Sunrise at Cormier Plage awaits visitors to another day of sightseeing.
For a certain kind of adventurous traveler, the best thing about Haiti is that most don’t have a clue about it.
Of course we’re aware of the earthquake of January 2010, which killed many thousands and displaced still more. Many of us think still of Haiti as an impoverished island nation strewn with tent cities and rubble, a third-world country in need of charity. That’s part of America’s mainstream view. Fox’s “The Mindy Project” even recently used Haiti as the backdrop for the charity work of the protagonist and her minister boyfriend.
But there’s so much more to the place — and Haiti wants to change the narrative.
A trip there proves that’s possible.
The adventurous, curious and open-minded can clearly find these gifts in Haiti: brilliant, unspoiled beaches; delicious, homey food; welcoming, fun-loving people; and enough rum to knock out a gang of pirates.
From high atop the Citadelle Laferriere in northern Haiti, visitors can enjoy sweeping views of the Massif du Nord mountain range and, on clear days, the coastline of Cuba.
Yes, the capital city of Port-au-Prince and its surrounding metropolitan area faced extreme hardship and catastrophe following the 7.0-magnitude quake. Swaths of downtown Port-au-Prince continue to be open plots of land where structures once stood. But there’s more to a country than one neighborhood.
Generally speaking, you won’t get luxury amenities or brand-name hotels (more of those, like a Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn, are coming in 2014 and beyond), and the WiFi won’t be reliable. So it’s best to mentally untether yourself from email.
There is no public transportation, unless you count the brightly painted tap taps, or shared buses and pickup trucks, which populate every street in the country. It’s not advisable for visitors to board them — so don’t.
You will probably need a guided-tour package and a good week in order to make the most of your trip, especially if you’re not of Haitian origin. But you will not need to exchange your dollars because they are accepted everywhere, and you also won’t have to learn French or Haitian Creole because English is widely spoken.
Horses and guides stand ready to take visitors up the steep mountain path that leads to the Citadelle Laferriere in northern Haiti.
In the Port-au-Prince environs, most visitors stay in the city of Pétion-Ville, where Best Western Premier recently opened a modern property. You’ll want to eat at hilltop restaurant La Reserve. A live jazz band will set the mood while you enjoy impressive interpretations of Haitian staples like griot, a fried pork dish.
When the sky is clear, head up Mount Boutilliers, a 3,000-foot peak on top of which is L’Observatoire. Stop there for lunch and you can try one of the tastiest sandwiches around. Sounds simple enough: ham and cheese on a baguette. But the magic here is in the spread, a secret recipe made of ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and onion juice.
If you have more than a day in Haiti, do not leave the country without taking a 20-minute domestic flight to the northern coast, better known as Cap-Haitien. You’ll feel like you’re in an undiscovered land having a private moment with a place few have ever seen.
That feeling is incredibly special. Especially if you can ignore the fact that here (as in many parts of Port-au-Prince), locals are purposefully kept apart from tourists, whether by 15-foot fences or by the UN patrol.
Famed buffet lunch at Visa Lodge includes stuffed squash, pickled slaw/cabbage, seafood gumbo over rice, seafood pizza, avocado and tomato salad.
In Cap-Haitien, head on horseback to the soaring cliffs of Sans-Souci, where Haiti’s first king built Citadelle Laferrière, an enormous fortress that houses a large collection of 17th-century cannons. The brave can gallop up the rocky trail. Two guides on either side of the horse take you along the path, which is lined with fruit trees — banana, mango, guava and breadfruit.
Take a bath and get a good night’s rest at Cormier Plage Beach Resort. There’s a great beach here, with gorgeous views. There’s also good food, motel-quality amenities and nonexistent WiFi.
Head out the next day to Labadee, a port on the northern coast where there’s a private paradise operated by Royal Caribbean International. The boat trip is offered, appropriately enough, through Paradise Tours.
Enjoy a Prestige beer, or even a rum cocktail inside a fresh coconut, while you float in the warm, clear and distinctly blue waters of the Caribbean. This will feel like you’re having the most exclusive, perfect experience of your life. Spotty Internet will be a distant memory.
One last thing: Don’t leave Port-au-Prince without having lunch at the Visa Lodge, a hotel famous for its daily buffet. This spread is stocked with heaping piles of fresh avocado salad, rice with Haiti’s famous djon djon mushroom, perfectly marinated pork, seafood gumbo, twice-baked squashed stuffed with cheese, and other epicurean pleasures that you’ll just have to try for yourself.
The quaint city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti offers history, charm and lively restaurants.
Second helpings? Obligatory.
Conway Confidential is a content syndication provider specializing in travel, food and lifestyle.
IF YOU GO
Info: To explore where to stay and visit in Haiti, go to the Haiti Tourism site: haititourisminc.com.
Getting there: Delta offers a daily three-and-a-half-hour flight from JFK to Port-au-Prince. Currently, round-trip rates are just under $ 500 for the Economy cabin. delta.com.