After 4 days, Wendy (Belgian lady I travelled with for several days) and I escaped the hassle of Santiago de Cuba and caught the ViAzul bus to Baracoa. This trip (which in theory takes 5 hours, but in practice takes more like 6 due to all the unscheduled bus stops) passes through the infamous Guantanamo as well as through some really beautiful mountain scenery.
Baracoa itself is about as far East in Cuba as you can get and one of the most uncomfortable places I’ve ever been thanks to the heat and humidity. Here’s Wendy at I at 9am sweating uncontrollably just standing around and trying not to move too much!
That being said – it was one of my favourite places in Cuba, and I ended up spending 4 days there, though could have stayed longer 🙂 One of the key attractions of Baracoa is the table-top mountain called El Yunque, and although most visitors hike up to the summit, Wendy and I decided we’d do a couple of the other trips on offer instead via Ecotur.
The first one was a trip out to the Humboldt National Park – another UNESCO Heritage listed place due to its “global importance as one of the most biologically diverse tropical ecosystems in an island setting anywhere on Earth”. There were about 13 of us on the trip, bundled into 2 air-conditioned taxis and this jeep – yes, Wendy and I and 3 others took the all “windows” down approach to keeping cool, which turned out to be also an incredibly dusty option!
Fortunately, the group ended up doing the 7km “long” hike in the park – the Balcon de Iberia. It is not a difficult hike – the hardest part is simply dealing with the heat and humidity!
Indira was our awesome guide who explained how the leaves of the rubber tree were used to write messages in the past, snippets about the different flora we could see, a little about the snails that are endemic to Cuba, as well as one of the world’s smallest frogs – also endemic to Cuba.
The scenery was beautiful.
And after about 6kms of hiking, there was the thing we’d all been looking forward to – cooling off by swimming up the river to a small waterfall!
The last km included about 6 stream crossings and there guys with ox and carts (one of the traditional forms of transport) there to take you across (for a CUC or so I’m sure) if you didn’t want to get your feet wet. Pretty much got across all of them anyway without getting wet – but it would depend a lot on the season I think.
On the way back to Baracoa, we stopped off at Maguana Beach (one of the most popular beaches in the area) for about an hour or so to go swimming again. Me not really being a beach person, it was OK, but there were also a lot of locals there constantly trying to sell you stuff which gets tiring after a while.
The second day trip we did was out to the Yumuri River which is the opposite direction to the Parque Nacional Humboldt. This trip started with a short stop at Bahía de Mata – a gorgeous bay that was a primary anchorage back in the day.
It also included a visit to Soyla – a local lady who makes Baracoan chocolate by hand – to learn a little about the process of growing and processing cacao (Baracoa is a fairly large cacao producer). There wasn’t really anything new that I hadn’t already learned on my cacao tour in Nicaragua, but for others in the group it was an interesting introduction.
I quite liked the chocolate (sweetened with honey rather than sugar and with a touch of cinnamon) and the hot chocolate we got to try at Soyla’s place, but Wendy – being Belgian – was not a fan 🙂
From there we headed up to see some of the endemic painted snails that Cuba is also famous for
before heading to the Yumuri River for our daily swim.
Those who know me well know that it usually takes quite a bit to get me to go swimming — not in Cuba! I was one of the first in the water – anything to cool down! 🙂
Another stop off at a beach on the way back to Baracoa (not as as shady as the one the previous day, but also no hassling) finished off the trip, which turned out to be another really nice day out.
Recommendation: I really enjoyed both trips with EcoTur. The groups that we saw that were with CubaTur seemed larger than the EcoTur ones (possibly because CubaTur is easier to find in Baracoa than EcoTur). They are both day trips so expect to be out most of the day.
- Parque Nacional Humboldt = 27 CUC
- Rio Yumuri = 24 CUC