Whether you enjoy history, natural beauty, tropical weather or chocolate (or all of these!) you’ll find Baracoa enchanting. Hundreds of years ago, Baracoa, at Cuba’s easternmost tip, was the country’s capital. (It’s still sometimes called by its nickname, Ciudad Primada: “First City.” It’s believed that explorer Christopher Columbus landed in Baracoa on his first voyage to Cuba.) But, for about 400 years after that, it remained in Havana’s shadow, known mostly for being unknown.
Two prominent figures in Cuban history—Fidel Castro and Che (nee Ernesto) Guevara—changed that. In the early 1960s, shortly after Castro came into power, Guevara, his minister of industry, brought chocolate making to the remote region as a way of helping to stimulate its economy.
Few places could be more ideal for chocolate processing. Baracoa’s sultry climate, remote location and relaxed pace make for a chocolate production paradise. Ironically, however, for many Baracoans, the price of chocolate is too high to make it more than a very occasional luxury.
“People are generally poor,” in this part of the country, say insightCuba tour leader Jeff Phillippe. However, he adds, they “are among the happiest and friendliest I have ever met. School children smile endlessly.”
Baracoa is not a one-industry city. Not only does it boast a chocolate works; one local factory (the only one of its kind in Cuba and, likely, the world) makes an even sweeter treat: cucuruchu, a local, and visitor, favorite. Cucurucho—palm leaves filled with sugar- or honey-sweetened coconut and other tropical ingredients—are found in abundance in Baracoa.
If chocolate and cucuruchu weren’t enough of a lure, Baracoa’s extraordinary climate draws in-the-know visitors from all over the world. Its rain forest, waterfalls, UNESCO Biosphere reserve, blue waters, fine sand and gentle climate draw travelers eager to find relaxation amid the region’s tranquil beauty. There are also thrills to be had: The El Yunque plateau looks down on the town from a majestic 3,543 feet. Many visitors have reported heady (and relatively short) climbs to its summit and back, with the reward of dazzling views.
Countless species of trees, plants and animals flourish here, nourished by a network of clear rivers. Despite its charms, however, it is not overrun with tourists, thanks, in part, to its distance from Havana.
“There are few places in the world like Baracoa,” Phillippe says. “It has history, colonial architecture, live music, unique food, rivers, mountains, and beaches. Doors are always open, kids play in the streets, everyone knows one another.”
In Baracoa, you can see how chocolate is made, take in the azure waters of the coast and the charming, distinctly Cuban houses, streets and cars, or stop in at Casa del Chocolate for a cup of warm, delicious cocoa.
Baracoa will linger in your memory like the aroma of chocolate wafting through its warm and colorful streets—and, like a craving, it will call you back.
Visit Baracoa, as well as other remote destinations on the island, on our Undiscovered Cuba tour.
Written by Chelsea Lowe.