Grand Caribbean: Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti
Visiting Port-au-Prince in a day to see firsthand the destruction from the earthquake and to explore the city’s sights.
The capital and largest city of Haiti was destroyed by a 7.0 earthquake in 2010. As a French colony in 1749, the city remained the major center of the country.
Slightly nervous about visiting the devastated country I had no idea what to expect.
Flight from New York to Port au Prince
Coming from Newark Airport our American Airlines flight to Port-au-Prince had a connection in Miami. What was notable on the second leg of the journey was our economy seats on the older Boeing 767. The seats were in a separate private compartment with even more leg room than the business class seats and reclining features. It was by far the best economy seat I’ve ever seen.
Soon enough we spotted Port-au-Prince from the plane. The view of the city was a sad spectacle. Everything seemed to be in shambles.
Immigration was straight forward. Country 71 complete.
In the airport there was a small welcome center and plenty of taxi touts. We were picked up by the hotel shuttle, but had to wait almost 2 hours due to the traffic.
On the drive to the hotel, I could see how this is one of the poorest countries in the world.
After check-in at the Best Western Premier Petion-Ville, we organized a car to take us around for the day ($100).
Getting through the terrible traffic we eventually got to the National Museum but found that it was closed.
We headed through the historic center where the government buildings were. The whole area was leveled by the 7.0 earthquake from 2010 and most buildings were still fenced off piles of rubble. Nothing seemed to be rebuilt except for one construction site.
The capital building, Legislative Palace, Palace of Justice and hospital were all destroyed. The historic Presidential Palace collapsed and was later demolished.
We drove by the shell of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, a structure built 1884-1914.
Then we stopped at “Le Negre Marron” Unknown Slave statue which is a symbol of Haiti.
The iron market was a tourist shop selling souvenirs on one side and food on another. As soon as we walked in a man speaking English started showing us around. We didn’t ask for his help but he was friendly enough.
The highlight of the market was the collection of voodoo paraphernalia for sale.
There were shrunken heads made using real skulls, a number of different voodoo dolls made of trolls and cabbage patch kids, potions and powders, and even leeches and turtles. It was very creepy.
There were also more mundane tourist items like shirts, carvings, metal works, and paintings. We purchased a carving and a tourist shirt of course.
We went back up the hill to Peton-Ville with a stop at the Hotel Montana, because the driver wanted to give a friend a lift. The passenger was surprisingly one of the owners of the hotel property. He explained his riches to rags story of how the earthquake destroyed the hotel and then the insurance company refused to pay for any damages. As a local of Haiti, he gave us recommendations on restaurants, bars and even said we should check out a brothel which is interesting for the experience even if we don’t use the services.
We stopped by Saint Peter’s park and Saint Peter’s Church. Then the driver dropped us off at the hotel and we walked a couple of blocks to the supermarket to get a few beers.
The hotel had a happy hour that joined for some rum sours.
Then we asked for a dinner recommendation from the hotel reception and were off to Le Coin des Artistes in the hotel shuttle. We ordered a delicious lamb special accompanied with local Prestige beer.
After dinner we requested the hotel shuttle to take us to the Irish Pub. We had to wait awhile for it to come but eventually got there.
We walked by the shotgun wielding security guard and found the bar to be empty, so we didn’t even stay for a drink.
At the entrance of the bar, there were two guys hanging out with the security guard.
With a warning from the hotel that we “would be stabbed” if we tried to walk at night, knowing that the shuttle service was over and that the hotel was only four blocks away, we decided to walk back.
Chatting with the guys in front of the bar, I told them we would be right back and one young kid wanted to walk with us. He was friendly and chatted with us as we walked down the dark unlit streets.
I started to think it was a bad idea when I realized that there were many people sitting on the sidewalk in the dark. Women would walk up to us seeing we were tourists and pull us by the arms and hiss. They wanted us to stay I’m sure. We literally had to shake them off with hands firmly on our wallets, we plowed through.
Our pace quickened to a fast walk and passed by groups of people just lounging outside. People yelled at us as we walked by but we didn’t stop until we were within gunshot range of the hotel security.
I gave the kid a tip and thanked him for walking with us. He must have been confused because he thought we were going back to the bar.
Getting back into the safety of the hotel walls, concluded of one of the most terrifying walks I’ve ever taken in a city.
We were headed for Santo Domingo by bus tomorrow so we called it a night.