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Saint Augustine

Baracoa Sites 2

High up on a hill overlooking the city is Hotel El Castillo. Even though I think of myself as rather fit, I had to stop for a quick rest on my way to the top of the 85-step staircase leading to the exclusive hotel.

Hotel El Castillo was originally built in 1739 as Castillo de Santa Bárbara, the first of the four fortresses erected to protect the town. Many of the original walls remain in the current structure as well as some of the artilliary at the base of the steps.

The hotel’s patio offers fantastic views of the flat top El Yunque and the rest of the Grupo Sagua Baracoa mountain range, Honey Bay on the north and Baracoa Bay on the west. The hotel stands in stark contrast to most of the residences below. However, I was told that locals hold no animosity toward hotel guests because they recognize that the luxury converted fortress is a source of jobs and revenue for the city.

Nearby beaches, rivers, lush forests of royal palms, cedar, mango, pine, holm oak and other trees, ferns and indigenous plants, and a variety of bird species offer plenty options for visitors who want to venture outside Baracoa’s historic center.

The eco system around Baracoa benefits from some of the most abundant rainfall in all of Cuba. So visitors can find a variety of activities for outdoor relaxation in and around its waterways which include the Yumuri, Miel, Macaguanigua, Duaba and Tao rivers as well as the Atlantic Ocean. The area is ripe for eco-tourism if and when tourists can more freely travel in Cuba.

Fabrica de Chocolate, the only chocolate factory in Cuba, is located a short distance outside the city and takes advantage of the abundance of cocoa trees that grow in the area’s fertile soil. Since it is the only factory of its kind on the island, Baracoa by default is also the Chocolate Capital of the country. It was inaugurated by Che Guevara when he was Cuba’s Minister of Industry. The factory’s chocolate products are shipped all over Cuba and used to make chocolate bars, hot and cold chocolate drinks, chocolate ice cream, and other chocolate flavored foods.

At the Casa de Chocolate in Baracoa, I participated in a taste test led by our tour guide who is a native of the city. He ordered a chocolate bar for the table, unwrapped it and put a small piece in his mouth. He immediately concluded that it was a fake chocolate even though it was wrapped to look like the real thing. The fake bars are sold at full price to unsuspecting tourists. The following night, he ordered another bar but this time insisted that the waiter deliver a bar made with real chocolate. In comparing the two pieces of chocolate, I found that the fake chocolate felt grainy in my mouth and did not easily melt while the real chocolate melted immediately and felt silky smooth on my tongue. I don’t know which chocolate was used to make the ice cream, but it was absolutely delicious. The Casa de Chocolate also serves cakes, hot drinks and chocolate mouse made from the local cacao.

More Baracoa Sites
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