When people think of Haiti, they think of Port-Au-Prince during the earthquake. Port-Au-Prince is one giant mess. The traffic is indescribable, it smells horrific, and there is a lot of poverty everywhere. The good news is that Port is one city in the whole, entire country. We already blogged about the magical city of Cap-Haitien, but there is another city that is just as magical. Way back in 2010, we first laid eyes on Haiti. It was only three months after the earthquake and things were still crazy sad. Even then, however, Jacmel felt special. Fast forward four years and up the special level by at least a hundred and you’ve got Jacmel today. Side note: If you don’t want my whole “why Jacmel is magical” thing then skip to the summary at the end.
Port-Au-Prince can get you down for sure. Then you go to Jacmel and you swell with hope for what Haiti could be. There’s a lot of development going on, including this artsy little boardwalk.
Jacmel is an extremely artsy town. If Haiti had hipsters, they’d live in Jacmel. It’s is famous for it’s paper mache art. Our good friends Josh & Chandler run an artisan coop called Haiti Design Coop. They work with a paper mache artisan from Jacmel who makes cow skulls. There’s a lot of talent going on in this town.
It’d definitely a town where you can spend the afternoon walking the streets, visiting artisans, and hanging on the beach. The downtown beach is what you would expect. The boardwalk is lovely, but it’s a little trashy. If you want a good, clean beach – head east about 15 minutes. There are some hotels and public beaches down that direction that are excellent. We used the beach just past Hotel L’Amitie where there are a few bungalows and some tables. The bungalows are available for rent. We were told $50/night for 4 people. They are simple, but clean and have fans. The restaurant and beach there is great so I’d recommend it as a hang out spot for sure.
The one thing you absolutely have to do, hands down, is Bassin Bleu.
I mean, this is real life, ya’ll. Getting there is a big adventure. These are – honest to God – the best directions I can give you. Head west from downtown any way you can toward the river bed. Cross said riverbed. If you aren’t sure about crossing puddles/the ACTUAL river just wait and watch motos go through or ask if your car will make it. People are helpful. Once you get through the river, ask where Bassin Bleu is. There are a million small roadways through the river bed. People will have to just point you in the right direction. Once you reach the tree line there is a sign. Follow the road up and there are signs the whole way! There is a little building once you get there and you’ll have to pay 100 gourdes per person to visit. You’ll also have to pick out a guide that you’ll need to tip at the end.
You pass a few small pools and waterfalls on the way. The guides are helpful and informative and will point everything out and help you get across.
The final trek requires half climbing down a boulder with assistance from a rope and the guides. Once you get down, though, you get some breathtaking views of the basin.
The water is freezing and suuuuuper deep. Haitains will tell you all about the zombies and mermaids that live at the bottom. It’s deep enough to do some serious cliff jumping.
Funny story – in 2010 I tried jump from the top. I got up there and froze. NOTHING could have made me jump off that cliff and the more I waited the worse it got. Finally, Josh climbed up and shoved me off the cliff rescued me.
Summary: Here’s a brief overview of what we loved about Jacmel. I’m only including what I’ve experienced, where I’ve stayed, etc. but there is plenty more!
Where to Stay:
Hotel L’Amitie – We stayed here for $57/night including breakfast. It’s right on the beach. The rooms are super simple but clean. There wasn’t a working phone at the time so we had to stop by and ask about rooms and pricing.
Hotel Cyvadier – This place rocked. We stayed here for $67/night including breakfast. It’s back in a cool little cove with a small beach area. The grounds are fantastic and the rooms were nice.
Hotel Florita – We didn’t stay here but we did hang out a bit. It’s amazing. You have to stop by just to grab a drink. It’s in an old historic building downtown and it feels like the sort of place Hemmingway would get drunk at and write.
Hotel Kabic Beach Club – We tried to stay here for $110/night but our reservation got mixed up. It’s nice, right across from the beach, and the owner is super sweet.
Where to Eat:
Jacmel Pizzeria – This place is downtown within walking distance of Florita and the boardwalk. They have pizza, Mexican, and a good breakfast.
Madame Barbeque – this place is very Haitian. Right at the entrance to Hotel Cyvadier there is a small building that says “Cyvadier Market”. Madame BBQ is there. It is delicious! Don’t be intimidated or nervous. She grills barbeque chicken and a plate comes with fries and a salad for $5. You can run in the little market and grab a drink.
Hotel Florita – The food here was fine. Limited menu though. Go for the atmosphere.
Bungalows on the Beach – These bungalows are right down the beach from Hotel L’Amitie. DELICIOUS food and drinks. This is the place to go for fresh seafood.
The Vatican – This is hands down one of the coolest bars I have ever been to ANYWHERE. Here is the problem. I don’t know how to tell you to find it. Maybe that adds to the awesomeness. It’s downtown near a park and close to the Jacmel market. It’s stuck between two buildings so have fun trying to locate it.
Recently, we did something we’ve been wanting to do for a good long while. We spent two days hiking up and down a 6500 foot mountain in a third world country (and with two teenagers in tow to boot). After perusing the internet and blog-o-sphere for information, Josh and I (along with the Salvants and their two oldest) decided to go for it – the somewhat-famous-among-expats hike from Furcy to Jacmel.
The 27 mile trail is one of the most breathtaking hikes in the Caribbean. The hike starts at an elevation of 3,000ft and over the next few miles reaches a peak of 6,500 ft. While Haiti is not normally seen as a tourist destination, the opportunity to walk the remote ridge-lines of some of the tallest mountains in the Caribbean make the journey well worth it. The hike is strenuous enough that even well versed hikers will feel quite a bit of pain in their feet, but not so hard that one needs to be sponsored by Redbull to have a chance of finishing.
To reach the hike you basically drive up the mountains over Port-au-Prince past the Baptist Mission up to Kenscoff where you’ll continue onto Furcy. You’ll come to a T in the road with two Digicel signs. One sign on the right points to Furcy, the other on the left points to Seguin. Here, you’ll bear left towards Seguin until you come to a place where there is cliff on one side and a huge drop off on the other. The hike starts either when you are too scared to drive any further on the road, or when the Haitians start yelling at you to stop because the road is not good. We opted for the latter. From the start of day one, it is nine miles to the village of Seguin and Kay Winnie (creole for Winnie’s house) where you will stay the night.
It felt a little anti-climactic when we just hopped out of the car and started walking, but at 8am that’s just what we did.
There is an old Haitian proverb “Dye mon, gen mon”. It means, “Beyond the mountains, more mountains.”
And mountains past the mountains are exactly what we found.
One of the most difficult parts of the hike is how rocky the roads are. The rocks are larger than normal gravel and it is easy to roll your ankle. If you are prone to knee or ankle problems I would bring a brace or wrap along. There were a lot of motos on this stretch and Haitians walking. It’s very up and down and just when we’d get to a big up section, a barefoot lady with a huge basket of chickens on her head would barrel past us. Hard to stop and take a break knowing that she does this weekly while I do it for fun. However, calling it a big up section feels like an understatement. You’re climbing a massive mountain. Looking back, we could have taken a few more breaks even but we weren’t sure how we were doing with timing so we pushed ourselves a bit.
We were all sitting at the bottom of the biggest climb yet and thought about taking a break for lunch. “Let’s just make it to the top of this,” someone suggested. Once we made it to the top (which took a good long while) we realized we were to the edge of La Visite National Park or what most people call The Pine Forest or we we called “Thank God The Worst Is Behind Us Today”. From here on, the trail has topped out so you’re done with climbing and there are side trails in the woods you can take to avoid the rocky roads and have a better cushioned walk. We stopped and ate right at the entrance to the park around 12:30.
This place was other worldly. We kept saying that we felt as if we were in a Dr.Seuss book. Probably titled something like Hiking Haiti With Packs and Ladies.
Huge agave plants grow in the pine forest. I mean HUGE! They were as tall as me.
That “sinkhole” is called Marassa (creole for twins). It’s a massive hole separated by a natural bridge complete with stalactites. Keep a lookout for it on your left. You’ll be able to see it from the path.
Since the terrain had flattened out, we were moving along at a good pace. We saw some hikers coming from the opposite direction taking a break at a small stone bridge that crosses a creek. Josh talked to them for awhile and they said they stayed at Winnie’s the night before which was about 5 miles away. We were all trying to put on a brave face but found it hard to believe we had five miles left! As we walked, the forest became less dense and we had clearly made our way out of the national park. Just about that time (maybe 45 minutes from seeing the other hikers) an older man working in his garden shouted, “Kay Winnie?” We looked up and sure enough there was the tattered sign we knew to be looking for telling us we’d made it to Seguin. There’s also a large sign that says something about a project being aided by Taiwan. I didn’t get a picture but it’s large, on the right, and I’m pretty sure it’s the only sign that says “Taiwan” on it nearby. If I’m wrong and you end up lost in the backwoods of Seguin….sorry. Thank goodness (for us) that the other hikers were really bad at judging distances. We were here by 2:30.
You couldn’t possibly miss this sign…
We veered to the right at this sign and followed the road around to the left. We started noticing gorgeous Calalilies everywhere.
Once we saw a neat row of three tents we knew we were at the right place. Upon arriving, we were given several rounds of hot mint tea and an absolutely delicious meal. Our super fresh salad was straight from a 5star restaurant topped with edible flowers. Most if not all of the food was grown either grown in his garden or one of the neighbors. It really wouldn’t be a bad place to spend the apocalypse.
After that, we all crashed! For $55 a person you get 3 meals and a tent. The tents are nice and come with a mattress and sleeping bag. We all kept using the word magical to describe this place. You’re literally in a cloud, in a lily garden, on the top of a mountain.
It was such a nice place to sit and read. We drank copious amounts of hot tea which was much needed because it was COLD on the top of that mountain. Around 8pm everyone was done napping and cleaning up and we were given some amazing hot chocolate and homemade bread for dinner.
The next morning, we again had another great meal – omelettes drenched in fresh herbs and cheese with more homemade bread – along with tea and coffee before heading out. We got started at 8am again.
One of the workers showed us the shortcut to the market and we headed out. We had moved from feeling as if we were in a Dr.Seuss novel, to feeling like we were in The Shire.
There were these crazy rocks sticking out of the ground everywhere. Goes to show what deforestation and erosion can do.
Once you pass through the market in Seguin you really start to trek downhill. This is where I started wishing I had a knee brace. We were still at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, so when they clouds rolled in they seemed to swallow us up.
It didn’t take too long for us to have our first real view of the ocean, and our first moment of Oh My Gosh That Is Really Far Away.
That’s the ocean waaaaay in the background.
At this point, the kids with their awesome, child-like knees kept finding “shortcuts” for us to take and avoid the winding switchbacks.
These were no joke. We were all walking like Grandma’s at this point because our knees were aching and blisters popping. Around noon we stopped for lunch and kept pushing forward.
Around this point a few of us started getting delirious and Josh’s knee basically gave out. We could see the small town of Perado, our destination, below but it never felt like it was getting closer. Suffice it to say this is the hardest part. You’re tired, you’re achy, and mentally it’s difficult. If you think you can’t go on there were plenty of motos going by and PLENTY of Haitians encouraging you to take one (lot’s of “you look bad” and “you’re red” and “you’re crazy”). I’m really proud that we powered on.
We finally crossed the riverbed around 5:00 and were ready to hop on a moto to Jacmel by 5:30. We had made it! For 500 gourdes per moto we took the short drive over to Jacmel. Be sure to learn enough creole to tell your driver to drive slowly (DOUSMAN!). Ours did not and actually veered too close to the edge of the road and hit a guy. We were fine, but he didn’t stop and it infuriated Josh.
After that 500 gourdes moto ride from H-E-double hockey sticks we made it safe and sound to the oh so gorgeous Jacmel.
Honestly, this hike is really hard over crazy terrain in a third world country. We hike a lot and exercise regularly and we were definitely struggling. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. However, it is absolutely the best hiking I’ve ever experienced. We’ve hiked all over the Southeast, in Costa Rica, Malawi, and Utah to name a few and this blew it all out of the park. At one point an elderly Haitian lady sang us a hymn to encourage us (after she chastised me for not speaking enough creole). Another lady invited us to her house for coffee and gave us directions. On this hike, you truly get a glimpse of all that Haiti has to offer and all the hope for tourism that lies within this tattered country. Plane tickets are inexpensive and flights are short. If you already live here are will be here (even short term) I highly recommend trying to do it. You can always message us if you have any questions. While most people only ever come to this country for mission work, you should certainly consider coming to truly experience it in a different way. Help change it’s image into one that’s more truthful.
Here’s a short snippet of what we took and our timeline…
8am: Headed out from a small market area after Haitains were yelling at us to stop
12noon: Reached the pine forest and broke for lunch
2pm: Made it to Kay Winnie
8am: Headed down the shortcut from Kay Winnie
12noon: Broke for lunch. While walking you’ll see a small lake in the distance, we broke for lunch at about the level of this lake. For reference, we took this picture around 11:00am
5pm: Made it to Perado
The only real information you need for the actual hike is Winnie’s email – firstname.lastname@example.org. Email a few days ahead and let them know if you want a tent or a room. If you wanted to stay up in the mountains pre-hike you could check out The Lodge or Rustik. We’ll post some information about Jacmel in a later blog and link to it here.
The trail is also great for experienced mountain bikers. We are friends with some people who did it several months ago. They did the entire trail in a day and they said “Make sure you have good breaks, and extra inner tubes!”
What we Brought
Water: At least 3 liters of water per person (you can refill at Winnies)
Food: at least 2 lunches and snacks. I’ll post my granola and granola bar recipe soon.
Toiletries: Deodorant (a must) and any other toiletries you will want for an overnight hike/ your stay in Jacmel
Bandanna: To keep the sun of your neck
First Aid Kit: We used wrap bandages, ibuprofen (a lot), waterproof bandages, gauze, medical tape, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, toenail clippers, and tweezers. Of course there are other things you’ll want too. Keep in mind there isn’t readily available medical help in the middle of nowhere Haiti. Take anything you might need to get you out of a serious bind (cipro, good pain meds, splints, etc.)
Extra pair of sandals: I wore my tennis shoes, but ended up switching back and forth with my hiking sandals. The ankle support was lax of course but I took it easy and gave my blisters some breathing room occasionally.
Clothes: warm ones for the mountains and whatever you need for Jacmel
Rain jacket or poncho
Tarp: we didn’t use it but Scott brought one in case it rained or to sit on
Money: Winnie’s is $55/night for a tent and $85/night for a room in the house. You’ll want small bills for the moto ride in Perado and any treats you might want along the way from vendors.