What Port-au-Prince(metro area: 2,000,000) lacks in architectural grace, it makes up in a stunning setting, with steep mountains towering over the city to the south, La Gonâve island in a horseshoe bay on the west, and another wall of mountains beyond a rift valley plain to the north.
Over the years the city has spilled out of its original waterfront location, climbing further into the mountains behind. A rural exodus has swollen the population from 150,000 in 1954 to over two million now. The worst shantytowns (bidonvilles) are in a marshy waterfront area north of the centre, but most of the city is very poor. There are crowds of people everywhere, spilling off the sidewalks into the streets, making driving difficult and noisy as Haitians are fond of their horns, warning pedestrians of their approach.
The commercial quarter starts near the port and stretches inland, to the east, about ten blocks. It lacks charm or interest, except the area beside the port that was remodelled for the city’s 1949 bicentennial. Known as the Bicentenaire (more formally, Cité de l’Exposition), it contains the post office, foreign ministry, parliament, American embassy and French Institute. It is now very run down.