“Anpil men chay pa lou” – Haitan proverb meaning “Many hands make a load lighter”.
To say that the bustling, congested and vibrant capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is a bit chaotic and overstimulating would be an understatement. Monstrous traffic combined with endless honking horns, pedestrians, street vendors, motorbikes and every thing imaginable being sold on the street leaves you with such an immense sensory overload that your head is spinning by the end of the day.
As a newcomer, it is hard to conceive that peaceful, beautiful places coexist with the utter chaos of this hectic city of neglected potholes, broken down cars and uncollected garbage. However if you dig deep within the local culture and outskirts of town, you will be surprised at what true treasures Port-au-Prince has to offer.
Above the urban sprawl rising up the northern hills of the Massif de la Selle lies the affluent suburb of Pétionville which was founded in 1831 and named after Alexandre Sabes Pétion (1770-1818), a Haitian general and president who is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Haiti. Today Pétionville hosts some of the most desired restaurants, shops, hotels and residences in the capital. The views from Pétionville are beautiful and the air is much clearer and calmer than in Port-au-Prince.
However, the growth of Pétionville has not come without a price. A lack of governance in development has led to some serious problems with squatters. On the outskirts of Pétionville, a massive slum of rural migrants have dangerously built homes moving up the slopes of the mountainside, offering little protection against mudslides, heavy rains and earthquakes. The slums are always in view and are a big contradiction to the large mansions and wealth of Pétionville.
Oftentimes it was hard for me to wrap my head around the luxury I was experiencing and the horrible conditions just across the way. Yet, as a conscious traveler to many developing countries, it is something I just have had to accept and hope that at least my voice as a blogger and my tourist dollars will somehow help.
From Port-au-Prince, there is one main road that winds up the mountainside to Pétionville. The road is narrow and depending on the time of day, traffic can be horrific especially if there is a stalled car. It is best to plan at least an hour from downtown to Pétionville unless you leave very early in the morning or very late at night.
As you drive up the mountain, the road is filled with art stands selling all kinds of local Haitian art. The views of the city are spectacular but it is hard to stop since there are no shoulders on the road.
One thing I love to do when I travel is stay and eat local. Being conscious about where my tourist money is spent and how can have a big impact on the local community. Sadly, the majority of revenue earned from tourism often goes into only a few hands (large international corporations or wealthy elite) and very little money goes to support the local community. This is a huge missed opportunity because supporting local businesses creates a ripple effect that benefits entire communities of people. More local jobs means more income enabling more people to send their children to school, buy food and afford homes. In a country of vast unemployment, sustainable local tourism has an enormous potential to help eradicate Haiti’s crippling poverty.
I was pleased that our guide Haitian-American Natalie Tancrede of Explore with Nat selected all locally run and owned venues for our stay in Port-au-Prince. We could have chosen to stay at the beautiful new Marriott Hotel downtown but instead opted to stay at the tranquil, family owned Hotel Montana in Pétionville. It was my second stay at this beautiful hotel and I would go back there in a heartbeat.
Here is my list of the best places to stay and eat in Port-au-Prince.
Where to Stay:
The Hotel Montana is a true gem. Located up in the hills of Pétionville high above Port-au-Prince Hotel Montana has been run by a Haitian family since 1947 and is designed in Haitian Art Deco flair. The grounds and 45 rooms are stunning and the staff is delightful. There is a large open-air terrace that has a restaurant, bar and pool affording breathtaking views of the city below. The personalized service is lovely and it feels like a home away from home for many of the guests.
The Hotel Montana was almost completely destroyed after the 2010 catastrophic earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Once the rubbled was cleared away, the hotel was rebuilt and the resilience of the staff never ceases to amaze me. There is a small memorial site on the edge of the hotel grounds. It is an eerily peaceful place.
The Hotel Montana welcomes guests from around the world and also serves as a meeting grounds for foreign officials, non-governmental organizations, artists and more. They have a large conference room and a gorgeous outdoor reception and dining area overlooking Port-au-Prince.
Where to Dine:
Hotel Montana serves a large spread of both Haitian and International food for breakfast and dinner. The food is delicious and you will not go away hungry. The best reason to eat at the Hotel Montana is for the incredible view. Go for sunset and you will not be disappointed.
About a twenty-minute drive further up the winding hills of Massif de la Selle past the Hotel Montana is the sensational Observatoire. Haitian-run and own this stunning restaurant is literally perched on the edge of the hill affording spectacular views of Port-au-Prince and the sea. The menu is delightful with primarily Haitian food however a little bit of International flair. You must go on a clear night and be there in time for sunset. You will be rewarded with your efforts! Not only was the food delicious, the view was breathtaking.
La Lorraine Hotel
This trendy and stylish boutique hotel is family run and own, and has a wonderful restaurant serving delicious Haitian food at a reasonable price. They also offer live entertainment. We were there for Trivia night which was a blast.
Les Jardins du Mupanah
This upscale restaurant serves creative, delicious international cuisine ranging from French to Caribbean Fusion. Located on the grounds of the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien (Mupanah) in Port-au-Prince, this classy restaurant has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that overlook the lush green gardens of the museum. The presentation and flavor of the food is a work of art in itself and afterwards you can head over and tour the museum which features Haitian culture and history.
I traveled to Haiti with my dear friend Haitian-American Nathalie (Nat) Tancrede. Passionate to show the true beauty and magic of Haiti, Nat launched her new travel business “Explore with Nat”. Nat provides a fully guided week-long trip exploring different regions of Haiti and embracing Haiti’s culture, history and people every step of the way. To learn more about Nat and her upcoming trips check out her website Explore with Nat. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.