Armed with a sunny resilience in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake, floods, and civil unrest, Haiti is slowly coming back. While its hard-hit capital, Port-au-Prince, digs out of the rubble, the world’s first black republic remains a quixotic and deeply compelling destination, with fanciful gingerbread architecture and Creole flair. In spite of ongoing hardship, the island’s sparkling beauty shines through, with creamy white beaches framed in languid palms and soaring green hills wrapped in blue mist.
Things to Do
Though much of Port-au-Prince was levelled in the quake, the city’s collection of 200 wooden gingerbread houses survived largely intact. Head to the bustling commercial center, Pétitionville, for dining and shopping. The country’s rich history and culture is on display at the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien. Drive south to Jacmel, a seaside town known for its gracious architecture, or north to two spectacular World Heritage sites: the mountaintop fortress Citadelle and the ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace.
Nightlife and Entertainment
For an exhilarating immersion in Haitian-bred music, head to the Hotel Oloffson, in downtown Port-au-Prince, where on Thursday nights the house band, RAM, rocks the stately gingerbread manor. In the Art Hostel in lively Pétitionville, Café des Arts is a cultural landmark, serving up sensational live music and good times for 30 years. Stop into the cafe lounge for a mojito and dance to live bands or tunes spun by local DJs.
Restaurants and Dining
Port-au-Prince boasts an international dining scene, where you can sample Taiwanese, Lebanese, and Italian as well as Asian fusion cuisine. Fine French restaurants such as La Souvenance, in Pétitionville, reflect Haiti’s century-long tenure as a French colony. The local Haitian cuisine is Creole, a Latin-Caribbean fusion of European, Indian, and West Indian flavors. Lunch with the locals on Creole classics at La Coquille, in Pétionville, for a genuine taste of Haiti.
Shop for fruit, herbs, and voodoo potions in the Iron Market, a restored 19th-century bazaar. Invest in Haiti’s colorful and exuberant art, whether by buying works from well-established art galleries in Pétionville, or off the street at Place St. Pierre, or outside the National Palace. Ten miles north of Port-au-Prince is the village of Croix des Bouquets, where more than a thousand artisans make unique and inexpensive metal art sculptures out of basic metal drums with simple mallets and chisels.