Baracoa is its own greatest attraction. Its bustling streets are lined with gaily painted clapboard houses, and the rivers, beaches, and mountains beyond the city are perfect for outdoor exploration.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Baracoan settlers built three fortresses to protect the town from pirate attacks. El Castillo de Santa Bárbara, the oldest of the bunch, sits high above town, with splendid views of the bay and surrounding countryside; it has now been converted into a hotel. Fuerte de la Punta, facing the seaside promenade, is now a restaurant. The third, Fuerte Matachín, near the entrance to town, houses the municipal museum, Museo Matachín, Calle Martí s/n at the Malecón (tel. 21/64-2122). It holds a number of interesting historical exhibits related to the history of Baracoa and its legends and myths. The museum also has a collection of extraordinary, vividly colored and striped polimitas (snail shells), which locals used to make into necklaces sold to tourists before the supply dried up. (It is now illegal to sell them.) The museum is open daily from 8am to noon, and from 2 to 6pm; admission is CUC$1with a guide, and photo and video privileges cost an extra CUC$1 and CUC$5, respectively. Ask here about a city tour for CUC$5.
Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Maceo 152 (tel. 21/64-3352), the rather austere cathedral, was constructed in 1511, though it was burned by the French in 1652. The current structure was rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century. It was in a considerable state of disrepair and was closed during 2010 for significant restoration work. The church is slated to reopening in time for the 500th anniversary of the city's foundation in August 2011. It is most notable for the Cruz de la Parra, a small wooden cross on display inside a glass case. Locals insist that Columbus himself planted the cross on the banks of the bay in 1492, shortly after disembarking on Cuban soil for the first time. Whether or not there's any truth to that claim, carbon dating has in fact established that the cross is more than 500 years old (making it one of the oldest Christian relics in the Americas, if not the oldest). The hardwood is native to Cuba, though, so if Columbus did leave it, the cross must have been fashioned in situ rather than having been brought with him, as was originally believed. The cross has greatly dwindled in size, due to the devout visitors over the years, who thought nothing of slicing off a memento for themselves. The church's opening hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 8am to noon and from 2 to 4pm.
Next to the church is Parque de la Independencia (also called Parque Central), a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists enjoying a few lazy days in Baracoa. A bust of the rebel Taíno Indian leader Hatuey (whose countenance today appears on beer bottles) adorns the square. Hatuey took up arms against the early conquistadores until he was caught by the Spanish and burned at the stake.
In the area around Baracoa are as many as 50 pre-Columbian archaeological sites related to the major Native American groups that inhabited the area (Siboney, Taíno, and Guanturabey). The only native group to survive is the Yateras, a small community that has succeeded in preserving its traditions, marrying only among each other and living along the Río Toa.
Above the town is the Museo Arqueológico in Reparto Paraíso, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday from 9am to noon; admission is CUC$3. It costs CUC$1 for a guide. The remains of Taínos can be seen in a cave, as well as in a random collection of ceramics and artifacts supposedly belonging to this pre-Columbian tribe. The museum is only really worth the entrance fee to climb to the mirador ★★★, where you can admire and survey the entire bay; on a clear day, the vista is stunning.
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.