Planning Your Time
A single badly deteriorated road hugs the north coast, linking Holguín and Baracoa (and on to Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba—public transport along this route is infrequent). Hence, you don’t need to backtrack if you have your own car.
For scenery, you should definitely plan on the Guantánamo city to Baracoa route via La Farola, a wheezing mountain switchback that has some nerve-wracking bends and slingshots you over the Sierra Cristal.
Trains connect Guantánamo city to Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Víazul also offers daily bus service from Santiago de Cuba to Guantánamo and Baracoa, but demand is tight and advance reservations are recommended.
The town of Guantánamo is more a place to overnight in passing; despite its size it has very little in the way of sightseeing. The music scene, however, is another matter. Guantánamo has more traditional Afro-Cuban cultural centers than you can shake a stick at.
The hinterlands of Guantánamo township boast two sites of unique appeal. First, the U.S. Naval Base holds a fascination that many travelers can’t resist. While the chances of visiting the base are actually less than you winning the lottery, you can get to see it from the most unlikely place imaginable: a Cuban military lookout at Caimanera, where foreign visitors are treated almost like VIPs. You’ll need to set things up in advance, but the Cubans make it easy by offering pre-arranged tours handled through the Gaviota tour agency. Not to be missed is the Zoológico de Piedra. Within a one-hour drive of the city, this “stone zoo” features more than 200 life-size animals hewn from rock. Plan a half-day visit, timed to coincide with a music performance at the nearby Casa del Changüí.
History buffs on the trail of José Martí should make a pilgrimage to Cajobabo, with its Museo Municipal 11 de Abril honoring Martí’s landing at nearby Playitas, where a clamber over beach boulders reveals a marble monument at the exact spot where the nationalist hero stepped ashore. You can take in both the stone zoo and Cajobabo in one day’s leisurely drive between Guantánamo and Baracoa.
Baracoa deserves two days minimum. One day is more than sufficient for sightseeing, with the highlights being the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción and the not-to-miss Museo Arqueológico Cueva del Paraíso. The second day you’ll want to hike to the top of El Yunque, perhaps combined with horseback riding nearby or kayaking in search of manatees in Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt.
Day three is for a drive to Yumurí for a boat trip upriver. Many visitors choose to linger to simply kick back and steep in the sense of having been transported to Gabriel García Marquez’s Macondo (the surrealistic village in One Hundred Years of Solitude).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition