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As the capital of Haiti, it is impossible for this city not to be a hub for visitors and locals alike. It is the economic, political and cultural centre of the nation and is impossible to ignore. It’s located in between the flat, coastal plains, and the mountainous landscape of the country, and was the worst hit in the 2010 earthquake. Rebuilding has been slow, but the city’s spirit is still bustling, and is not a sorry sight, as some may expect. The streets are still lined with noisy vendors, traffic jams are regular and up-beat music vibrates under your feet. Port-au-Prince is home to excellent restaurants, cafes, and art, and is still surprisingly natural, considering its attempts in modern day development – it is not uncommon to see flocks of tropical birds flying around the fruit trees in the city. Tourists tend to like to split their time between downtown Port-au-Prince (La Ville) and Petionville, which is up the hill. The former is home to more sights, whereas the latter has a great variety of shops and eateries.
Accommodation is rather evenly spread throughout Port-au-Prince, and it really depends on what you’re looking for as the choices are bountiful. The Oloffson hotel is often sought-after, thanks to its previous guests – including Mick Jagger and Marlon Brando – and due to the fact that it was the setting for Graeme Green’s novel, ‘The Comedians’. For some more ideas, click here. The capital is also abundant in ‘things-to-do’, so make sure to click here to browse some itineraries and ideas.
La Citadelle Henry is located close to Haiti’s 2nd largest town, Cap Haitien, in the north of Haiti. Located at 900 metres above sea level, this fortress is the largest in the Caribbean and is classed as a marker to the beginning of the free world. The UNESCO historical park site has the largest collection of artillery, cannons and cannon balls from the era anywhere in the world today. You can climb to the Citadelle la Ferriere to discover the building built by 20,000 Haitian slaves upon defeating Napoleon’s army and consequently establishing the first black republic. Despite being built in 1804, over 200 years ago, the Citadelle is still in excellent condition due to the fact that the conflict it was built for never happened, and its stature is still, to this day, impressive. The architecture reflects a European castle, rather than its military contemporaries, but it is not clear who the architects of this awe-inspiring construction were. Visitors can arrive by foot, taking an hour to walk up, or on horse-back, which takes 20 minutes. Sightseers can also climb the Citadelle’s walls, which give a terrific impression of the strategic positioning of the fortress – presenting views as far as Cap Haitien and its port.
Sans Souci was affected by an earthquake in 1842, but it still remains a testament to its time. It was envisioned by Henri Christophe, the self-proclaimed king of Haiti, crowned in 1811, and construction started not long after his coronation. Like the Citadelle, it was built over Cap Haitien as it was a secure location, far from the risk of possible invasion from the French navy. The palace reflects classical European tradition, and now appears to be like a crumbled Versailles of the Caribbean. It gives an idea of the Haiti that ‘almost was’, before Christophe was rebelled against in the late 1820s. The earthquake exposed the palace to the sky, and although visitors can only really see remnants of the original stucco decoration on the interior, it does not cease to be an astounding creation. The outside complex is just as awesome, and gives a true feel to what the palace must have been like, when inhabited by king Christophe, his queen and the princess.
Cap Haitien is Haiti’s 2nd largest city, and was founded in 1670. It has played a role in key parts in this nation’s history. Under the French colonial rule, it was the richest and grandest city of the Caribbean, and was also the centre of revolution in the late 18th century into the early 19th. The large bay it is built on was ideal for transportation, exportation and importation, and the reefs beneath it served as an excellent defence mechanism. It is popular with all, and is a calmer, less frantic alternative to the bustling capital, Port-au-Prince. The city is best described as compact, with hills to the north, the Citadelle to the south, and beautiful, popular beaches easily nearby. There are also popular beach resorts not far from Cap Haitien, perfect for those looking to relax on Haiti’s coast. The main attraction in Cap Haitien itself is the architecture, from mid-19th century buildings to the famous gingerbread houses of Haiti. The city’s Cathedral is striking, and its Iron Market is full of activity.
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Located just south of Port-au-Prince, over a mountain range and a 3 hour drive from the capital, Jacmel is a popular destination for travellers. The city was founded by the French in 1698 on the remains of a native Taino settlement. It was a small trading point until the 1770s, when coffee was brought in to the area. From that point onwards, this crop made Jacmel’s fortune. It was one of the most important ports from where a lot of the sugar and coffee set sail to Europe, and in the 1800s, an astounding 40% of the sugar going into Europe was from Haiti. The 19th century was when Jacmel really boomed, with close trade links with the USA, France and Britain. It was also the first town in Haiti to get electricity as well as the first telephone exchange for the company. Jacmel is no longer booming, but its history still resonates in its streets and buildings, and is the Haitian papier-mâché capital.
Jacmel airport accepts charter flights and scheduled flights should start again soon. click herefor more information about flights. There is a variety of accommodation to suit budgets and styles. For more information on hotels, click here.
Bassin Bleu is found outside Jacmel when approaching from Port-au-Prince. They are a series of three pools (Bassin Palmiste, Bassin Clair and Bassin Bleu) linked by waterfalls and are a stunning natural beauty, and a definite must-see. The on-foot journey to the pools is also one surrounded by sights of Haiti’s natural magnificence. Groups cross the river via some stepping stones, and start their walk down towards the pools. At one point, visitors must descend a series of steep ropes, with local guides always available to help, before arriving to Bassin Bleu and Bassin Clair. The pools are wide, deep and turquoise – truly a surreal sight, and you’ll fall in love with the local stories of mermaids supposedly living in these pools.
This area of Haiti is perfect for those who like to exercise as well as those who like to experience natural beauty first hand. You can take an exciting hike through La Visite National Park, and is especially refreshing for those who have spent a lot of time in the hustle and bustle of the main cities. It is common to start at Furcy and end at Seguin, where there is somewhere to stay. It takes a long half day, depending on your fitness levels, and is a route that transports you through the heart of the national park. Walkers will experience Haiti’s red, fertile soil under the boots, and will inevitably bump into others sharing their same experience, as well as local women carrying tremendous loads of produce to market. It is not an easy hike, but it is a blissfully rewarding one, with breath-taking views on a clear day.
Kenscoff is situated south of Port-au-Prince and is the main market town in the mountains. Markets are held on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On these days, farmers from all around arrive to sell their crops: onions; carrots; cabbages; coffee and much more. Due to its location, everywhere surrounding Kenscoff looks like perfect hiking terrain. The views are breath-taking, with sights of prettily terraced fields and wild flowers all around. The pine forest of the area is still present, although under constant pressure from the local farmers, so growth is limited. Kenscoff is also home to the popular destination of Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve. It is a 32 acres farm, founded in 1953 by an American who was trying experimenting with farming in Haiti. The farm has now developed, 60 years on, and is focused on permaculture, reforestation and the reintroduction of local species. The farm also works with other native farmers to help to improve crop productivity.