Tag Archives: Baracoa

How to: Baracoa to Holguin via Moa – the adventurous route

The distance from Baracoa to Holguin is only about 150 miles (250km) by the most direct route, but the only option if you want to travel by the Viazul bus service is to take the bus back to Santiago de Cuba and change there for Holguin. In theory this is possible in one day – if you take the 08:15 bus out of Baracoa which arrives in Santiago 13:45, you could then catch the 16:00 which gets into Holguin at 20:15. This seemed like a very long day along roads that we’d already seen so when we were planning our route through Cuba we decided that we would like to try to go along the notoriously bad road to Moa and there transfer back to Holguin where our flight landed. During our pre-trip research, it was difficult to find any clear information on how to do this and so here’s our trip report from April 2016 if anyone else is planning the same journey.

In Baracoa, you need to go to the local transport yard at the corner of Calixto Garcia and Coroneles Galano, just a few blocks from the central square.

Baracoa local transport yard map

Early morning is best as there are no fixed schedules so you may have to wait for quite a while (we did). We arrived at 07:15. For Moa, wait at the far end closest to Rubert Lopez (see blue arrow in the map above) – place names are painted on the wall around the yard although we didn’t see them at first and asked around. While you’re waiting we recommend grabbing a fried egg sandwich for breakfast from the Terminal Cafeteria.

Baracoa local transport yardLocal transport yard in Baracoa

I get the impression that usually transport is a bit more frequent because by the time the first truck pulled up at 08:30 a LOT of people were waiting. Also, I understand that it’s usually jeeps that do the Baracoa-Moa stretch but in our case it was a passenger truck with bench seats down either side of a covered back section. The guy who takes the money shepherded us in – it’s a bit of a scrum – we were the only tourists and he charged us more so I think we got some kind of priority. Locals were charged 60-70CUP (2.5CUC), we were charged 4CUC each, I tried to argue about this but there was no negotiating he just repeated the price. Our big rucksacks were stowed under the seats and our small rucksacks on our laps. The truck was tightly packed.

Passenger truckJulie in the back of the passenger truck from Baracoa to Moa

The road from Baracoa to Moa is in a pretty poor state of repair with lots of potholes and it’s quite dusty as the back of the truck is open. We stopped after about 1.5 hours at a roadside cafeteria where it was possible to buy snacks (including cucuruchos at local prices = CUP5 each). The driver also changed the wheel as we had a puncture – lots of guys pitched in and we were on our way within 20 minutes.

Changing the wheelHow many Cubans does it take to change a wheel…

As we approached Moa we noticed a lot more heavy industrial activity compared to the more rural sights that we passed on the first part of the journey. The road passes the huge nickel plant and the wasteland stretching out around it. We eventually arrived at the bus station in Moa at 11:15 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) – this is the last stop so just get off when the truck empties.

Moa bus stationBus station at Moa

A local couple who came from Baracoa were also going on to Holguin and they adopted us – I don’t know their names but for the purposes of the story we’ll call them Pedro and Maria. We waited inside the bus station with Maria while Pedro went looking for colectivos (private taxis that leave when they’re full) out in front (after first checking the back to see that there were no trucks). The bus station has snacks available from various vendors and toilets (no running water) – follow the corridor behind the seating area to the right when you enter. I noticed on the timetable that the Omnibus Nacionales bus was due to leave at 1pm (37CUP) but Pedro asked at the ticket desk and it was no good for us as you must have a Cuban ID card to travel on that service.

After almost an hour, he found a car that was going to Holguin – if you’re on your own I would recommend just hanging around outside and asking each vehicle that pulls up. The only problem was that the price for Cubans was 100CUP (4CUC) each but the driver said that for us (foreigners) it would be 10CUC each! I tried negotiating, including walking away back to the waiting room where the driver eventually followed us but he absolutely would not budge on the price. If we’d been alone we might have hung around to see if we could find a cheaper alternative but Pedro and Maria seemed to be reluctant to leave without us so we agreed. He did move the other passengers into the back so that we got the whole bench seat behind the driver to ourselves which meant we had lots of space and access to the windows to take photos. We left Moa at 12:15.

Colectivo to HolguinOur large bags were stowed on the roof

Inside our colectivo taxiOur colectivo taxi from Moa to Holguin was a very old Pontiac (with a slightly newer Mercedes steering wheel!)

The road between Moa and Holguin is in a much better state of repair and we arrived in Holguin at 15:00 (a journey time of 2.75 hours) at the Intermunicipal Bus station on Avenida de los Libertadores, near the baseball stadium.

Holguin Intermunicipal bus station mapIntermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

Outside Holguin Intermunicipal bus stationColectivo taxis outside the Intermunicipal Bus station in Holguin

There are lots of local taxis and bici-taxis hanging around to take you on to your destination, or it’s roughly a 1.5km walk from here to Parque Calixto Garcia in the centre of town.

Another option to get from Baracoa to Holguin would be to arrange a tourist colectivo through your casa particular – we were quoted 30CUC per person based on a car with 4 passengers and our casa owner said he could ring around to find others who wanted to share the journey – obviously this would be much faster as there would be no hanging around at bus stations and it would probably also take you directly to your destination in Holguin.

Transport type (Baracoa to Holguin) Total price per person (CUC) Estimated time incl waiting (hours)
Public transport (via Moa) 14 7.75
Viazul Bus (via Santiago) 26 13
Tourist colectivo taxi (via Moa) 30 ~5

Baracoa, Cuba

Baracoa, perched on Cuba’s eastern edge is the island’s oldest city founded in 1511 and surely also one of its smallest. It is hemmed in by mountains and rainforest, having a microclimate all its own and was isolated from the outside world until the spectacular La Farola road was opened in 1965 connecting the town with Guantanamo City and the south coast.

View from La FarolaSpectacular views from the bus as we climbed through the mountains on our way to Baracoa along La Farola

El YunqueThe table top mountain called El Yunque, the Anvil, is the symbol of Baracoa and is visible from many places in town including the roof terrace of our guesthouse.

Baracoa’s tiny cathedral (about the size of your average parish church) is at the centre of the town and is home to the Cruz de la Parra, the only surviving wooden cross of 29 planted in Cuba by Columbus on his first voyage and ‘discovery’ of the island in 1492.

Baracoa centreLooking along Baracoa’s walking street towards the cathedral

Cruz de la ParraThe Cruz de la Parra has been carbon dated to prove that it dates from the correct period but the wood is native Cuban and was not carried from Europe by Columbus as legend has it

The town itself doesn’t have much in the way of sights but we enjoyed strolling along the slightly dilapidated seafront to the even more dilapidated baseball stadium at the end of the beach. We also spent a fascinating hour nursing a beer on a balcony overlooking a street that was being resurfaced. It was amazing to see the hard work done by hand that we’re used to seeing machines do.

Baracoa baseball stadiumBaseball is Cuba’s national sport but its stadium was host to football practice when we poked our noses in

One morning we walked up the hill through residential streets, puzzling over why all the cockerels seemed to have no feathers on their legs or bellies until we realised they were for cockfighting.

Fighting cockerelCockfighting is a popular sport in Cuba judging by the number of cockerels we saw on a short walk through Baracoa’s streets

Dripping with sweat after the short but steep climb we arrived at the Archaeology Museum which has been imaginatively set up in a series of caves where burial chambers of the Taíno peoples had been found. The Taíno arrived in Cuba from Venezuela around 1050AD and were living there peacefully in farming communities when the Spanish arrived in the 15th century. Many died from European diseases and more when they were pressed into harsh slavery by the settlers.

Baracoa Museum of ArchaeologyThe entrance to Baracoa’s Museum of Archaeology

The displays were not so exciting but the cave setting was a quirky idea, the attendant was friendly and gave us a good explanation in English and the view over the town was superb (it’s from here that we spotted the cemetery that we visited later in our stay).

Museum of Archaeology exhibitsMuseum of Archaeology (clockwise from top left): display cases inside the cave; Taíno artefacts; a replica of the Ídolo de Tabaco, one of the most important Taíno finds in the Caribbean; burial chamber

View over BaracoaThe viewpoint above the museum provides a reward for the uphill climb

We had initially planned a hiking excursion to El Yunque, but changed our minds after hearing the descriptions of the Humboldt National Park, 40km north-west of Baracoa, and went there instead. The road to the north is not in very good condition and so our group of 15 plus our guide Benny were loaded into three jeeps for the dusty hour and a half that it took to bump our way there.

Jeep transport to Humboldt National ParkStretching our legs during a brief pause in the drive to Humboldt National Park

The Humboldt National Park is famous for its biodiversity with lots of endemic species. 70% of the plants as well as lots of amphibians, reptiles and birds are found nowhere else, and the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.  We’d hoped that we would see quite a bit of wildlife and certainly at the beginning of the hike we did with Benny stopping to point out Tocororos, woodpeckers and parrots as well as different kinds of plants. But as the path narrowed the group became too spread out to see much and the pace felt too fast for us to fully appreciate the forest.

Flora and fauna in Humboldt National ParkFlora and fauna in Humboldt National Park (clockwise from top left): Cuba’s national bird, the Tocororo; termites; the colourful Rat Pineapple is related to the normal pineapple but doesn’t produce an edible fruit; this huge millipede was about 25cm long and thicker than my thumb

Swimming opportunities seem to be an obligatory feature of excursions in Cuba – it felt like every time someone was trying to sell us an excursion it ended with ‘a chance to swim in the river / pool / sea’ (frankly this usually feels like a waste of excursion time to me but clearly I’m in the minority here).  Anyway this trip was no different; just before lunch we stopped at the top of a waterfall where anyone who wanted to could jump into the pool below and swim downriver to the curve where we would break for lunch. About ten of the group did, the rest of us followed the path along the river to meet them below.

Swimming in the river in Humboldt National ParkSome of our group swimming down the river to join us at the lunch spot

Crossing the river in the Humboldt National ParkAfter lunch we had to cross the river 8 times to get back to where we’d left the jeeps. I was glad that I’d carried my flip-flops to cross the stony riverbed, Andrew had to do it barefoot.

On the way back to Baracoa we stopped at Playa Maguana.  It was our first Cuban beach experience and the white sand and turquoise ocean were just as breathtaking in real life as they are in the travel brochure photos.  The sea gets deep quite quickly, and the wave swells were high enough to make bobbing up and down in the water fun.  It also helped that we could take turns with the others in the group watching bags and go into the water together.

Playa MaguanaPlaya Maguana, there’s even a guy who’ll bring you a drink direct to your beach towel

The Lonely Planet touts Baracoa as the best place for food in Cuba.  Now that’s not saying much as in general the island’s cuisine is not the most exciting, but still I had hoped for more than just one sauce, albeit tasty, which is served with different kinds of seafood.

Prawns in coconut milk saucePrawns with the Baracoan sauce made from coconut milk, tomatoes, garlic and spices

Cucuruchos are the other regional specialty, a cone of palm leaf stuffed with an almost sickly sweet mixture of fruits, coconut and honey. Baracoa is the only region in Cuba where chocolate is grown and processed (the smell wafting from the factory just outside town reminded me of driving past the Rowntrees factory in York) and we really enjoyed the huge flask of hot chocolate that was included with our breakfast each morning.

CucuruchosPeeling a cucurucho

Cemeteries of Cuba: a photo essay

We find cemeteries to be fascinating places to visit – they give an insight into a country’s religion and cultures as well as often containing sculpture and interesting architecture.  All of which makes them great places to take photos.

In Cuba we found cemeteries to be peaceful, hassle-free places to explore, though be warned if you want to follow in our path, there’s rarely any shade and the heat can be brutal in the middle of the day.

Here’s a selection of my favourite photos from the Cuban cemeteries that we visited.

Santa Ifigenia cemeteryThe first cemetery that we visited was Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba, a sea of white marble and palm trees against the blue Caribbean sky

José Martí MausoleumSanta Ifigenia cemetery is the resting place of José Martí, Cuba’s national hero (writer, poet, independence fighter)

Inside José Martí MausoleumInside José Martí’s mausoleum, the casket is draped in a Cuban flag and catches daily shafts of sunlight in response to a line in one of his poems about being buried with his visage facing the sun

Changing of the guard at José Martí MausoleumThere is a twice hourly changing of the guard ceremony at José Martí’s tomb. At 8.30am we were the only ones there, by 10.30am the audience lining the path was large.

Military memorialAll the cemeteries we visited had mausoleums for soldiers killed during the revolutionary fighting, this one honours those who lost their lives during the Moncada Barracks attacks

Santa Ifigenia tomb detailMost of the gravestones at Santa Ifigenia cemetery were white marble but there were a few exceptions like this metal canopy with a cross

Compay Segundo graveCompay Segundo, guitarist and singer in the Buena Vista Social Club is buried in Santiago de Cuba

Baracoa cemeteryThe cemetery in Baracoa was much less grand than the one in Santiago but it had a beautiful setting overlooking the sea

Baracoa cemetery nichesEvery cemetery we visited had huge blocks containing square niches, presumably for ashes (there was usually a crematorium building hidden in a back corner as well). Some were simply decorated with the deceased’s name either handpainted or scratched into the wet cement while others had professional plaques, flowers or other decorations

Camagüey cemeteryThe cemetery in Camagüey was one of my favourites and with barely any other visitors (and no other tourists) we were free to have a good look around. These grand tombs are close to the entrance near the Iglesia de San Cristo de Buen Viaje (Church of St Christopher).

Camagüey cemetery dilapidationFurther into the cemetery more dilapidation was obvious such as this fallen cross

Camagüey cemetery gravePlots often seemed to contain whole families with a crowd of plaques on top of the grave, each carrying a different name

Camagüey cemetery columnsColumns that look as if they’re about to fall apart in Camagüey

Che Guevara MausoleumIn Santa Clara we didn’t visit the cemetery but the city is home to the most famous mausoleum in the country which contains the remains of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and 16 of the 37 fighters who were killed alongside him in Bolivia. Underneath the statue is a peaceful room of remembrance and an interesting museum documenting Che’s life.

Che Guevara Mausoleum DetailFresh flowers are placed below the statue of Che each morning.

Necropolis Cristobal Colon GateThe Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus cemetery) in Havana is enormous and worthy of this imposing entrance gate

Milagrosa plaquesThe most famous grave in the cemetery belongs to Amelia Goyri, also known as La Milagrosa or miracle-worker. She died in childbirth in 1901 and was buried with her son. The story goes that when the grave was opened some years late Amelia’s body was uncorrupted and the baby was found not at her feet but in her arms.  Since then locals have prayed for her to help with their hopes for children, new houses, etc and now several nearby plots have been overtaken with thank you messages from thoses whose wishes have been fulfilled.

Modern graves, Necropolis Cristobal ColonWe enjoyed some of the modern graves in the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón (clockwise from top left): a modern take on the Pietà by sculptor Rita Longa; according to the internet (!), Juana Martin died while playing dominoes; the glass doors on the pantheon of the Baró family were designed by Lalique; tomb of Nuñes Gálvez

Marble statue, Necropolis Cristobal ColonBut there is plenty of beautiful white marble as well

Mausoleum of Japanese Colony of CubaThere were a number of mausoleums for societies like this one for the Japanese Colony of Cuba. Inside are walls of square niches.

Tobías GalleryThe Tobías Gallery is a 100m long underground gallery. We couldn’t enter but from what we could see from the doorway it looks to be piled high with small boxes like these which presumably contain bones or ashes

Trinidad cemeteryWe visited the cemetery in Trinidad mainly to have a destination away from the tourist-filled city centre. We were rewarded with this tropically apocalyptic view.

Dried flowers on grave, TrinidadFlowers dry out very quickly in the hot Cuban sun and many graves had fake rather than fresh flowers.

Grave decorations, TrinidadThis grave is topped with a statue of Babaluaye, one of the orishas from Santeria, the religion fused from African animisism and Catholicism. It also holds what I think is the remains of a cigar

Cherub tomb decorationA forlorn and battered cherub tops a tomb in Morón