Baracoa, Cuba’s fist capital
Havana, Cuba’s scenic capital that was the setting of some of the most crucial moments in the country’s history, hasn’t always been the most important city on the island. For a few short years in the early 16th century, Baracoa, Cuba’s capital, was the place where the faith of Cuba was decided. Baracoa was founded as one of the earliest colonial cities in Cuba, and its long history is still a reason for people to love and respect it. Baracoa might be small, but it is one of the most interesting, poignant and fascinating destinations in Cuba. Forget the resorts of Varadero or the salsa discos of Havana, and plunge directly into Baracoa’s surrounding natural beauty, its vibrant atmosphere and troves of historical attractions.
Baracoa was founded in 1511 by Diego Velasquez de Cuellar, the Spanish conquistador who claimed Cuba for the Spanish crown, under the orders of Christopher Columbus himself. The city was founded on the exact spot where Columbus first landed, in the scenic Baja de Miel, the Bay of Honey. Baracoa has always been a bit isolated, and surrounded by mountain ranges, but it was never forgotten. The city remained capital only until 1515, but that didn’t stop it from flourishing. In 1518, Baracoa was granted the title of city, and became the home of the first Cuban bishop. The colonial past of Baracoa hasn’t been completely erased, and many building dating back to the city;s origins can still be seen today.
The attractions of Baracoa are not limited to the confines of the city. Even on the way to Baracoa, you get to see some impressive sights. If you come on bus from Santiago de Cuba, you get to pass through the mountains guarding the city, and catch a glimpse of the great hiking trails that await you. Visit El Yunque table mountain to see an amazing view of the city, and explore the wonderful walking track of Yumuri Gorge, or drive 20 kilometers to visit Alejandro de Humboldt National Park. In the city, visit the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which houses a cross that is considered to be the oldest Columbus-related artifact in the Americas, or the three forts that stand watch over Baracoa. Parque Central near the church is a popular chill-out spot for locals and tourists alike, where you can get an authentic taste of life in Baracoa. And don’t forget to visit the countless pre-Columbian archaeological sites scattered in the area around Baracoa.
Believe it or not, Baracoa has a few interesting local dishes that you can’t really find anywhere else in Cuba, and even if you do, they taste best here. The region has large cocoa plantations, so there is a lot of chocolate to be found in Baracoa, and some other mouthwatering sweets like the cucurucho, a blend of coconutm, orange, guava and pineapple, wrapped in cone-shaped palm leaf.