Baracoa's potential as an ecotourism destination has just begun to be exploited. The spectacular area around Baracoa affords excellent opportunities for treks and white-water rafting. The region features patches of secondary rainforest, and abounds in banana, yucca, mango, coconut, and tall royal palm trees, and at least 10 flowing rivers. The earth here is rich in iron, which gives it a red tone.
Distinctive El Yunque, described in Spanish chronicles as an anvil-shaped, high (575m/1,886 ft.), and square mountain, dominates the landscape; Columbus wrote of seeing it on his approach to the bay. Frequently bathed in mist, the flat-topped limestone mountain is about 10km (6 1/4 miles) west of Baracoa, and its slopes can be climbed in 4 hours round-trip. The slopes have been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. El Yunque is part of the Parque Natural Duaba and is home to scores of bird species and unique plants. In fact, 16 of Cuba's 24 endemic bird species can be found in this area. You can also spot the endemic coco thrinas palms, which look like tall dandelions. The trek through tropical forest, with views of rare ferns and orchids, is beautiful, but it can be intensely humid and it is a challenging slog with a two-hour ascent. Those who aren't up for the hike can always drive, though it's rough going along the unpaved road. Tours are offered in town for CUC$16, including transport. Adventurers in search of rafting possibilities should check out Río Toa, the widest river in Cuba and part of a national park. Tours to Río Toa are CUC$18. Tours to the Río Yumurí, a beautiful, luscious deep river canyon 30km/19 miles east of Baracoa that can be accessed by boat and by walking on river islands cost CUC$22.
The UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt, a mountainous rainforest area with karst scenery that extends for 32,560 hectares (80,458 acres) north of Baracoa, is rich in biodiversity. It is home to the ivory-billed woodpecker, Cuban parrot and parakeet, colorful polimita snails, Caribbean manatee, and rare Cuban solenodon (an insectivorous mammal). It also provides habitat for the world's smallest bat, smallest frog, smallest bird and smallest male scorpion. Tours are offered from town for CUC$24 and include a boat adventure into paradise -- a slow tour around the Bahía Taco ★★★, where you can take in the mangroves, the stunning vista of royal and coconut palms, and search for manatee. If you have your own transport you can drive the 56km (35 miles) in 1 1/4 hours along the bad road. The park opens at 8am and guided walks can be bought from there too.
Alexander Domínguez at EcoTur, Coronel Cardoso 24 (tel. 21/64-3665), organizes a variety of nature outings with transportation and guides, including rafting on the Río Toa, various treks, boating excursions along the Río Yumurí, and an exclusive 10km (6.2-mile) hike to Juncal-Rencontra in the Toa area, not offered by other agencies. Havanatur (tel. 21/64-5358) and Cubatur (tel. 21/64-5306) also offer organized excursions. Prices run between CUC$16 and CUC$24 per person, but there's often a six-person minimum.
Baracoa is blessed with a few superb beaches, which, due to the town's isolation, haven't yet been built up with huge all-inclusive hotels. Playa Maguana is about 22km (14 miles) from town on the road to Moa. It's a peaceful place with picture-perfect golden sands and is popular with local families and fishermen. There's a small hotel here (see "Where to Stay"). Cubatur runs day excursions here from 10am to 4pm for CUC$5per person that can be organized on the morning you wish to go. There's a small restaurant, or you will find villagers who will also rustle up a fish lunch. A smaller and more isolated beach, Playa Nava, is another 6km (3 3/4 miles) west. It's not as pretty as Maguana, but you're likely to have it to yourself.
Playa Duaba is a black sand beach surrounded by wild vegetation and close to the mouth of the Río Duaba. There's a small monument here in the community which marks the exact spot where Antonio Maceo and the independence fighters landed on April 1st 1895. This 1924 monument has been replaced by a larger 1929 obelisk close to the Hotel Porto Santo and this is the monument to which the townsfolk process every year. Of mild interest, nearby, is the Sendero del Cacao at Finca Duaba (tel. 21/64-5339), where a 270-meter (885-ft.) trail will lead you to the Casa del Cacoatero, where you'll learn about cocoa processing; entrance is CUC$3.
The Parque Espeleo-Arqueológico Majayara is a new protected area beyond the delightful fishing community of Boca de Miel. Walk out of town past the hurricane-damaged stadium along the black-sand beach of Playa Baracoa that curves around the Bahía de Miel until you reach the long wooden bridge that crosses the mouth of the River Honey. Here you can see locals fishing with nets against a scene of bucolic charm: mountains studded with thousands of coconut palms and, in the distance, the flat-topped El Yunque. After crossing the bridge, turn left before reaching the park kiosk. A 10-minute walk beyond is Playa Blanca (entrance CUC$2). The white sand is not silky, but the water is beautiful and there are rock pools and a shallow entrance for children. Further into the park is a stunning Balcón Arqueolgico, a 500-meter- (1,640-ft.-) long limestone balcony with panoramic views of the entire coastline. Admission, which comes with a guide who can point out the flora and fauna in the park, varies from CUC$5-CUC$15; the park is open from 8:30am-5:30pm daily. (Guide Alejandro Correa Borges speaks English and is helpful.) Visitors should be fit and prepared to climb up a ladder and almost sheer rock face to the balcony. Before hiking stop at the house of Rodolfo Rodríguez, two doors down from the kiosk; he makes bars of chocolate and coconut (much rarer than you would imagine), as well as banana and almond dulces.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.