They used to call it the Pearl of the Antilles. Now the usual epithet for Haiti, popularized after the 2010 earthquake, is “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Pity, for the Caribbean island is a stunner.
While most post-quake “build back better” fell through, there were exceptions — among them a plan to boost tourism to Haiti. “We’re not talking about a tourism boom, but there’s a clear change: We have tourists,” says Jean-Cyril Pressoir, who runs a tour company and logistics firm in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and estimates that his business is up by a third to 50 percent over last year.
Every setting sun is a spectacle.
If Haiti tourism sounds implausible, then you may not know that Haiti has more coastline than any Caribbean country save Cuba, or that its resorts once drew celebrity jet-setters like Mick Jagger and Jacqueline Onassis, or that Bill and Hillary Clinton visited as newlyweds. Today, it’s not an easy country — physically, emotionally, or spiritually — for travel, but Haiti has a way of getting under your skin. There is so much beauty: the mountains inland and that blue sea, music, art, dancing, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The avocados are as big as your head. Every setting sun is a spectacle.
One of my favorite itineraries is the Path to Seguin, a hike that starts in the mountains high above Port-au-Prince. Allot two days, hire a driver to take you to the trailhead (about an hour southwest of the capital) and start before dawn. The first half of the journey is a steep, four-to-six-hour ascent along a red dirt path surrounded by the most improbable farmland you’ve ever seen: terraced, irregular plots that cling to the mountainside. The trail is very steep in parts; bring water and take breaks. Children wearing crappy flip-flops will scamper past you, and pairs of women bearing massive baskets of carrots and onions on their heads will also outpace you while maintaining a constant stream of gossip in Creole. Make eye contact and say bonjou!
Keep walking, up toward a ridge topped by a line of pine trees. When you seem to have arrived, ask for Kay Winnie, an auberge owned by Winthrop Attie. Someone will probably guide you there. For about $50, Winnie will give you endless cups of hot mint tea, which you by then will need, because it is cool in the mountains. You’ll also get a sleeping bag and a fantastic dinner that might involve freshly dug chanterelles, roast goat and salads with edible flowers. That night, you will sleep better than you thought possible.
The next day, head off early; you’re going to go down the other side of the mountain. The trees will change, from pine to palm, and a few hours in, you’ll smell the sea and feel terribly sweaty. You will reach a little village called Peredo. From there, it’s a 30-minute tap-tap (bus) ride along the ocean toward Jacmel, an old coffee town whose warehouses now house art galleries and colonnaded hotels. There you’ll find plenty of ice-cold Prestige beer, seafood — conch, lobster, red fish — and plantains.
But you’d do better to jump off the bus after 15 minutes, in a fishing village called Kabik, and head for the beach. The waves of the Caribbean will lap gently around your body, and you will be so glad you came to Haiti.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.