BARACOA, Cuba – Cubans say that Baracoa is “where Cuba begins,” and there are two reasons for this – it was the first city founded on the island by the Spanish and it is located almost on the eastern tip of the country, making it the place that first sees the rising sun.
Baracoa, also known as “La Primada,” is located on the north shore of Guantanamo province some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) east of Havana, turning it into the most isolated city in Cuba.
“We are far, far, far away,” Juan Saname, a farmer, said, clearing his voice and singing part of a popular song in the region with a line that goes: “A Baracoa me voy ahora que hay carretera” (I’m Off to Baracoa, Now that There Is a Road).
Built on the slopes of the Cuchillas del Toa hills and surrounded by coffee and cacao plantations, Baracoa has developed a unique character evident in its food and residents’ authenticity and hospitality.
With the flow of tourists to Cuba increasing since diplomatic relations with the United States were restored, the island’s eastern regions have been working to get the attention of foreign travel agencies and grab at least a small portion of the visitors crowding into Havana.
Baracoa, home to 82,000 people and jutting into the bay of the same name, is one of the eastern destinations offering travelers a combination of nature, history and gastronomy.
In 1511, Baracoa was the first of seven cities founded by Spanish conquistador Diego Velazquez de Cuellar, and it preserves the only one remaining of the 29 wooden crosses that Christopher Columbus erected during his first trip to the island in 1492, which is now exhibited at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral.
Baracoa is also known as Cuba’s chocolate capital since 85 percent of the cacao consumed domestically comes from its fertile hinterland.
The city has the only chocolate factory in Cuba, a plant inaugurated in 1963 by Argentine-Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
The chocolate factory, however, is not open to the public.