Baracoa Tourist Attractions
One of the main highlights in the province of Guantanamo, and eastern Cuba in general, is the city of Baracoa. Visitors to Baracoa will be treated to charming colonial architecture, as well as a beautiful natural surrounding. In addition to the excellent beaches in the area, there are also waterfalls, tropical forests, and some excellent hiking opportunities. For travelers coming to eastern Cuba, Baracoa should definitely be on the itinerary and is worth at least a couple of days.Cut off from much of the outside world up until the 1960s when the La Farola highway was built, the city still has a rather remote feel. Until that time the only access to Baracoa was by sea. Baracoa is the oldest city in Cuba, with construction on the first church beginning in 1511.Baracoa has an airport with air service to Havana. If possible visitors should try to take a drive down the winding La Farola highway, a 49km / 30mi stretch from Baracoa over to the mountains to Cajobabo. La Farola is considered a great feat of engineering in Cuba, but is most spectacular for the lush scenery and views out over the mountains.
Just outside of Baracoa is the flat top mountain of El Yunque. This landmark limestone mountain reaches 589m / 1,932ft at its highest point. The hillside has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is home to rare plants, including carnivorous varieties, as well as endangered bird species.Visitors can hike to the summit of El Yunque but must be done with a guide, or as part of a tour. This is easily done as a day trip from Baracoa. The hike is not particularly difficult but can be hot and is best done early in the day.Local legend has it that Columbus made reference to El Yunque in 1492 but it is now believed he was actually referring to a different but similar shaped mountain near Gibara. Nonetheless, El Yunque can be seen far out to see and has been used for centuries as a point of reference.
Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion
The Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion was founded in 1512 although throughout the centuries it has been rebuilt and restored. Although this is a rather small an unmemorable church, the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion contains the Cruz de la Parra. This wooden cross was originally thought to have been brought from Europe and erected by Christopher Columbus here, where Baracoa was founded. Recent carbon dating suggests that the cross is from the time of Columbus and but did not come from Europe.The Cruz de la Parra has lost much of its substance as worshippers have taken small piece of wood. The ends of the cross are now covered in metal to prevent further loss.
Housed in the Fuerte Matachin military fortress, is the Museo Municipal. The fort was originally built in Baracoa to guard against pirate attacks in the 19th Century. The Museo Municipal provides a look at the history of Baracoa and the surrounding region. On display are archeological artifacts, a section on the natural history of the area, documents, maps, artwork, and armaments. There are also cultural displays, and the town's coat of arms, given to Baracoa by the Queen of Spain.The Fuerte Matachin structure itself is quite interesting and also allows for great views out over the Bay.
About 20km / 12mi northwest of Baracoa is one of the areas best beaches, called Playa Maguana. There is an offshore reef just a short ways out that protects the beach but the water can still be rough at times. This white sand beach is picture perfect and makes for a great side trip from Baracoa. For the adventurous, it is also possible to rent a bicycle in Baracoa and peddle out to Playa Maguana. At the beach are some low scale facilities for visitors, including restaurant services and tourist villas that can be rented. Fortunately the buildings are mixed in among the greenery and do not detract from the natural beauty of Playa Maguana.