A warm breeze rustles the palm trees and wakes you up. You must have dozed off for a few minutes. You remove your face-down book from your stomach, take a sip of your now-watery cocktail, and gaze over the glimmering sapphire water. A saltwater pool is in front of you. Beyond that, the Caribbean Sea. A pelican silently glides along the hillside. You smile and close your eyes for just a few more minutes.
This peaceful paradise is in Haiti, a country usually not considered a paradise or peaceful. Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, became the Caribbean’s first independent nation after a successful slave revolt in 1804. The next 200 years were full of political instability and poverty, though. And then a 2010 earthquake destroyed the few advancements that had been made. Haiti is still trying to recover.
But Île à Vache, an island off the country’s southwest coast, is far removed from the chaos in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Named Cow Island for the cattle that once roamed the 20-square-mile island, Île à Vache is full of hills, swamps, a large mangrove forest, and quiet beaches. Pirates used to call the island home. The perfect, 81-degree water around it is full of anchors, canons, and shipwrecks. And with only two small hotels, Île à Vache is definitely off the beaten path.
To reach Île à Vache, you flew from Port-au-Prince to the seaside town of Les Cayes, and then rode a ferry across the Baie des Cayes to Ferret Bay. As you docked in the marina, you could see Port Morgan’s gingerbread-style cottages on the hillside. The small resort was named after Henry Morgan, a British Royal Navy admiral-turned-pirate who called the island home. The simple rooms, set among lush vegetation, have stone walls and large balconies. Whatever is being prepared for dinner—crayfish and a mixed grill—already smells delicious. And you obviously found the pool.
When you really wake up this time, head down the hill to the beach. Stare at Big Rock, just offshore. Pick up seashells along the edge of the warm water. Hear bleating, and turn to find three goats strolling along the sand. Sail along the shoreline in one of the bois fouillés, the local fishing boats. Just return in time for that dinner.
Over the next few days, explore the rest of the island by foot or on a bike. Visit Madame Bernard, the island’s largest village. Buy bread at a bakery and tomatoes at the market. Play soccer with the kids at Sister Flora’s Orphanage, and leave a donation for school uniforms. Hike to the Saut-Mathurine waterfall. Search for lost pirate treasure in dark caves. Dive among the Bluenose wreck. The Canadian boat was the fastest schooner in the 1940s. Test out the beautiful beaches: Anse Dufour, Anse a l’Eau, and the Hatte. Îlet des Amoureux, a sandbank just offshore, will be your favorite spot, though. Just return to Port Morgan in time for another mouth-watering dinner.
After the earthquake, people around the world sent money. Others rushed to Port-au-Prince to clear debris and set up shelters. And now, four years later, tourists like you are tentatively starting to return. They come for the unexplored beauty, but their arrival brings money, creates jobs, and, hopefully, builds stability in a place that desperately needs it. It’s a win-win for everyone.