Beaches, galleons and djon-djon

When you go to Haiti
Beaches, galleons and djon-djon

Getty Images

Haiti is not particularly known for its extraordinary beauty or its cultural wealth. But it has many treasures to offer visitors. This year, American Airlines celebrates 25 years of flying to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, just as the country is investing in tourism. The arrival of hotel chains such as  Marriott and Best Western are positive signs; and beyond Port-au-Prince, there is much to discover.
 
1. ÎLE-À-VACHE
This island of fisherfolk, thirteen km long and virtually untouched, is Haiti’s best kept secret. CNN World has called Abaka Bay beach one of the hundred most beautiful beaches in the world, and Madonna has described the island as “magical”. It’s a goldmine for divers: there are more than 200 shipwrecks in the area, including the wrecks of schooners and galleons sunk by the pirate Henry Morgan in the seventeenth century. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, the boutique hotel Port Morgan overlooks a sheltered bay, and the Village Vacances, an eco-resort with excellent local food is another good choice. See port-morgan.com
 
2. JACMEL
Just 80 km from Port-au-Prince, Jacmel is the city of Haitian artisans. Among its jewels is the Florita, a charming hotel built in the colonial style, founded in 1888. Today, bright stars in the worlds of art and fashion stay there, such as Donna Karan, who promotes the work of local artisans through her “Urban Zen” line of art and fashion. In the main lobby, antiques, naïve paintings and papier-mâché masks adorn every corner. Not far from the hotel are a house that belonged to Simon Bolívar, and the customs house, a building dating from the period when Jacmel was the most important port in the French colonial empire. The beach boasts a beautiful promenade covered in mosaics. See hotelflorita.com
 
3. BASSIN BLEU
Hidden in the mountains a few kilometers from Jacmel are the waterfalls and caves of Bassin Bleu. It is a unique experience to swim in these natural pools, where the falls of cold water contrast with the tropical temperature. The lush vegetation, the ferns and the turquoise water of the deep pools make this an extraordinary place where the local young people enjoy the clean, refreshing water, diving in from the very top of the waterfall. Be aware that, to preserve the integrity of the environment, the number of visitors is restricted.
 
4. THE CITADELLE LAFERRIÈRE
About 25 km south of the city of Cap Haïtien in northern Haiti stands the Citadelle Laferrière, the largest stone fortress in the Americas, perched on top of the Bonnet à l'Évêque mountain. Its construction was ordered by King Henri Christophe, a key figure in the Haitian revolution of 1791–1804, and it was built shortly after independence by the first freed slaves in order to protect themselves from a possible French attack. The Citadelle was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. The views from the top are breathtaking and on clear days visitors can make out the island of Cuba. See citadellelaferriere.com
 
5. DINING
Haitian cuisine is very rich in spices, and rice, rum and tropical fruit juices also predominate. The djon-djon, a mushroom native to Haiti, is used in the preparation of a tasty rice dish called Diri-djon-djon. If you want to delight your palate with Caribbean–European fusion food, it’s essential that you eat at Papaye, a restaurant located in the suburb of Pétionville, Port-au-Prince.

------

Getting there: American Airlines flies to Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, from where you can drive to Jacmel and the Citadelle, respectively. It is advisable to book local transport in advance. To go to Île-à-Vache, drive to Les Cayes and book transport to the island by boat through the hotel.