Baracoa in Cuba
We at Cuba Private Travel are a bunch of Habaneros mostly (along with the odd Irishman) but we are rather keen on the easternmost part of Cuba. The ‘Oriente’, as Cubans call the eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo, is much less discovered than the western and central provinces, with quiet, unspoiled towns aplenty. It’s hotter and greener than Havana and boasts virgin jungle, deserted beaches, and untapped rivers. It’s wild.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus stepped onto Cuban soil in eastern Baracoa where the Cuchillas del Toa hills meet the glistening Caribbean Sea. He fashioned a crude cross from a mangrove tree to christen this new Spanish outpost.
A gorgeously remote fishing town, Baracoa is closer to Haiti than Havana and only got its first road in 1964. We are truly sending clients to taste the undaunted Baracoan hospitality and spirit. Baracoa has 80,000 residents but it feels like a fishing village, its charming cluster of colonnaded colonial and post-colonial homes hugging a malecón. Early one morning, hike to the summit of El Yunque, a 575-metre flat-topped mountain seven kilometres west of Baracoa. It’s a 2.5 hour steamy slog rewarded with views of the vast wilderness that is Baracoa.
It may be extravagantly isolated, but Baracoa briefly basked in the limelight as the debut ‘city’ of Cuba and was even Cuba’s capital from 1518 to 1522. In the nearby Humboldt national park, you don’t need to be a twitcher to enjoy the endless variety of colourful rare birds, but if you are, seventh heaven awaits. Up to 60 species a day is normal, from parrots, warblers, crows, kestrels, egrets, herons, turkey vultures, hummingbirds, oriols, bullfinches, thrushes, kites, trogans, woodpeckers and kingfishers.
A perfect day might involve jumping off the waterfall at the end of the Humboldt National Park trek, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style, with local kids doing back flips next to you, then going wild swimming at dusk in one of Baracoa’s many lost rivers. Later you could drink aniseed mojitos and river prawns cooked in leche de coco at the home of a retired lawyer in a clandestine paladar away from the tourist track restaurants, before catching one of the best rumba groups in Cuba in the evenings at the Casa de Cultura.
One of our little guesthouses sits on the remote bahia, its beaches pale scoops of paradise unwrecked by tourism. From there you can ask to be taken to Victor’s house. He will trot you down the starlit beach with a torch to his restaurant, which consists of a table of one set on his garden porch. You eat – to the soundtrack of crashing surf – an unforgettable feast of ink-fried octopus, plantain, sweet and sour chicken and a smorgasbord of fish and pork with leche de coco sauce on the side. After a few passionfruit mojitos, it can be hard to try remembering the way back.