Baracoa: Cuba's first city

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Right near the eastern tip, in the Bay of Honey, Baracoa is quite isolated from the rest of Cuba. And it feels a little different.

The buildings are shabbier, people are more relaxed, there's very little traffic. It just feels different. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why, but we loved it.

Even the food is different. It's the only place we visited in Cuba with its own regional cuisine. In Baracoa, it's all about coconut and chocolate. Fish is served with a spicy coconut sauce, there's chocolate on sale everywhere (more on that later) and then there's cucurucho, a palm leaf filled with grated coconut, sugar and fruits like orange and guava (looks bad, tastes delicious).

The town itself isn't exactly full of sights, although there are some. In the Cathedral, you'll find a cross that was erected by Christopher Columbus on his very first voyage – a pretty mind-blowing piece of history!

Everything centres around a square in the middle of town and it's always busy. During the day people stand around on their phones using the wifi and at night families and groups of friends sit out and chat.

It's colourful and relaxing, and as with many of these more out-of-the-way places in Cuba no one pays any attention to you. So you're free to walk around and explore, take photos and people watch without feeling like you're getting in the way.

View of Baracoa

The main square in the town

A cyclist riding passed some colourful buildings

The quiet streets

Murals

There's no advertising in Cuba, only hand-painted murals of revolutionary slogans and quotes. And Baracoa has more of these than anywhere else we visited. Most of the shop signs are hand-pained too, making walking around even nicer, spotting all the illustrations.

Che mural outside a school

A revolutionary slogan

A company logo

A sign for a shoe shop Viva la revolucion!

Beach

It's not somewhere to sunbathe or swim, but Baracoa does have a beach. It's a nice place to walk, with the black pebbles crunching underneath you, and halfway down is the town's baseball stadium.

The sea near Baracoa

Me on the beach

Baracoa's baseball stadium

Sunset over the bay

A trip to Yumurí River

There are plenty of day trip options in Baracoa – you can climb El Yunque mountain, swim at isolated beaches or visit the easternmost point in Cuba.

We decided on a trip to the Yumurí River, a chance to see some of the surrounding countryside. So we bundled into a 4X4, clinging on to our seats as we bounced and bumped our way along. It was a fun ride and the views were really something.

Mountain views near Baracoa

Mountain views

On the way, we stopped at a cocoa farm, where we learnt how chocolate is made by hand and got to taste it at different stages of the process. The beans weren't as bitter as I had expected and unsurprisingly the hot chocolate and finished chocolate were also delicious.

Cocoa beans

The dried beans

And then we drove on to Yumurí River, one of the most biodiverse sites in Cuba. We got a little boat and rowed out to an island in the middle of the river, where we went swimming and ate fresh coconuts.

In the boat

The Yumuri River

Where to stay: Casa Colonial Ykira may just be our favourite place to stay in Cuba, it's right next to the main square, with a lovely roof terrace with sea views, very friendly staff and delicious food.

Where to eat: We ate most of our meals at our casa particular, and if you stay with Ykira I highly recommend you do the same. But we did have a nice seafood meal at El Buen Sabor one evening.

Where to see live music: We had a great night at the Casa de la Trova, where we saw the best band of our whole trip.

If you're heading to Cuba, check out my guides to planning your trip, Havana, Viñales and Trinidad.