The Cocoa House or Casa de Cacao Baracoa stands majestically in the historic center of the city of Baracoa. The museum exhibits elements of history relating to the cultivation of Cocoa in the region and, as an added bonus, the history of the Mayan culture since it was they who initially started to cultivate cocoa around the year 600.
The Cocoa Museum of Baracoa showcases a host of interesting tools and artifacts covering the whole process of not only the production of Cocoa but also its past marketing and health benefits that only today are physicians rediscovering. Of course, the museum also focuses on the local peasant traditions and the slave trade associated with such cultivations.
Visitors get to see up close and personal all of the manual techniques and rudimentary chocolate preparation processes right from the initial cocoa mass. The museum showcases the treatments of the grains, their sun drying process in large drawers and finally the toasting on wood fires in special pots, cleaning and milling.
Visitors can also process raw chocolate to make delicious treats by adding the sweet spices and wheat flour or bananas to make the final product which are small balls of chocolate, chocolate bars or the powder used in many drinks.
The walls also display colorful and giant billboards explaining how chocolate came to the western world via historic cocoa marketing and how it was received in some regions of the world
Above being a museum, The Cocoa House is also equipped as a modern chocolate factory for the production of tasty chocolates and chocolate bars. This whole process can be watched by visitors and they can even buy some freshly made chocolate from the factory.
The Alejandro Humboldt National Park is considered the epicenter of the biodiversity of Cuba, it is located in the mountains of Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa and includes almost 70% of the protected areas of the Natural Reserve of the Biosphere surrounding the River Toa. An Ecological jewel of the Caribbean, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001. It covers 700 square kilometers and boasts 2% of the world flora species and some of the most densely vegetated areas of the Cuban archipelago and the Caribbean as a whole and exhibits a big list of endemic flora and fauna.
Named after the eminent German scientist Alexander von Humboldt who visited the island twice in the 1800s, the national park is shared with the provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin at its extremities and extensions. The park’s forests are a refuge for many endemic species of resident and migratory birds and the sea has a significant colony of manatees.
This ecosystem is, in view of the visitor, a set of mountains, plateaus, plains, bays, rivers and keys. A very popular trail is the mountain of IBERIA, with a height of 740 meters above sea level, which among other things offers the Spring of the Santa Maria River, an impressive waterfall 25 meters high.
Another interesting thing to do while in Baracoa is our boat ride tour through a section of the Toa River, the largest river in Cuba.
The tour offers Nature and adventure, a unique experience along the Toa River, bordering our farmer’s real life plantations putting you in direct contact with the protected nature reserve of the Sagua-Baracoa massif.
Nearby birds abound and are easy to observe, including rare species of great scientific and ecological value such as; the Almiquí, the Polimita (yellow, red and brown endemic to our hills and forest) the Parrot and the Tocororo amongst many others.
At midday we will stop for a break, mooring the boats on the banks of the Toa river at our rustic ranch and indulging in a true Baracoa style farmers lunch with traditional dishes exclusive to our region and we are sure you’ve never seen or tasted before buy you’ll undoubtedly love!
At just 6 kilometers from Baracoa’s city center on the road to Moa, you’ll find the Finca Duaba nature farm boasting insights into the rural way of life in our region and the fascinating world of cocoa production and the strong Cocoa bean traditions in Baracoa. Wandering through the paths of the farm you’ll also discover precious fruit trees and the procedures employed for harvesting and processing them according to the methods still used by farmers in the area.
The onsite restaurant is divine, offering all typical dishes of the region which are not often easy to find, a true culinary delight of delicious food some of which use chocolate as an ingredient.
El Yunque or Anvil Mountain is an elevation of vertical slopes and flat top 8 kilometers away from the city. El Yunque became a local symbol and orientation point for the seamen who crossed through the adjacent seas. The Anvil Mountain fauna is rich and diverse, with plenty of woodpeckers, the Tocororo (Cuba’s national bird), hummingbirds, hutias, lizards, reptiles, and other species. At a height of 573 meters El Yunque offers a natural viewpoint over an immense lagoon and the vast landscape of green mountains surrounding the City. A perfect vantage point to see Baracoa’s numerous rivers and streams as they meander into the bay of Baracoa. Anvil Mountain known locally as El Yunque, was declared a National Monument in 1980 due to its natural and historic values to seafarers.
Housed in the old fort of Matachín, one of three fortifications built during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to protect the city from pirates and privateers.
El Museo Municpal de Baracoa includes archaeological collections of the aboriginal era, insights into the rich historical background of Baracoa, the presence of the rebel troops commanded by General Antonio Maceo and his assault on the city, as well as relevant aspects of its contemporary development. Also collections and samples of the endemic flora and fauna of the region are on display. Likewise, elements relating to the culture and locally famous characters such as La Rusa (founder of the La Rusa Hotel in Baracoa), who inspired the famous Cuban writer and novelist Alejo Carpentier to create the character of Vera in his novel “The Rite of Spring”. Visit this link for more Museums in Cuba
Despite the fascination by visitors of the natural environment and unique ecosystem of Baracoa, the beaches are easily still our best kept secret. There are too many beaches to choose from really, some totally virgin without even names. More popular beaches in the vicinity of the town are: Duaba Honey Beach and further west, Playa Maguana and Playa Nibujón.
The cuisine of the region is one of the richest in the country. Our famous poached and then fried banana and, of course, the milled corn based beef tamale wrapped in Banana leaves. Other local dishes are rich in the local produce of honey and coconut which is unique to this region of Cuba.
Assuming you are ready to take the plunge and visit Baracoa, here are some road distances from Major Cuban cities to Baracoa:
- Guantanamo, 152 Km
- Santiago de Cuba, 232 km
- Holguin, 250 km
- Havana, 993 Km
Like many places in the Greater Antilles, the inhabitants of Baracoa are predominantly of Aboriginal origin, displaying the traits of a sharp nose, straight hair, dark skin and small stature. It is claimed an impossibility to really know the ancient inhabitants of Cuba without first traversing the first settlement of Cuba called Baracoa. Today the city has a population of about 86,000 inhabitants, most of which have long lineage to the initial settlers.
Baracoa is also famous for hosting French immigrants, brought to its fertile soil cultivate coffee, which gave birth to the entirely French coffee plantations of the era.
In Cuba and in some parts of the world, the city has become famous for the so-called “Three Lies of Baracoa”: There is a river that is not sweet Honey, an anvil-shaped mountain that is not iron, and the so called “Sleeping Beauty” because of her contours that resemble the body of a woman lying on top of the mountain.
There are 56 archaeological sites in Baracoa which have so far been discovered which offer rich evidence of the Aboriginal communities that once lived here. The diversity of flora and fauna offers 67 types of ferns which are endemic to the Baracoa region. The anvil palm-tree and about 130 species of precious woods grow wild in the area. It also has areas devoted exclusively to livestock.
“Water for Existence” is the Taino Indian language meaning for the word Baracoa, because in the surrounding mountains there are abundant springs and rivers among which the Macaguanica, Yumuri Duaba, Jauco, Miel and Toa, the latter the largest river in Cuba.
Baracoa also retains clear evidence of a strong system of colonial forts that defended the city from corsairs and pirates. The Matachin Fortress which is now the municipal museum, The La Punta Fortress built to protect part of the bay, The Spanish built Santa Barbara Seboruco Castle, now known as the Hotel El Castillo, and the Towers of Joa and Caguase.
We must not forget the church in which the Cruz de la Parra was placed, the first symbol of Christianity brought to island by Christopher Columbus on his voyage of discovery to the New World which was blessed by Pope John Paul II during his visit to that city in January 1998. The Cruz de la Parra is now a national monument of Cuba.
The largest coconut plantations and Cuban Cocoa production are found around the region of Baracoa. In fact, more than 80 percent of the production of these commodities produced by Cuba displays the stamp of “Baracoa”. Numerous agricultural and processing industries are based in the town.
The Baracoa chocolate producing factory is the largest cocoa processing plant in the country. This facility, called Rubén Suárez Abella was opened on April 1, 1963 by Ernesto Che Guevara.
The area is not only known for its virgin forest and colonial history, the region is also famous for its rich musical culture, cuisine and artists amongst its inhabitants. The people of Baracoa are endowed with a singular kindness, especially apparent to visitors of the region.
A very peculiar road and viaduct, known as La Farola, meanders through the mountains with its 11 hanging bridges with the most relevant being the “Altos de Cotilla” which spans over 600 meters above sea level. This road, built in the 1960s, is considered one of the seven wonders of Cuban civil engineering which also includes the Bacunayagua Bridge in Matanzas Province. The city also has a domestic airport called Gustavo Rizo Airport catering for medium and small planes.