Baracoa Cuba’s easternmost city turns 505
By Robert F. Campos, Photos: Ferval and José tito Meriño
Baracoa, the first city founded on the Island by the Spanish, celebrated its 505th anniversary on August 15th, with a bright future in nature and adventure tourism.
Known as Cuba’s First City, it is an attraction for young travelers looking for a picturesque, natural environment, which this region of the archipelago abounds in.
The city’s historian, Alejandro Hartmann, describes this area as magical and charming, referring to its history, traditions and, above all, landscape. What he says corroborates reports of the increase in foreign visitors, and points out that decades earlier, French scientist Alain Liogier, recognized the impact Baracoa would have. The visitor had pointed out that Baracoa held more than one secret, the charm of discovery for tourists and amazing beauty for everyone.
Cuba’s easternmost city, abandoned for the longest time, now has a very particular appeal. Belonging to the province of Guantánamo, Baracoa sits next to the sea and stands out for its natural beauty.
The area has experienced a growth in tourism of between 9% and 14%, with 389 hotel rooms in Guantánamo and Baracoa, and about 200 private rental houses in Baracoa alone.
France, Germany, the the Netherlands and United Kingdom are running as major tourist sources for Baracoa, and for Guantánamo, mainly the United States, Mexico and Italy.
Hotels in Baracoa include the Russian and the Castillito, among others, and what stands out is a set of local traditions, along with the local production of sweets such as the famous ‘cucuruchos de coco y chocolate’ (coconut and chocolate cones), as well as the cocoa route. Named Our Lady of Assumption of Baracoa, it is a small coastal city surrounded with foliage, mountains and rivers.
The Taíno Indians (descendants of Arawak people) were villagers par excellence of the place when Cristopher Columbus arrived in 1492.
It is said that the Word ‘baracoa’ is aboriginal and means ‘existence of the sea’, clearly an allusion by its original inhabitants to the water surrounding them, in contrast with the mountains and river arteries. Baracoa is located a few thousand kilometers east of Havana and was founded by Diego Velázquez on August 15th, 1511, making it the first capital and diocese of the Island.
The status of capital was then transferred to Santiago de Cuba, and later to Havana, because of the Spanish colonization. It is a scenic place that covers 921.2 square kilometers with 82 000 inhabitants, mostly in the city and the rest in the surrounding countryside.