Grandly called the Route National 3, the 128-kilometre dirt road northeast from Port-au-Prince to Hinche requires a four-wheel drive and takes at least five hours (much longer by public transport). It starts by crossing the Cul de Sac plain via Croix-des-Bouquets. Here, a newly improved road branches off southeast through a parched, barren region, skirting Lake Saumâtre (see Flora & Fauna and Excursions - Port-au-Prince) before reaching the Dominican border at Malpasse (see Travel to the Dominican Republic in Essentials).
On the north side of the plain, the RN3 zig-zags up a steep mountainside called Morne Tapion (great views back over Port-au-Prince) to reach Mirebalais, a crossroads at the head of the Artibonite valley. It is Haiti’s wettest town. The road east leads to Lascahobas and the frontier town of Belladère, the least used of Haiti’s three border crossings into the Dominican Republic. The road west heads down the Artibonite valley. Before it gets too bad, a left turnoff leads up into the hills to the charming village of Ville-Bonheur with its church built on the spot where locals reported an appearance of the Virgin in a palm tree in 1884. Thousands of pilgrims come every 15 July. The Voodooists among them hike four kilometres to visit the much-filmed Saut d’Eau waterfall. Overhung by creepers, descending 30 metres in a series of shallow pools separated by mossy limestone shelves, the fall seems enchanted. The Voodooists bathe in its waters to purify themselves and light candles to enlist the help of the ancient spirits believed to live there.
The RN3 heads north out of Mirebalais on to the Central Plateau, where the military crackdown was especially harsh after the 1991 coup because peasant movements had been pressing for change here for years. After skirting the Peligre hydroelectric dam, now silted up and almost useless, the road passes Thomonde and reaches the region’s capital, Hinche. The F Foyer d’Accueil is an unmarked guest house above a school that is behind the blue and white church on the east side of the main square, basic rooms with fan, rarely any power, EP. The Hotel Prestige, also unmarked, at 2 Rue Cité du Peuple, near the market, has not so good rooms for the same price. In Port-au-Prince, buses leave from the station Au Cap at the intersection of Boulevard La Saline and route de Delmas. MAF operates about two flights a week. East of Hinche, Bassin Zim is a 20-metre waterfall in a lush setting 30 minutes drive from town (head east on the Thomassique Road, then fork north at Papaye). The cascade fans out over a rounded, sloping, limestone rockface. At its foot is a 60-metre wide natural pool with deep, milky-blue water that is perfect for swimming.