The southwestern peninsula is the greenest and most beautiful part of Haiti: its rugged western tip has forests, rivers, waterfalls and unspoilt beaches. west of port-au-prince The Route Nationale 2 to Les Cayes is very scenic but is frequently almost non-existent and where there is any surface it is often seriously potholed.
For the first 92 kilometres it runs along the north coast of the peninsula. At Km 68 is the town of Petit Goave (Cr: Ti Gwav). Visit the Relais de l’Empereur (T2229557), once the residence of Emperor Faustin 1 (1849-56). The hotel is no longer operating, but the caretaker will show you around.
Just two kilometres down a turn-off at Km 92 is the smugglers’ port of Miragoane, a town of narrow streets that wind around a natural harbour or climb up a hill capped by a neo-gothic church. However, the town has been virtually deserted; bars and restaurants no longer function and the hotel is for sale. Activity has moved up to the main road where there is a large market. In the centre of the market is a good café with parking space, medium prices. A four-wheel drive is needed for the dirt road that continues along the north coast, fording rivers and passing fishing villages, as far as Petit Trou de Nippes. At Petite Rivière de Nippes, 15 kilometres along this road, a three hour trek inland on foot or horseback (take a guide) brings you to one of Haiti’s four great waterfalls, Saut De Baril.
After Miragoane, the main road crosses the peninsula’s spine and reaches the southern, Caribbean coast at Aquin (Km 138) where you can bathe in several rivers. At Zanglais, six kilometres farther on, there are white sand beaches near the road. (Beware of slight undertow at any beach on the south coast.) Just beyond Zanglais a ruined English fort is visible on a small offshore island, with the remains of a battery emplacement opposite, on the mainland.
On a wet, coastal plain 196 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s fourth city, Les Cayes (Cr: Okay), is quiet, but not without charm. The Fête de Notre Dame on 15 August is recommended. Spend the day swimming, eating, drinking and watching people, and at night the crowd moves to the musique racine until 0200, irrisistible. Some people sleep on the beach. In Port-au-Prince, buses leave mornings from the station Aux Cayes near the post office for the four hour trip. Fare US$4. Visible from the waterfront is Ile-à-Vache (pop: 5,000), a 20 kilometre-long island that was Henry Morgan’s base for a 1670 raid against Panama. It has Indian remains and good beaches on the southern side near La Hatte, the biggest village. Visit it by renting a boat with outboard (about US$25 for the day) or take the daily ferry leaving at around 1600, and pay to sleep in someone’s home. Or camp, after asking permission.
The adventurous can take the coastal route from Les Cayes to Jérémie, around the peninsula’s tip, a remote, rugged, lush region that has changed little in 200 years. It has wild rivers, sand beaches, mountains falling steeply into the sea, and some of Haiti’s last rain forest. Allow four days. Les Cayes buses or taptaps may go as far as Les Anglais, depending on the state of the road. A four-wheel drive may even get to Tiburon. Thereafter, you must hike to Anse d’Hainault or even Dame Marie before finding road good enough to be serviced by taptaps out of Jérémie. Alternatively, try getting a ride on sloops that carry merchandise and passengers along the coast. Residents in small villages all the way will cook meals and rent beds for a few dollars. ‘Pripri’, rafts made of bamboo lashed together and steered by a pole, ply the rivers. Anse d’Hainault and Abricots (25 kilometres west of Jérémie) have good beaches.
The scenic, hair-raising, 97-kilometre mountain road from Les Cayes to Jérémie, across the Massif de la Hotte, can be done in three hours, but it may be impassable after rain and must be done in daylight. One hour’s drive brings you to Camp Perrin (several guesthouses), a hill resort at the foot of the 2,347-metre Pic de Macaya. Rent horses for a two-hour ride to Saut Mathurine, Haiti’s biggest waterfall. It has good swimming in the deep, green pool at its base. Fork right off the Jérémie Road at the Kafou Zaboka intersection for Pestel, a picturesque port dominated by a French fort. Worth seeing any time of the year, but especially for the Easter weekend regatta, when many Rara bands come. The town is pretty with old wooden houses, a hotel with nice rooms and a friendly owner. Five minutes from Pestel there is the Cafe de la Gare restaurant run by a Frenchman and his son (dancing in the evenings, happy hour Saturday evening) and a few bungalows for rent, basic but OK, C for 2-4 people, by the sea. Charter a boat to tour nearby fishing villages such as Les Basses (Cr: Obas) on the Baradères peninsula and Anse-à-Maçon on the offshore island of Grande Cayemite with its splendid view of the Massif de la Hotte and distant Pic Macaya. The beaches are very beautiful and totally empty.
With crumbling mansions overgrown by rampant vegetation, Jérémie (pop: 92,574) is famed for its poets, eccentrics and isolation. The road is bad. Some buses are still running from Port-au-Prince, however, leaving from Jean-Jacques Dessalines near Rue Chareron (US$8). The 12-hour overnight ferry ride is not recommended. At least 800 (maybe as many as 1,500) Jérémie residents drowned when an overloaded ferry, the Neptune, sank on its way to Port-au-Prince in February 1993. MAF and Caribintair have a total of six flights a week from Port-au-Prince. They may be booked up to 10 days ahead. On a hill above the town, with a shady garden, is D Hotel La Cabane (MAP). Also out of town is C Anse-du-Clerc Beach, T2463519 in Port-au-Prince to ask the owner to collect you from Jérémie airstrip, thatched roof bungalow in a coconut grove with dinner and breakfast, on a beach of polished pebbles, seabed is sandy, very peaceful. Anse d’Azur, four kilometres west of the town, is a white-sand beach with, in the rocky headland at one end, a big cave into which you can swim.