Known to many as the world’s first black republic, Haiti means land of mountains “it is a place that reflects its African ancestry more than any other place in the Americas, so-much that as of June 2016, Haiti will become a full member of the African Union. According to Expedia, travel to Haiti has increased 800% in the last couple years–thanks to efforts from the government to prioritize tourism but also heavy exposure through social media. There are tons of guides on what to see and do in Haiti, but almost none of them offer you a truly authentic way to discover the country like a local, hopefully on your next visit, all you’ll need is this Griots Republic article.
Our first stop is Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti and the perfect place to start your trip as it offers a glimpse of what everyday life in Haiti is like. Streets are adorned with colorful taptaps which are converted pick-up trucks serving as public transportation; beautiful to see but as a tourist, I’d highly recommend hiring a private driver.
WHAT TO SEE
This museum, located in Champs de Mars next to the presidential palace, is the heart of the city. It houses the remains of the heroes of independence and important artifacts from the world’s only successful slave rebellion.
Located right across the street from the
MUPANAH, is a bronze statue dedicated to the unknown slave who announced the start of the rebellion through a conch shell.
PARC DE LA CANNE A SUCRE
Located across from the U.S Embassy in Tabarre, is a former sugar cane plantation turned museum displaying different machinery, trains and other precious artifacts–taking
visitors back to past centuries.
MARCHÉ EN FER (IRON MARKET)
The is a bustling marketplace where you can buy anything from a live chicken to beautiful handcrafted souvenirs. It can be a bit overwhelming as you haggle your way through different sellers, but the building–built in 1889 by an ex-president, was destroyed in the earthquake in 2010 but rebuilt to its exact original form.
Take a trip up to the mountains towering Port au-Prince, here you will notice the air is pure, the landscape is post-card perfect and the people are friendly. Stop at “Observatoire” in Boutilliers for a cocktail and enjoy breathtaking 180 degree views of the city. As you continue to make your way up, stop at L’infini and be blown away by a gorgeous bamboo Forrest. Head to the Baptist Mission of Haiti or Kay Wallace where you will discover a small but beautiful zoo with the amazing landscape in the background. Lastly, finish your trip with a visit to “Fort Jacques,” a fort built to protect Port-auPrince.
SAUT D’EAU (WATERFALL)
As the name suggests, this waterfall on the outskirts of the capital is one of the most important places in Haitian culture. Considered a sacred place for Christians where it is widely believed the Virgin Mary made an appearance, it’s also a place of pilgrimage for voodoo practitioners which is more tied to Christianity than known.
BARBANCOURT RUM DISTILLERY
Haiti is known for its world famous sugar canebased rum; if you call ahead of time to schedule a tour of the distillery, you will get a first-hand look at how the sugar cane is transformed into a five star rum. The free tour starts at 9am daily and samples are included.
It’s no secret to anyone, Thursday nights are owned by RAM at the Hotel Olofsson. The hotel itself is a gorgeous 19th century gothic gingerbread mansion, originally built as the residence for two former presidents of Haiti. The local band RAM, owned by the hotel’s owner has been performing there every Thursdays for more than 20 years! If you want to learn more about the voodoo religion, I suggest you start here. A secret that you definitely won’t find in any guidebook, is the new Thursday nights at Yanvaloo which is minutes away from the hotel Olofsson. There’s a new Haitian band called Akoustik which plays every genre of music, do yourself a favor and make sure you see them! On friday nights, the place to be is ASU rooftop lounge at the hotel Karibe in Petion-Ville. (Go early as it gets packed!) Some of the best beaches close to the capital are situated about an hour or two north of Port-auPrince.
The Côte des Arcadins offers several gorgeous waterfront resorts. My personal favorite is Wahoo bay Beach resort; for $15 you have access to the entire property and amenities for the whole day while delicious food and drinks are available for purchase. If you’re traveling on a budget and want to find amazing food at a fraction of the cost, head a few doors down past Wahoo and you’ll find a gas station, there’s a restaurant there with amazingly delicious food for about $10 a meal. One of the resorts next to Wahoo bay called Moulin Sur Mer houses a beautiful museum on its grounds dedicated to slavery and will take you back to its old days as a plantation. Entrance to the museum is only $5.
WHERE TO STAY
I always highly recommend staying at the Hotel Montana in Petion-Ville if you want a truly authentic experience. They have a restaurant with a gorgeous view overlooking Port-au-Prince and offer a scrumptious buffet-dinner on Sunday nights for only $20. It is walking distance from art/souvenir shops lining the streets. Other great choices for hotels in Petion-Ville include the El Rancho, Hotel Oasis, Hotel Karibe, Best Western. The Marriott in downtown Port-au Prince is beautiful but too removed from everything.
WHERE TO EAT
You’ll find great food spots in Petion-Ville; personally I’d recommend Le P’tit Creux as the top choice; they offer a lunch buffet that is culinary excellence. La Coquille is a close second and is beautifully decorated to reflect Haitian creativity and art. For a more upscale experience, La Reserve, Magdoos, and La Plantation all have beautiful grounds and great food.
For a more artistic tour, our second stop in Haiti is Jacmel. Only two hours away from the capital by car, or a twenty minute flight; come during carnival and you’ll understand why this
city is considered the cultural and artistic center of Haiti. It was once called the Paris of the Caribbean–thanks to its gingerbread homes and 19th century buildings. No trip to Jacmel is complete without a stop at Bassin Bleu, a series of natural pools with a gorgeous waterfall. The pool directly above the waterfall is a mind-blowing 75 feet deep! If you plan on staying overnight, I highly recommend the Villa Nicole, a beautiful property nestled on the beach and surrounded by coconut trees. For authentic cuisine, head to Raymond les bains beach and ask for Madame Jean.
The Hotel Florita is a famous stop to have a drink and chat with locals or fellow travelers. Watch the sunset at Lakou Nouyòk, Hotel Cyvadier or while enjoying a fresh coconut at Ti mouyaj. For a paradise-like beach you can continue south to Les Cayes and ferry to île a Vache. Our third stop is the majestic city of Cap Haitien. A 4-hour drive or 45 minute flight from Port-au-Prince; this city plays a significant role in the history of Haiti as it is here that Christopher Columbus first touched down and allegedly lost his biggest ship La Santa Maria, but also where one of Haiti’s most brilliant fighters ruled.
King Henri Christophe commissioned the construction of the Citadelle Laferrière—the largest fortress in the western hemisphere on top of one of the highest mountains to protect the country from a potential French invasion. It was built by 20,000 newly freed slaves and armed with 365 canons of different sizes which many are still in place today. Henri Christophe also commissioned the construction of the Palais Sans Souci as his royal residence. Destroyed by an earthquake, the ruins of the palace tell the story of a king determined to demonstrate to foreigners, the power and capability of the black race. This is where the roots of freedom of the black race were forever instilled.
Continuing a historical tour, a stop at Vertières where the decisive battle for independence took place, the remembrance monument brings a sense of pride and gratitude to these men who chose to live free or die defending the black race’s freedom. For a relaxing getaway, take a small boat to île a rat, an uninhabited island with a gorgeous beach where Columbus would escape with his lover. Habitation Jouissaint is one of the top hotels with a beautiful view and great lounge atmosphere, while there is no better food in town than Lakay Restaurant. I could write for days about the beauty of Haiti, but as Haitians say “Se la pou la.”(You just have to be here)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Cantave was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and moved to New York in the summer of 2003. He received a B.S. in Criminology/Sociology from Suny at Old Westbury where he was given the opportunity to volunteer in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That experience changed his life and helped him find what feeds his soul – helping people.