of Hotel El Castillo, displays a wealth of Taino Indian artifacts.

Museo Municipal

This museum located inside the Spanish fortress Fuerte Matachín features a brief history of Baracoa.

Take the kids to what will certainly be one of the most unusual zoos they’ve ever visited.

Zoológical de Piedras (Stone Zoo)

This is one zoo where you can safely pat the animals. Over 300 animal sculptures have been carved out of rock at this mountain coffee farm. Located near Baracoa in Guantánamo.

Baracoa’s art has a character all its own. Gallery-hop til you drop and then retreat into a former fortress for dinner or rock to the distinctive changüí-son rhythms at a local club.

Nightclubs and Bars

Casa de la Trova Victorino Rodríguez

The drinks and the changüí-son rhythms are cool at this local hotspot.

Restaurants and Cafes

Fuerte de la Punta

A converted fort, erected in 1803, now houses a restaurant.

Shopping

Taller La Musa

This shop located across from the Casa de la Cultura features original Baracoan art.

Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales

Peruse the Hatuey woodcarvings and t-shirts with indigenous designs.

Water Festival

This festival commemorates the founding of the Villa of Our Lady of the Assumption of Baracoa, by Diego Velázquez de Cuellar on August 15, 1511. Held August 12-15.

El Reve Changüí Festival

This celebration of Baracoa’s famous music brings together the most authentic changüí artists along with musical and dance performances of nengón, the kiribá, and the tumba francesa.