Baracoa is the best Cuban city to visit for those of us who just aren’t city people. It’s ocean side, known for nature and curried seafood, as well as chocolate.
On our first full day in the area, my travel companion and I each spent just $10 on our activities, near half of which was for bike rentals. We wanted to find a way to explore Baracoa without a government tour, putting more money into local hands.
So we made up our own tour. It was an amazing but sweaty day, and I want to share our choices leading to how we explored Cuba for less than the price of a cocktail in Washington DC, so that you can do it, too. Coincidentally, this tour even includes that fancy cocktail, along with a day of biking to work it off.
The DIY Bike Tour of Baracoa
- Rent a bike ($4CUC).
- El Sendero del Cacao ($2CUC).
- El Horno de Coco ($0.50CUC).
- Rent 1 hour of kayak on Río Toa ($0.50CUC).
- Coktel de Naranja de Toa en Racho Toa ($3CUC).
Total: $10CUC ($1CUC = $1USD)
Your first order of business is to rent a bike for the day. You can either ask your casa particular owner about bikes, or walk around asking about them. All the quotes we got for bikes were $4CUC per day ($4USD), but make sure to look around early in the day, like before 9am.
The best bikes go fast, but always test the brakes first! It’s more polite and likely quicker to ask your casa particular owner, and they may even have one for you to borrow. But either method is fine. Just be sure to rent a bike, because unlike in Vinales, horseback is not recommended here.
El Sendero del Cacao
Your first stop of the tour is a family-run government-owned cacao plantation just a few kilometers out of town. Finca Duaba is the home of El Sendero del Cacao, where you can explore the family’s farm & casa del cacaotero with or without a guide.
The guide is included in your entrance fee, but they likely only speak Spanish. So if you really want more information on cacao during your tour, insist on waiting until the guide is available so that you can get your money’s worth. The Finca Duaba estate consists mainly of the small cacao plantation, and after the tour they will try to sell you products made from Cuban cacao, not all of which are unique to their estate.
You also get a small cup of complementary local hot chocolate, made with coconut milk. If you’re staying in a casa particular in town, you may have had some of this local hot chocolate with your breakfast, a practice I’ll be adopting in my own home.
I bought some cocoa butter ($1CUC) and a ball of cacao paste ($1CUC), both of which were most likely made at the close-by government factory. The duo was later made into chapstick and breakfast cocoa, respectively. If you’ve never seen cacao pods up close and were always curious about how chocolate is made, this is a can’t-miss $2CUC experience.
El Horno de Coco
Not to be confused with cacao, coco means coconut in Spanish. On our way further down the highway and away from town, we ran into a wall of the stuff. Not literally, but it sure smelled like we had. The air had been thickened over the years with coconut oil and caramelized coconut sugar.
The smell turned out to be coming from a coconut roastery. Noticing our curiosity, an older gentleman named Ivanesto gave us a very detailed tour and some coconut snacks, all without asking for anything in return. He just noticed our interest.
So even though technically this was free, I tipped what we had in change, which was about a Cuban dollar. To be candid, that was probably equal to or more than what he earned that day, and I think it was fair compensation. At no time did I ever get any vibes that he was expecting anything in return, either. I’d give at least $0.50 per tourist if you encounter the same kindness & openness as we did.
Kayaking on Río Toa
Next up is a trip to Rancho Toa. Bike or walk up the path to River Toa & rent a two-person kayak from the owner. It’s just $1CUC for an hour, and that’s just enough to explore the water and get some upper-body exercise. You may even be able to get closer to the Tibaracón, a natural phenomenon which you can see from the ranch.
This is also a stop on the official government tour, so if there’s a group waiting when you get there, it’s worth asking if you can join their trek around the property.
Coktel Hour on the Finca
To finish your tour, relax at the wooden bar and enjoy a cold beverage of rum, passion fruit juice & orange juice while overlooking the river or exploring the various paths around their small farm. They maintain a variety of local plants, and if you ask nicely, they’ll tell you all about them.
If you’re more introverted, much of their garden is also labeled. Once you’ve thoroughly exhausted yourself, never forgetting to stop and explore ever nook & cranny of rural side roads, return to town. We found several distracting paths to nowhere on our way home, adding at least an hour to the commute.
Be sure to reward your efforts (and savings!) with a nice dinner and some vitamin sea, and marinate on your day.
If you followed our DIY day tour of Baracoa, what did you think of it? Has anything changed?
Monday 22nd of July 2019
Check out my friend's business :
Monday 22nd of July 2019
I'm not surprised someone's started such a business. Those are much nicer than the bikes we rented or saw for rent; thanks for the resource.
Monday 22nd of July 2019
Thank your for sharing the details of your trip. Baracoa is a wonderful part of Cuba and I have been there many times.
I have Cuban friends who are involved in renting bicycles to tourists and the problem they face is that their costs to provide quality bikes are the same as in Havana or anywhere else. What does a late model bike cost these days? .... Many tourists to Baracoa think they should be able to rent bicycles at a fraction of Havana prices. The math simply does not add up (unless the casa owner is providing it as a "loss leader").
A really good quality late model bike in top condition needs to rent at at least CUC 10 -12 or more, in order to cover depreciation. At CUC 4 per day they are giving it away.
Monday 22nd of July 2019
The key there being "quality." I understand that renting out nice bikes, or even gently used bikes might really ratchet up the cost of buying and then maintaining such bikes, but all the ones available for rent on that particular day (and the other ones we saw tourists on) were NOT nice bikes. I don't think I saw a single nice bike in the whole week we were there. As I mentioned, it's important to make sure the brakes even work before renting. There's no helmet, and possibly not even a decent seat cushion involved.
I'm not saying that there wouldn't be a market for offering nicer bikes to tourists, but that's certainly not what was available three years ago. I think paying $4CUC to rent the quality of bike that was on offer at the time is perfectly reasonable if you consider the type of bike on offer. I have no idea of the going rate in Havana, but I think it should depend first upon quality. But thank you for the insight. I hope people renting good quality bikes are charging and receiving more for that service.
Sunday 2nd of September 2018
Love these off the beaten path recommendations for seeing Cuba, especially one that's healthy and budget-friendly. I love biking through towns and seeing how folks live. Can't wait to visit Cuba! Wouldn't mind the hot chocolate too yum!
Monday 3rd of September 2018
It's a really great way to see small towns, especially in Cuba! Biking Baracoa was by far one of the highlights of that trip, so I hope this can help you do it, too, once oyu make it over to Cuba. The eastern end of the island definitely sees fewer visitors, and could use your tourist dollars!