When I told family and friends I was going to Haiti, the response was universal. Why? My answer, “I’ve never been there.” Haiti held so many surprises which can often happen when visiting a destination that is notDSC09885 overexposed. In the late 1700s Haiti was the glory of the French colonies and one of the richest colonies in the world. The economy relied on slave trade and labor which led to a successful slave revolt. In 1804 Haiti became the first black independent nation. Over the years, poor leadership and other issues caused economic troubles from which Haiti has never fully recovered. I was impressed by the variety of things to see and the people who were very welcoming and proud to be Haitian.

L-Iron MarketMost travel starts in Port-au-Prince, the capital, which is recovering from the 2010 earthquake and one of the bright signs of recovery is the Iron Market. Like a vision from the Arabian Nights the beautiful red Iron Market in Port-au-Prince is jam packed with everything from handicrafts to pigeons. The building was prefabricated in France to be the train station in Cairo. But the plan didn’t work and, as the story goes, Florvil Hyppolite, President of Haiti from 1828 to 1896, was visiting France and had it shipped to Haiti to serve as a central market. One of the not to miss things to do in Port-au-Prince is a visit to the Observatory. I visited the Observatory twice. Once during the day for an incredible view of Port-au-Prince, the bay, the mountains and the Arcadin Coast. I returned in the evening to dine at the new Observatory Restaurant with a magical view of the city all aglow with twinkling lights.

The beautiful Arcadin Coast has been drawing beach lovers for decades. There are small boutique resorts like Wahoo Beach Bay, midsize ones like Kaliko Beach and the ???????????????????????????????former Club Med is now Indigo Beach. They all offer a variety of fun-in-the-sun activities as well as cultural tours. After the busy and hectic streets of Port-au-Prince a walk in the Haitian countryside is a pleasant experience. I took a guided tour that started at the Ogier Fombrun Museum, a place to learn about the area’s history from pre-Colombian times to Haiti’s colonial era, when in the 1700s Haiti was the largest producer of sugar in the Caribbean. The tour wandered past the cane fields where cows graze with the ???????????????????????????????mountains as a backdrop and continued to a spring where the community gathers to wash clothes, bath, and where sacred, secret voodoo ceremonies are purported to take place. However, authentic voodoo practices are not open to tourists. Darn! We continued to a port and on to the village of Montrouis where there is a lively market. At the end of the walking tour our group piled in the back of a Tap-Tap, a brightly painted truck that serve as taxis in Haiti, and returned to the historic mill.

I spent several days in the north of Haiti near Cap-Haitian where there are new boutique hotels overlooking the city and a resort at Cormier Beach. I visited the Citadel which is the most incredible fort I have ever seen and I have been to a lot of forts. About 17 miles from Cap-Haitien and five miles up a twisty-turny road is the largest fortress in the Americas. CitadelThe Citadel was intentionally built on a mountain making it extremely difficult to get to. It was to serve as a place of last resort should the country be attacked. Designated a World Heritage site, the fort also has the largest collection of cannons in the Western Hemisphere. After visiting the fort we stopped for lunch at Lakou Lakay where Maurice Etienne is developing a cultural center and a botanical garden. The food was from their property even the coffee was made from beans his wife had gathered and ground that day.

???????????????????????????????Near the Citadel is Sans Souci Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most unexpected sites I saw in Haiti. The Versailles-like palace was the royal residence of King Henry I. Yes, there was once a king of Haiti. He was also known as Henry Christophe. Construction began in 1810 and it only took two years to build the massive complex complete with gardens, fountains and pools. A major earthquake in 1842 destroyed a major part of the palace and it was never rebuilt.
Before the Europeans arrived the indigenous people, the Taino, numbered in the millions but after the arrival of the Europeans they nearly disappeared through mistreatment and disease. Near the town of Sainte Suzanne I climbed down to a small creek where the Taino petroglyphs can be found. In Sainte Suzanne I stopped at a house where the owner showed me Taino artifacts he had collected. A great example of Haitian hospitality.

In the south of Haiti the coastal city of Jacmel is the handicraft capital of Haiti where it is possible to buy directly from the artist. Most of the bright one-of-a-kind crafts ???????????????????????????????are made from recycled materials. Moro offers unique items he personally designed and nearby is Charlotte, a small shop bursting with bright faces painted on calabashes, many of which are framed with a straw hat. Other bursts of color in Jacmel are from the many glass murals that brighten the streets. The most colorful event is Jacmel’s family-friendly carnival. It is on my Bucket List. Jacmel is also known for its beaches.

???????????????????????????????I found Haiti dynamic with many of the hotels, restaurants, and other attractions that had been open for a year or less. I would love to return in a couple years to see the growth in tourism. If you go: For more information check with Haititourisme.gouv.ht. First-time travels should consider booking a tour with Agencecitadelle.com, Tourislakay.com or Jean Cyril Pressoir (jeancyrilpressoir@gmail.com) who organizes eco tours.