Travel Haiti: Road Tripping from Waterfalls to Ruins to Islands

In All Topics, Featured, Haiti, Offbeat by Ryan17 Comments

Whenever I am asked, “why would you ever go to Haiti?” I have the urge to shake the hell out of that person and somehow project my experiences and memories into their brain. And that happens a lot. How could you not want to go? Well, I can’t really blame you with the way the media paints a picture of destruction and violence and squalor to deter you.

Let me paint a different picture from my own experiences.

Mwen Renmen Ayiti, or "I Love Haiti" written in the sand on Ile A Vache beach in Haiti.

I have been to Haiti twice now; once in 2013 and recently at the end of 2014. When I traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2013 it was to help a Haitian friend to document the progress of an energy project he was developing in the country. You see, many young Haitians of the diaspora, or populations of Haitians that have moved abroad for various reasons including education or jobs or potential of a more successful life than their home towns — never return. For my friend Vick, he became a very successful guy excelling in the government of the United States, but he wanted to use his personal successes to give back to Haiti. And as much as everyone warned me of the dangers of traveling to a country like Haiti, I went anyway. I documented everything of the experience. And I told of my travels in Haiti, but of the deep and everlasting love of a country so often mis-judged.

We had only tapped into Haiti as a country in a small way, only spending time in the larger cities like the capital of Port Au Prince or Cap Haitian to get land permits for his prototypes signed. We did see some of the incredible history of Haiti, like the Citadel, or the untouched beaches of Labadee, but when I left I knew that there was so much more, so much deeper I could travel into the culture and history and beauty. I had hoped I would return.

And at the end of 2014, that same friend asked me if I wanted to come with him to Haiti for the holidays, not for work, but to see the country in a way he had never even seen it. To just explore the country. I said, “I’ll quit my job if they won’t let me go“. He laughed, but I was serious. Nothing would stop me from traveling around Haiti again.

Both times I was overwhelmed by a tingling sensation rarely felt, one that is as if I have traveled to an uncharted place full of mystery and surprise, and then a feeling that needles my skin like the kind you get when you arrive at home. Even when you’ve never been there before. Through the madness and traffic and flow of everyday life, I always felt a hush fall over me, because I realize that I am the sole traveler there, and I don’t feel nervousness but excitement. Nobody treats you like you don’t belong.

When I arrived this time, I was still surprised to have that feeling. I had already been there, and even in the hectic airport of the capital where I was a nervous wreck last time, I was completely calm. The goosebumps were just from excitement.

Photo of Airplane wing over the bright blue caribbean sea.

Once you leave Port Au Prince’s symphony of steel behind, life slows down and you find yourself lost in a lush and unique landscape. Down every dirt path lies a waterfall. Mountains rise up around you lined with terraced fields being tended. Valleys descend to the rivers that carved them lined by the villages who have relied on them for ages. And when you make it to the coastlines and untouched beaches and crystal blue waters, you haven’t gone too far, but just gone far enough.

One doesn’t have to go far either way to be engulfed by the rich culture. From the young art students painting masterpieces in repurposed abandoned coffee factories of Jacmel, to the bustling markets which are the heart of Haitian life, to the Voodoo caves of Kounoubwa in the hills of Camp-Perrin, or up to the mountaintop fortress of La Citadel standing proud above the clouds. It’s all there, hidden from the world except for those who are willing to not judge a country by it’s media coverage. But the true and everlasting untold beauty is not of what you see, it’s in the people that you meet, for Haitians are the most hard-willed people that still know the value of compassion and friendship, and would gladly invite you in for an ice-cold Prestige or a cup of coffee and a chat. You will leave saying, “Mwen Renmen Ayiti.

Sunset over Port Au Prince as seen from a car in Haiti.

It has been nearly a month since I returned from the trip, and with over 100GB of photos and videos, and countless experiences that I’ll remember forever, I am having Haiti take over the blog for the rest of February to share it all. I was asked recently by Nomads World to share my Top 3 Destinations of 2015, and I was so happy to see that along with numerous other travel bloggers, Haiti was the 2nd most voted country behind Cuba. And that is what I want to do this next month is show you that Haiti is worth traveling to.

To kick it off, here is a photo overview of the places I recently visited in my travel in Haiti over the 3 weeks I spent there. Enjoy, and tell me your thoughts in the end and what place you would want to see in Haiti!


FURCY //

Furcy is about an hour south of Port Au Prince, and after a ways on paved road, it becomes rugged and rocky to get the rest of the way. But it is worth it. We stayed at Rustik, a treehouse hostel made of all recycled material. Waking up in the valley to the roosters and sunrise in this place was breathtaking. We spent the day hiking through the valley surrounding us to waterfalls and terraced farmland.

A photo of the sunrise over Rustik treehouse hotel in Haiti with a man, Ryan Brown of Lost Boy Memoirs, admiring the golden valley. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+. Rustik treehouse hotel is a sustainable and green hotel just an hour outside of Port Au Prince and the perfect mountain escape in Haiti.

In Furcy Haiti, a photo of a bull grazing on grass in a valley overlooking distant mountains.

In Furcy Haiti, a photo of small grass huts near farmland in the mountain hillsides.

SEE MORE // A Night in a Treehouse Hotel in Haiti


JACMEL //

We spent a few days in the southern coast in the area around Jacmel, a well known town that has been a main area of Haitian art culture in the past. While here, we stayed at a small boutique hotel names Cotelle Breeze that hugged the beach and overlooked the sunrise. It was all hammocks and paradise here. One night, we chose to hop on board a boat and cruise the coastline to see the south coast from the outside, and then ate at an arguably more upscale restaurant (which I don’t normally do) on Christmas Eve where I devoured lobster. Before heading on further, we explored the town itself, stumbling upon an artist enclave set up in an abandoned coffee factory dating back to the early 1900’s. We were shown around by the owner and teacher, with various students collaborating on pieces that are beautiful.

Jacmel Haiti at night, a long exposure photo near the beach of Ryan Brown of Lost Boy Memoirs with the stars and streaks of light beams in the distance.

Hammock at sunset in Jacmel Haiti with the sky a soft orange and purple and the ocean painted pastel colors.

A boat tour around Jacmel Haiti in the Caribbean sea at dusk with the silhouette of a boat captain as the sun sets and paints the sky purple and blue.

Palm tree silhouettes over the Caribbean as the sun sets near Jacmel Haiti.

Prestige beer and lobster for Christmas Dinner in Jacmel Haiti.

Painted festival masks in Jacmel Haiti for Carnival.

Shaved ice drink from a Haitian man in Jacmel Haiti, perfect refreshment for the hot summer.

Paintings in an old abandoned coffee factory in Jacmel Haiti featuring traditional Voodoo and modern Haitian artwork.

A young Haitian art student works on a painting of voodoo style expressionism. Paintings in an old abandoned coffee factory in Jacmel Haiti featuring traditional Voodoo and modern Haitian artwork.

Old ruins and crumbling factories in Jacmel Haiti.

Old dusty rum bottle in an abandoned coffee factory in Jacmel Haiti.

WATCH // Video: Wandering Abandoned Coffee Factories of Jacmel


BASSIN BLEU //

Before leaving Jacmel, we made sure to check out the famous Bassin Bleu, one of numerous ones, but probably the most well known. And probably the most treacherous to get to. The route was extremely rocky and at times, I thought our car wouldn’t make it. Through rivers and mountains, a hike and a descent by rope to the area, we made it to this incredible place. Haitians were there, leaping off the tall rocks above the falls into the water, which is said to have no bottom. So, of course, I thought I would jump off with them!

Jacmel Haiti as seen from above atop a mountain on the way to Bassin Bleu, with a goat grazing in the long golden grass.

Bassin Bleu waterfall near Jacmel Haiti, a favorite spot for Haitians to swim in and a top tourist attraction.

A Haitian boy jumps off a waterfall in Bassin Bleu near Jacmel Haiti.

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CAMP-PERRIN //

Camp-Perrin is a region in southern Haiti that is lush and filled with mountains and valleys. After leaving Jacmel, we went here specifically to find another Bassin Bleu (there are like 15 in Haiti) and found so much more. On a hike to the bassin or what I would have called a lagoon, we encountered some gnarly local kids who were leaping off the waterfall, like I had done near Jacmel. But this one was a bit too high for me. We visited an old colonial era dam that now provides 24-hour electricity for the towns as well. After, we met a local guy name Reggie who offered to guide us for the day, and took us hiking through the valley to the ancient caves of Kounoubwa, which were used for Voodoo ceremonies in the past. We stayed the night at Reggie’s house with his family, which was one of the most profound moments I’ve had while traveling just given their hospitality.

A sheep and baby lamp grazing in the jungle near Camp Perrin Haiti.

A deep bleu hidden lagoon in Camp-Perrin Haiti.

Camp-Perrin Haiti, a hydro electric dam dating back to the French Colonialism times in Haiti.

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Camp-Perrin Haiti, a dry river bed filled normally in wet season supplies hydro-electric power.

A small suspension bridge across a river in Camp-Perrin Haiti.

Photo of Ryan walking across the suspension bridge in Camp-Perrin Haiti that crosses a river.

Lush green valley in Camp-Perrin Haiti.

Voodoo cave exploring near Camp-Perrin Haiti.


Île à Vache //

Île à Vache is an island off of the south coast of Haiti, about a (treacherous) 45 minute boat ride from mainland. The Island itself has two large resorts that are teaming with rich foreigners and vacationers, but there is still a very large local population just living the island life. And that is what we wanted to do there. We took our tents, found a nice spot on the beach, and camped under the stars. In the morning, we met some local kids who I taught how to play American football with a coconut, and they brought us food their mother had cooked. One of the most beautiful beaches I had seen.

Port in Jacmel Haiti to Ile A Vache.

Ile A Vache island in Haiti, drinking a fresh brewed cup of coffee on the beach with a sailboat in the distance.

Sailboat on the blue Caribbean water near Ile A Vache island in Haiti.

Beach selfie in a wooden canoe on Ile A Vache island in Haiti.

White sandstone cliffs and the beach on Ile A Vache island in Haiti.

Fernweh tattoo on my wrist shown while sitting on a cliff with waves crashing below on Ile A Vache island in Haiti.

Haitian children standing on the beach in Ile A Vache, Haiti.

Sunset portrait photo of Ryan Brown of Lost Boy Memoirs while on a boat in the Caribbean headed from Ile A Vache to Jacmel Haiti.


PORT AU PRINCE //

In the last days of our trip, we returned to Port Au Prince to spend time and the New Year with Vick’s family. It was a time to decompress after a couple of weeks of non-stop adventure, and we were all pretty exhausted. During the stay at Paco Breeze, I use the time to drink tons of Haitian coffee and finish up the design for this new blog. Also, I finally had a chance to meet Vick’s brother Verdy, who is a phenomenal photographer that I had gotten to know through Instagram. We went on a few shoots together, some at night in the busy downtown, or just around the city.

Port Au Prince night photography with long exposure of light streaks in traffic.

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Paco Breeze hotel rooftop in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

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Voodoo graffiti on a wall in Port Au Prince, Haiti.


WAHOO BAY //

Wahoo Bay and Public Beach lie just an hour outside of Port Au Prince and is an escape fro Haitians and expats from the bustling capital. Not usually my kind of place to hang out, but we did go for a DJ show for another one of Vick’s brothers and to enjoy some (expensive) drinks in this upscale resort area.

Wahoo Bay at sunset just outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Sunset over the Caribbean near Wahoo Bay with a starfish in the foreground and the sky pastel colors i n Haiti.


SAUT-D’EAU //

Saut-d’Eau translates to Waterfall, and is one of the most sacred places of all Haitians whether it be Catholic or Voodoo practitioners. The falls are supposed to have cleansing and healing properties, and many Haitians make a pilgrimage to come bathe in the waters. Some, just come to relax and enjoy the incredible beauty of this place. It definitely felt sacred, with the ferns and moss a vibrant green I had never seen before, and the feel in the air was calming. Definitely one of the most beautiful smaller falls I have ever been to.

Saut d'Eau Waterfall photo with long exposure at the sacred waterfall outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti.

A Haitian boy swings on vines and speaks with Ryan in Saut D'Eau near Port Au Prince, Haiti.

Portrait standing atop Saut d'Eau at sunset with long exposure.


Saying farewell again to Haiti was hard, for I was tempted to just cancel my flight and stay a bit longer. But I know I’ll be back. The biggest difference this trip around wasn’t the contrast from the world’s perception of Haiti like last time, this time what made it special was that I was still surprised every kilometer of Haiti we traveled. It’s like there is always something that grabs a hold of your spirit there and takes it for a ride. And the Haitian people I met; from the artists of Jacmel, to Reggie and his family living in the mountains, to the cave guide, or the Haitian beach boys who brought us momma’s cooking just for acknowledging them because the resort tourists look down on them — all of the people along this great adventure are what made it everlasting.

Again I say, “Mwen renmen Ayiti” which means “I love Haiti“. And I’ll be back again.

WATCH // Video: Exploring Haiti in Slow Motion

American Airlines flight over Haiti outside the plane window leaving Port Au Prince.

AUTHOR’S NOTE // These are only a handful of the photos that I have taken, and though I mentioned that one of the more special parts of the journey is the people I met, often I did not photograph them but enjoyed the moment. Each region will be broken down into in-depth articles, videos, and photo essays.

Which region would you love to explore the most?

Comments

  1. Wow! How amazing, would love to visit one day. Looks beautiful and the people sound wonderful. Those beaches and waterfalls are breath taking! Great read

    1. Author

      It does seem to get a bad rap, and I’m constantly trying to correct that image. It’s a shame since the people and country are so beautiful. Saut-d;Eau was incredible. A magical feeling there for sure.

  2. Thanks so much will share with my team going in June. I work with a small chikdrens foundation in Tabarre. I will be making my 7th trip this summer. I agree with all of your remarks. I love the Haitian people and have made such good friends. I love the area around hench and the Ecovillages. So cool to see patriots displaced from the earthquake in the city learning how to survive and thrive in the country.

  3. Wow! I would LOVE to travel to all of those places in Haiti. It has a way of stealing your heart. We’ve stayed on the island of LaGonave twice now, both in 2013 and 2014. We leave for Haiti May 13th again and I CAN’T WAIT. Love this country. It would be so much fun to just travel and see the country but we’ll be on a mission trip again. We hope to move there in a year or two.
    Mel recently posted..Waiting For Forever Family

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in Haiti! I have been fascinated with Haitian history and culture since I was a child, but still haven’t managed to get there. I even majored in anthropology as a result of my Haitian obsession. I will definitely have to make my v dream a reality soon. The country and it’s people look amazing. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Wow this is great! I’m going to Haiti next week and you’ve gotten excited! If you have any advice I would appreciate. …especially around Port au Prince…

    1. Author

      Hey Evie, so excited for you to go to Haiti! It’s amazing. You’ll love it. If you haven’t booked a hotel yet, Paco Breeze is a good one and are friends of mine. Also, if you get a chance, check out Rustik Treehouse Hotel in Furcy outside of Port Au Prince, and Wahoo Bay, and Saut d’Eau waterfall!

  6. Absolutely loved this post! I’ve been thinking of visiting haiti for quite sometime, I definitely will take the plunge.

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