Most people know that Haiti was an unstable country in the last days of the Duvalier regime and for a decade or so after it fell. They know it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and that it was slammed by earthquakes and horrific flooding in 2010. What you’re about to read, though, is nine things you may not know about Haiti.
First, Haiti’s beaches are among the most pristine in the entire Caribbean region. Second, the 200-year-old Citadelle, built on a hilltop by a Haitian ruler to prevent the French from reconquering his island (Haiti, you may recall, became the world’s first postcolonial black nation when it won independence in 1804), is as dramatic as a castle can get. How, you wonder, did they ever manage to build that up there? Third, this same
Haitian ruler built a massive and extravagant palace—he even called it Sans Souci—whose ruins are now open to visitors. (Same question: How’d they do this?) And speaking of architectural wonders, virtually all of Port-au-Prince’s intricately carved gingerbread houses survived the twin catastrophes of 2010.
We’re up to No. 6: Haiti has some lovely hotels, most of which are astonishingly underpriced, a welcome anomaly in the Caribbean. For example, in Petionville, the affluent area uphill from Port-au-Prince, Hotel El Rancho and the Kinam Hotel offer both style and value. Seven: Restaurants in Port-au-Prince and especially in Petionville come in all flavors—Creole, classic French, Italian, Asian fusion, Lebanese…. Our eighth surprise is that although Haiti has relatively few real beach resorts, the Kaliko Beach Club, which lies about an hour from downtown Port-au-Prince, offers nice suites in high season from $115 a night—with breakfast and WiFi.
Finally, the Haitian government has sparked the restoration and revival of historic Jacmel, on the southern coast. Cap Lamandou Waterview Hotel is spending several million dollars on upgrades, and a Miami-based company is building Le Village de Port-Jacmel, a boutique hotel and entertainment complex scheduled to open this spring. An additional $40 million is going toward the development of the airport and a convention center. Stay tuned for more surprises next year.
BEST TIME TO GO: November through April
FUN FACT: The name “Haiti” comes from the Taino word ayti, which means “mountainous land”
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta and New York (JFK) to Port-au-Prince
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport
CURRENCY: Haitian gourde
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: Bouillon—not what you think—is a hearty stew consisting of various spices, potatoes, tomatoes, and meats such as goat or beef
BEST BUYS: Handicrafts from Comité Artisanal Haitïen in Port-au-Prince
INFORMATION PLEASE: Haiti Tourism—visithaiti.gouv.ht