Baracoa, in Guantánamo Province near the eastern tip of Cuba, is the oldest Spanish settlement and was Cuba’s first capital. It is here that Christopher Columbus landed, on his first voyage, on 27 November 1492. The name Baracoa is thought to stem from the indigenous Arauaca language word meaning “the presence of the sea”. Situated on the Bahía de Miel (Bay of Honey) and surrounded by a wide mountain range, the town is quite isolated, and reached by single mountain road built in the 1960s.
The settlement was founded by the first governor of Cuba, the Spanish conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, who had set out from Hispaniola, on 15 August 1511. Before he landed, a Taíno chieftain named Hatuey had fled there from the Spanish and raised a Taíno army to fight them; he was betrayed and burned at the stake. A bust of Hatuey, “America's First Rebel”, is displayed in front of the church, which is ironic: just before he was killed a Catholic priest had tried to convert him, so he would go to Heaven. He then asked the priest if dead Spanish went there too and when told that was so, he told him that he would rather go to Hell.
The Taíno people are remembered here by another statue, overlooking the town, and in the “Cueva del Paraíso” (Cave of Paradise), an archeological museum in a series of caves on the hill above Baracoa, with displays, rock paintings and a burial site. There are three forts built by the Spanish, of which El Castillo de Seboruco, built by the Spanish in 1739 and completed by the Americans in 1900 now houses Hotel El Castillo, overlooking the city and the Bahía de Miel with, across that bay, the site of the “Cruz de Parra”, where Columbus erected a wooden cross on 1 December 1492; a replica is on that spot while the original is in the Cathedral and now decorated with gilded ornaments.