Take a pinch of Tolkien, a dash of Gabriel García Márquez, mix in a large cup of 1960s psychedelia and temper with a tranquilizing dose of Cold War–era socialism. Leave to stand for 400 years in a geographically isolated tropical wilderness with little or no contact with the outside world. The result: Baracoa – Cuba's weirdest, wildest and most unique settlement that materializes like a surreal apparition after the long dry plod along Guantánamo's southern coast.
Cut off by land and sea for nearly half a millennium, Cuba's oldest city is, for most visitors, one of its most interesting. Founded in 1511 by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, Baracoa is a visceral place of fickle weather and haunting legends. Semi-abandoned in the mid-16th century, the town became a Cuban Siberia where rebellious revolutionaries were sent as prisoners. In the early 19th century French planters crossed the 70km-wide Windward Passage from Haiti and began farming the local staples of coconut, cocoa and coffee in the mountains and the economic wheels began to turn.
Baracoa developed in relative isolation from the rest of Cuba until the opening of La Farola in 1964, a factor that has strongly influenced its singular culture. Today its premier attractions include trekking up mysterious El Yunque, the region's signature flat-topped mountain, or indulging in some inspired local cooking using ingredients and flavors found nowhere else in Cuba.