Republic of Haiti // Port au Prince // Musée du Panthéon National // La Citadelle la Ferriere // Cap Haitien // Jacmel...
Occupying the eastern part of the island known as Hispaniola (Little Spain) Haiti may share a landmass with The Dominican Republic, but this is a very different Caribbean destination.
In 2010 the country suffered a devastating earthquake, but Haiti’s star could be ascending again with new international investment and attention, and as pundits predict this could be the ‘edgy new Cuba’ it is definitely the place to watch.
Haiti Highs Start your adventure in the capital, Port au Prince, which although still recovering from the earthquake with many parts of the city still being rebuilt, has a certain chaotic charm. Tap taps (buses) whizz by, street vendors sell piles of melons and quirky artworks and in the midst of rubble is the imposing Musée du Panthéon National, where the anchor from Columbus’ Santa Maria is on display, and the statue of “The Unknown Slave,” a monument to freedom fighters who created the nation.
Historical Haiti – La Citadelle One of the things about Haiti which distinguishes it from its Caribbean neighbours is its unique history. The only nation to overthrow slavery and become the world’s first Black Empire Haiti’s La Citadelle la Ferriere, the largest and oldest fortress in the Western hemisphere, is the best place to start learning about it. Built in 1804 it takes a steep hike to reach (3,000 feet above sea level) but the awe-inspiring spectacle is worth the effort. I travelled on horseback, accompanied by friendly Haitian boys. At the foot of the hill we find the crumbling grandeur of the ‘Versailles of the Caribbean’ – the Palace Sans Souci, the vision of Henri Christophe, the self-proclaimed king of Haiti crowned in 1811.
Cap Haitien Close to the Citadelle is the town of Cap Haitien, once called the Paris of Haiti because of its elegant French style buildings. World Bank investment in this area is improving access to the Citadelle and also the surrounding roads so visitors can quickly reach pretty beach resorts. Within one hour from here you will find untouched, wild Caribbean landscape with a variety of small, locally owned hotels which offer nature tours to the South of the country where you will find lovely waterfalls and even voudou tours with music and dance.
Jacmel Bassins-Bleu, hidden in the hills above the picturesque sea side town of Jacmel is made up of three deep, crystal blue pools of water I clambered down awkwardly by ropes, rewarded with an exhilarating swim in a grotto said to be visited by nymphs. Jacmel was a coffee and sugar port, and its quiet streets and colourful clapboard houses are an oasis of calm after Port au Prince. Hotel Florita is an 18th century warehouse furnished with old coffee processing equipment. Like everywhere, it is decked out with papier mache, carnival costumes and elaborate metal work.
There is no escaping art in Haiti. Tiny Jacmel alone has 35 galleries and the walls and streets everywhere are awash with murals, mosaics, paintings and sculptures.
This is an undiscovered Caribbean gem which is gearing up to be the next big tropical destination. Carnival is investing US $70 million at Ile de la Tortue in the north of Haiti and Royal Caribbean, which brings 600,000 day visitors a year to the country, is going to start excursions next year to the Citadelle. Book a ticket now before the crowds arrive!
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Author Bio: Judith Baker is a London-based freelance travel writer