I realize that when one thinks of a long weekend getaway, Vermont, Vegas or South Beach comes to mind. But last September, as I was about to move into a much-dreaded passage into a new decade, I invited my closest friends to celebrate the milestone by spending a long weekend with me in Haiti. Yes, 96 hours in Haiti.
Travelling there often, I knew the country would offer a range of experiences; from hiking and horseback-riding to the top of a historical monument surrounded green sceneries that rival those found in Stowe, to secluded beach nooks where lunch is fished out in front of you. From dancing the night away like one would do on Collins Avenue, to getting lost in various epicurean experiences that even the Strip and its diversity can’t offer…
What to do, what to see, where to sleep, where to eat?
Regardless of the flavour you wish to give your weekend, you’ll need a planner extraordinaire to do so. 96 hours goes by in a jiffy and you don’t want to waste one minute of it. Step one: contact Tour Haiti. Tour Haiti will be your private concierge; booking your flights, hotels, private driver and car, restaurant reservations and outings with fabulous guide included, if you wish.
There are weekly direct flights to Port-au-Prince (depending on where in Canada you’re flying out of). But seeing as this is a weekend affair, you’ll get to Haiti via hubs such as Miami or New York. Your best bets? Delta Airlines, American Airlines or Jet Blue into the Pearl of the Antilles. You’ll leave early in the morning and will arrive in Haiti in early afternoon.
Where to sleep, while in Port-au-Prince.
Pétionville is the district where you’ll want to stay. Some lodging options you’ll want to check into:
What to do, where to go.
My fellow boulevardiers and I opted for one night in Port-au-Prince and three in Cap-Haitien, in the north of Haiti.
Thursday night, in Port-au-Prince
Start with dinner at Brasserie Quartier Latin, in the Petionville district. You’ll find a mix of Haitian, French and Italian fares. And, you’ll possibly be able to catch a live show. The resto has a lovely courtyard. Yours truly, however, is quite fond of the banquettes indoors. The counters are made of strong wood, which gives BQL quite the sensual feel.
Thursday night, after dinner.
RAM is a famed Haitian group that plays what has been mainstreamed as “voodoo-rock”..But what it really is, is music that goes beyond genre. They play at the equally famed and mystical Olofsson hotel. You’ll dance your life away, like no one is watching, and you’ll feel closer to Haitians afterwards. Promise.
RAM plays every Thursday night at Olofsson hotel. RAM, in action:
Friday morning, on the way to Cap-Haitien.
Before heading to the airport to catch your 25-minute flight to Cap-Haitien, head to the Marché en Fer (Iron Market). The original was destroyed in the earthquake but this spankin’ new version has kept the original version’s design and colours. Under the Market’s roof, dozens of artisans sell their best creations. From handmade pearled clutches, to voodoo dolls, to gorgeous giant straw baskets, to “I-absolutely-need-this” jewelry.
From the Marché, you’ll head to the airport to hop on your flight to Cap-Haitien. Various airlines offer the Port-au-Prince/Cap-Haitien courier. Tropical Airways,Sunrise Airways and Tortug’Air are good choices.
Once in Cap-Haitien.
Cap-Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city and the beat is much different than Port-au-Prince’s bustling streets. Okap, as its called in creole, has more of a village feel with bursting colours and gingerbread architecture.
Where to stay, while in Cap-Haitien.
Habitation Jouissant: the luxury boutique hotel was recently awarded 4 Hibiscus out of 5 in the Ministere du Tourisme’s label program. HabJo now boats 13 rooms, which means your party and you can lock down the whole place to yourselves for the weekend. It has all the amenities you wish your private villa would have, including a priceless view of the city and SUV service, if you need it.
Where to go.
On Friday night
It’s an incontournable when in Cap: Lakay restaurant. The resto/nightclub/lounge is the hub for people-watching in Cap-Haitien. If it were in L.A., it’d be The Ivy.
Going to Lakay on your first night is strategic: that’s where you’ll meet the locals who will become your friends for life and with whom you’ll spend your long weekend with.
There are many historical spots in Cap-Haitien and its surroundings. In fact, the North of Haiti is the country’s historical destination. But since time is of the essence, I suggest you head to the nearby town of Milot to see the famed Palais Sans-Souci, on your way to La Citadelle. La Citadelle, a fort and an UNESCO monument, is a symbol of Haiti’s resilience. You can either hike to the top of La Citadelle or you can kick it John Wayne-style and horseback all the way up. Once you reach its top, you will be overwhelmed by the monument’s significance and breathtaking green surroundings.
On the way down, you will have worked up an appetite. Stop by Lakou Lakay, Milot’s Cultural Center. You will fall for its director’s charm and realize that Maurice Etienne is, in himself, quite the Haitian monument. His wife cooks a mean authentic Haitian lunch and you’ll feel right at home in this mom and pop’s establishment.
Your night will resume to these: drinks, food, music and friends.
Drinks and dinner at the gorgeous Hostellerie Roi-Christophe, before ending the night at Lakay. By now, you’ll have become a regular.
Drinks at Habitation Jouissant’s Lime Bar and dinner at the HabJo’s new Basilik restaurant. Then head to Lakay to dance the calories away.
Apéros and hors d’oeuvres at Mont-Joli Hotel. In addition to being one of the oldest and most reputable establishments in Cap-Haitien, it also offers quite the view of the city and it remains a hub for socializing. End your soirée with tapas and music at Lakay.
Sunday, all day.
It would be vile (and misguided) to be in the Antillean and not hit the beach.
Start with Sunday brunch at Cormier beach and resort. Cormier’s ceviche is so good you’ll need a cigarette after eating it (don’t take that too literally).
After brunch, hop in a taxi-boat for a quick ride to Cadras. Cadras is a secluded beach surrounded by mountains and all-over gorgeousness. Once there, you’ll ask yourself two questions: 1. What took you so long to discover this piece of paradise? and 2. How much of your RSSP must you cash in to get a place there.
You’ll stay at Cadras long enough to see the sunset and to, once again, fall in love with yet another aspect of Haiti. Get ready: melancholia about your impending departure is about to kick in.
By now you are an Honorary Haitian and you’re stricken with grief about leaving the island as you head to Cap-Haitien Airport to get on an early charter flight back to Port-au-Prince. Once you land, you’ll transfer to Port-au-Prince’s International airport and will catch your flight back to Canada. Your head will be filled with memories and images you’ll barely be able to put into words. Your long weekend in Haiti is about to end; but rejoice, you’ll be back. I promise.
Click here for the full photo gallery by @Conteska @Sumamenpeever @Fatblues @MartineMontreal @SophieDAird @TBeliard Todd Peever, Julie Gadbois and Jean Cyril Pressoir