Haiti needs, well, a lot of things. Political stability and infrastructure to start. Safe drinking water, doctors, and police would help, too. Then, after all the basics are handled, the Caribbean nation could use some hope. Lots of hope. It may just have to look outside of Port-au-Prince, the corrupt capital, to find it.
Cap-Haïtien, on the northern coast, claims a lot of Haitian firsts. Christopher Columbus established the first settlement in the New World, La Navidad, nearby in 1492. Milot, just 19 kilometers to the south, became the first capital of the French colony—then known as Saint-Domingue—in 1711, before it was moved south to Port-au-Prince. (It was briefly the capital again after the Haitian Revolution.) While the movement to oust the country’s corrupt president began here in 2004. It’s now the place that could bring tourists back to Haiti.
Today, the Paris of the Antilles is known for its historic monuments and French Colonial architecture, sophistication and relative wealth. Narrow streets, gingerbread-style houses, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame fill the interior. Old sugar plantations, vast plains, and green mountains stand to the south. The Citadelle Laferrière—the largest fortress in the Americas—and the ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. White-sand beaches, including Labadee, where huge cruise ships dock, line the coast. Then the Caribbean Sea stretches for a seemingly endless number of miles.
When you arrive at Habitation Jouissant, a boutique hotel—yes, a boutique hotel in Haiti—you’re handed a hot towel and a cold fruity drink. The hillside hotel sits on the western shore of the Bay of Cap-Haïtien. Its rooms have names like Rose Rouge, Iris, and Tulipe. White-cushioned couches surround the pool. Its turquoise water matches the color of the sea beyond the white railing. A cool breeze blows toward the poolside Lime Bar, which serves Mai Tais, Prestige beer, and island tunes. Plus Le Basilik serves freshly caught lobster and fish as the sun sets.
As you wander through the city’s streets, watch artists at work, explore the ruins, and relax on the beaches over the next few days, you’ll see what Haiti could become over the next few years. Is it perfect? No. But it certainly proves there’s hope for the western side of Hispaniola.