The Forgotten Pearl of the Antilles

When the French colonizers settled in the Hispaniola Island, they called Haiti “La Perle des Antilles.” Once you spend enough time in the country, you will find that there is a good reason for calling it as such. For anyone who visits Haiti for the first time, they will be shocked by their first impressions while driving from the airport to the hotel: the narrow and overcrowded streets, the piles of garbage laying at every other corner, the “Blokis” (Haitian creole for "traffic jam") every 500 meters and the countless motorcycles just trying to move forward by invading the other side of the road. I will not lie to you, travelling in Haiti is not an easy task. But when you finally arrive to its wild and pristine white sand beaches or witness the beautiful scenery from up the mountains, you definitely feel rewarded for your effort.

During my time in Haiti, I visited different regions and discovered some wonderful sites. There is something for everybody’s taste and interest. You can visit some beautiful beaches all around the island, but my personal favorite was Paradise beach in Labadee. The feeling of being in an untouched beach where the water is crystal clear and the sand is as white as clouds makes you realize why it is called that. Unlike in most countries in the Caribbean, in Haiti there is very little infrastructure development for tourism, which implies that you normally have to do a fair amount of planning before going to any destination. At Paradise, there aren’t any people living there and the closest town is 15 minutes away by boat. Considering this, my friends and I decided to take a cooler and buy some supplies for the day, mainly beers and snacks. Previous visitors already told us that fishermen would normally be waiting by the beach for tourists to buy their morning catch. As expected, they were all there and after some bargaining, we were able to buy some fresh lobsters, red snappers, lionfish, eels and octopus that were going to be cooked and served by the sea. Having an amazing fresh seafood plate and a cold beer with that magical view was unreal.

Paradise Beach, Labadee, Haiti
Fresh Seafood by the Beach

For those who like the mountains and hiking, you have some great trails close to Port au Prince or in the South and Grand’Anse departments towards the southwest of the country. The trail from Furcy to Marigot passing by Seguin was one of the most beautiful hikes I had experienced. This path takes you though different valleys and villages where you get to witness how farmers work their land and how nature changes at each climate zone. Since the trail is around 30 km long, you normally stay overnight at a farmers house within La Visite National Park, where you get to enjoy delicious meals made with fresh picked vegetables from the farmer’s garden. I was also lucky to have some perfectly grilled lamb that was chosen for the occasion and fresh juices from local fruits like mango or passion fruit.  

Lanscape, Furcy, Haiti

Finally, for those interested in cultural sites and discovering local traditions and/or handicrafts, there are also some great places to visit. Citadelle is the biggest fortress constructed in the Americas and is located 30 minutes away from Cap-Haitien (second largest city in Haiti). It was built to protect the island against foreign invaders that fortunately never came. Located at the top of the mountain Bonnet a l’Eveque you get to admire the beautiful valleys and coastline that surround the fortress.

Citadelle, Milot, Haiti

For handicrafts, close to Port-au-Princes there is a town called Croix des Bouquets where you can find most iron handcraft workshops. Some of these shops have been in place for generations and most of the time you get to meet some really talented artists that bring to life different pieces inspired from local traditions and Voodoo.

Local Iron Handcraft, Croix des Bouquets, Haiti
Local Iron Handcraft, Croix des Bouquets, Haiti

One important takeaway from my experience here for anyone who wants to visit Haiti is that you should always rely on friends that know the country and/or local travel agencies to advise you. As I mentioned before, travelling in Haiti can be complicated due to a lack of public or even private transportation from one city to another and the existence of some areas that can be challenging to get through. So always be careful and use your good sense to avoid any dangerous situations.

Describing every amazing place I have visited in Haiti will not fit into this blog post, but I hope that this will at least awaken your curiosity and that you will feel compelled to dig a little more into discovering “Haiti Cherie” (how locals refer to Haiti).

About the author

Alonso Espinoza

Born in Quito, Ecuador, Alonso was always curious to see the world and experience new challenges. After completing his B.A. at Paris 1 Sorbonne-Pantheon, Alonso joined his family’s business back in Ecuador as CFO for two years. He then went on to pursue his Master’s degree at IE Business School in Madrid and did an exchange program to Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing. Afterwards, he rejoined his family business to work as a Business Development Manager and later as Deputy General Manager for three years. While working back in Ecuador he promoted several activities within his family’s company to help orphaned and disabled children’s care centers and actively participated in the “De la Calle a la Cumbre” program where children from the streets were given the opportunity to challenge themselves to climb the summit of the highest mountains of Ecuador. Continuing his commitment to help others, he decided to become a Kiva Fellow. Alonso strongly believes that microfinance is a proven system that will help end poverty by creating sustainable social development.