Introducing Southern Haiti
Haiti’s south is all about taking it easy. Pulling out of Port-au-Prince on Rte National 2, the urban hustle is soon replaced by a much more relaxed air and rightly so – you’re heading toward the Caribbean Sea.
Of the towns strung along the coast, Jacmel is the gem. It’s an old coffee port full of pretty buildings, with a chilled yet friendly welcome. Most people take quickly to its charms. Some hit the many handicrafts shops to load up on the painted wood and papier-mâché that the town is famous for. Others try to time their visit for the renowned Carnival festivities, when the whole town seems to turn into a giant masked street party.
Further west, things get pretty sleepy. The town of Les Cayes seems to be permanently in a contented half-yawn, and doesn’t seem to mind that visitors prefer to use it as an embarkation point for Île-à-Vache. This island is blessed with possibly Haiti’s best beaches and a couple of its nicest hotels. If you can tear yourself away, there are more palm-fringed sandy delights for all budgets in nearby Port Salut.
The southern ‘claw’ is bisected by the rugged Massif de la Hotte, home to some of the last remaining cloud forest, and the stunning Parc National Macaya. It’s a bird-watchers dream, and a visit here can be hugely rewarding, although the logistics are extremely challenging. After a spectacular mountain crossing, the road just about gives up when it reaches the sea at half-forgotten Jérémie, the sometime City of Poets and the most isolated town in Haiti.