Discount hotel coming to Haiti

Choice Hotels is headed to Haiti! The discount lodging company will be the first to hit the country in close to a decade. Its first hotel, a Comfort Inn, is expected to open in May. It’ll be located in the city of Jacmel, which is on the Caribbean coast. A 32-room motel is planned, but this is only the start for Choice Hotels’ plans for the unlikely destination. It is also looking at building an upscale 120-room property at the Belle Rive tourism development which is nearby — it’s expected for the fall.

Choice left Haiti a few years ago, and plans for a new Hilton were scrapped because of political instability and an unreliable infrastructure. But, the United Nations is trying to bring tourists back to Haiti, and Choice apparently sees some potential.

Is a trip to Haiti a bit too adventurous for you? Before writing off the possibility, keep in mind that it isn’t as bad as you think. Haiti is probably safer than you have been led to believe.

[Photo by Choice]

Haiti Part 6: A Few Last Words

Writing about my weekend fun and time spent in Haiti has been one of the most difficult dispatches to date. I spent a good number of hours in the country trying to come to terms that this magical western portion of Hispaniola was not living up to all the negative hype too often attached to the greater Haiti. On my plane back to the states I thought deeply about what I might want to tell everyone back home of the experience, of the people encountered and of the picklese I tasted on my last day. Part of me felt as though I should withhold the details of the paradise that is Jacmel as a reward to self for being “brave” enough to fly into one of the so-called “Most Dangerous” countries with one of the most unpredictable political climates. Even before I boarded my flight back I surprised many in the line waiting by telling them I had gone down to Jacmel. They were curious to know how I had found out about the area and I suppose they’ll be curious to know how you discovered the sometimes out-of-hand / many times peaceful and real Haiti when you arrive one day.

I do not believe travel to Haiti is built for all tourists and vacationing folks, just as I believe Bangkok, Paris, London and Rome travel is not meant for all and everyone. This could very well be my lame attempt in keeping the quiet beaches of Jacmel, Ti Mouillage, Kabik and Marigot quiet long enough for me to squeeze in another visit or two before they become the Caribbean’s next hot destination. However, I do believe the country is ready to welcome and receive visitors and is in need of tourism to help rebuild economy and to hopefully provide more jobs for the people of Haiti. If you are ready to ride the tap-taps in Port-au-Prince, try the food in Carrefour, dance like you’ve never danced before to the sounds of new and old Kompa or spend a day splashing in some of the coolest clearest Caribbean waters then you may already be ready to book a flight.

There are a few things you must keep in mind though. In all my good words about the country there is no denying that Haiti is still a very poor place. I witnessed the highest level of poverty my eyes I have ever laid sight on in driving through the capital. Public sanitation and restroom facilities can be a hard finds depending which direction you are headed. You will see many men peeing on the streets and if you’re a woman you may have to find a bush along your drive down to the beaches should you have to ‘go.’ Trash can be found scattered in many places and a heavy rain can bring it all into the muddy streets. You will see UN peace keepers with guns, but like it was told to me before I left on my trip: “You will not see gunfire. It is not like the situation in Iraq.” You will not see people carrying machetes unless you’re in the country and you will not need to pack one of your own. You will want to watch what you drink and eat. And if you are truly set on visiting someday plan on learning a little Kreyól if you don’t already speak French.

I’m not West Indian, but I feel very comfortable in the islands. My travel to Haiti was fashioned a little differently than I would go about most trips for a small handful of reasons. While I always try to make an effort, I speak only ‘tou-pa-ti’ or a little Kreyól and my French gets worse. Plus, there aren’t many updated guidebooks or enough online information to lead me around the volatile city that is Port-au-Prince on my own. These two things made it so I hired a driver and a translator along with the rental car for my three day sprint. As it turned out their company was nice to have and they told me many things about life in the country and helped me learn more of the lives of other Haitians through their translating. With my two-middle men or people, I didn’t feel a close, warm personal connection to the people as I might have if I spoke more of the language on my own, but that is something that can be fixed in time and does not mean that the people of Haiti are not warm-spirited.

Traveling in Haiti without a translator or driver can be done and will definitely save spending money during your trip. Should you plan on going without the help of a friend or family member in the country or even hired assistance be sure to check frequently on the current political climate. Every other day I made sure I went online to find news on Haiti a month before my trip. As of right now the only thing truly disturbing the masses is probably the early rains of Hurricane season. Traveling Haiti is a great online source of information and probably one of the best built sites with facts and basic info on planning a trip. Lonely Planet doesn’t carry much info, but they do have a picture with a view from the Citadel that makes me want to visit again ASAP. Other sites that may be of interest are Hands & Feet Project, FOSAJ and Yéle. For more Festival Mizik Jakmel pictures click here.

American Airlines has flights into PAP daily and Spirit recently started servicing the country as well. Travel within the country with a private car is easy and there are a number of rental agencies at the airport, though you may wish to have a reservation well in advance. Avis, Budget, Hertz and a number of island renters offer pretty decent rates. For a tiny 4-door Nissan Sentra I paid $76 per day.

Credit cards are accepted at most hotels, the airport and car rental offices. Expect to pay cash when dining or souvenir shopping though there are some galleries where credit cards are accepted as well. US dollars are happily welcomed, but it doesn’t hurt to have Haitian gourdes on hand. Prices are quoted in Haitian dollars which do not exist. To get the cost in gourdes, simply multiply the amount of Haitian dollars by five. To get the amount in US dollars divide the amount of gourdes by the current exchange rate (approx 35-37).

For more details and photos on food, accommodation, arts and souvenirs make sure you check out the five part series leading to this closing plug. The links for all can be found below and while I surely wouldn’t mind your taking all my experiences to shape your trip, I encourage you to make discoveries of your own. Share them later if you so please or keep them as secrets of your own. I’ll understand.

Haiti Part 1: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation

Haiti Part 2: Kreyól Cuisine
Haiti Part 3: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels
Haiti Part 4: Arts & Souvenirs
Haiti Part 5: Festival Mizik Jakmel Update

Haiti Part 5: Festival Mizik Jakmel Update

Although Festival Mizik Jakmel, with headliners Stephen and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley did not make it into Gadling’s Massively Huge 2007 Summer Music Fest Roundup, I mentioned the first-time event not long before I took a trip over to check it out on my own. Actually, at the time I booked my ticket to Haiti I hadn’t planned on attending the three-day music festival because I hadn’t heard of it. I was simply planning on going to explore culture, arts, food and beaches. When I found out the festival and my travel dates linked up, it made my trip plans all the better.

As noted before the festival would not only involve a slew of musicians from across the globe singing around the clock, there would also be art events, workshops, a tourism conference, and most importantly an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest drumming ensemble in the world. (India got the claim to fame last year.) If you ask me – that is one mega feat to beat. And by now you are probably wondering if their mission was accomplished?

To answer the question: Yes and No.

I haven’t the slightest idea what happened to the drum ensemble and I was a little disappointed that it didn’t occur. My hopes were flying high and my heart-racing every time I heard that the drumming would start. I tried to imagine Congo beach packed with 10,000 drumming sets of hands, but even my imagination failed me. There were a number of people who shared the same somber feeling as I had, but with all of the other events to look forward to there was little room or time to stay disappointed long.

The concert line-up for the first day included some amazing musicians such as Mizik Mizik featuring Belo and Tifane, Reggae Cowboys, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and one of my favorites, Les Nubians. The only problem now was figuring out what time they were going to go on. No one in my camp seemed to have an idea of when the DJ would cut his music and let the real live show start. To kill time we walked around Congo beach for a while. There were tons of people hanging around making puppets dance for the amusement of others and others just standing and waiting. From the stage and screen set-up you could tell they were expecting a packed sandy beach. By the end of night number one I wouldn’t have been the one to tell you whether the masses came out in full force or not. You’d have to ask another festival participant. With it being the first international music festival ever for the area of Jacmel I figured there would be some minor bumps and road blocks in the way, but performances kept getting pushed back. There was no telling when anything would happen and having just arrived to the country overnight from LAX to PAP, I was beat. As badly as I wanted to check every little detail of the festival out I found myself retreating for some rest.

Day two was much better and as it turned out the people that stayed long enough on day one really enjoyed the performances. I wish I had been one of them.

When we finally arrived for the second installment the music was in full-swing and the beach looked at least 7,000 people deep. It had been raining on and off the entire day, but even the wet weather couldn’t keep people from seeing such performers as Emeline Michel, Tabou Combo & Black Alex, RAM and especially Stephen / Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. I was fortunate enough to score some standing room in VIP and made my way up to see portions of most of the performances. It being my first time hearing of many of he Haitian artists, my ears were busier than ever trying to focus in on it all. I listened like a student in a Haitian Music and Kompa 101 class.

RAM was one of the artists that really caught my attention. The music seemed very trippy and can be described as “Vodou rock n’ roots.” Following RAM was Emeline Michel, whose music I had heard before on a few compilation CD’s. The masses really enjoyed her music as well as all the major Haitian bands that went on and it wasn’t until the Marley brothers finally came on stage did I notice a slight difference in crowd participation. I went ablaze inside myself. I was so hyped on seeing them and the setting was perfect. Naturally, everyone moved and sang along to the Bob Marley covers as performed by son Stephen Marley, but there were times when I thought the people could be moving more. It was partly the language and the awe of having the Marley brothers in Haiti that had the crowd standing still at certain moments noted my travel buds.

Even with the language barrier I could still sense the music working. It managed to bring a massive number of Haitians, tourists, and sponsors to Congo beach for two nights in a row thus far and the Marley’s reinforced the theory with their messaging, “We are all one people.”

When the show was over that night I headed back to the Hotel Cyvadier to rest my eyes and sing Festival Mizik Jakmel lullabies.

Day three was all washed up from what I gather. The rain wasn’t letting up and performances were cancelled. I departed Jacmel earlier than planned for Port-au-Prince. I could be wrong about day three and I would love to be corrected if I am. Overall I thought it was a success for a free event and with everything that did and didn’t happen it gives everyone that showed up and those who couldn’t make it something to look forward to next year.

It’s faint right now, but I think I hear 10,000 sets of drumming hands on Congo plage. To view more pictures from the festival check out the Festival Mizik Jakmel Flickr photostream.

Yesterday: Art & Souvenirs
Tomorrow: A Few Last Words

Haiti Part 3: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels

Before I took off to Haiti I was told of a number of beach towns in south worth hanging around on a weekend getaway, but Jacmel was always the top recommendation. One reason being the wealth of beach-side accommodation and eclectic hideaways found in the magical arts-epicenter of this country. For my first visit it was suggested I stay at the Hotel-Restaurant Cyvadier Plage. I followed instructions accordingly, had a room booked and found myself at a loss for words upon my arrival.
From check-in to check-out, I felt as though I were in dream. I’ll compare the feeling I was experiencing to the one scene in the film Contact where Jodie Foster expected to be shot into space, but instead found herself on some beautiful tropical paradise witnessing the unimaginable. It was as though the three hour drive from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel’s Cyvadier hotel had taken me to other worlds. This peaceful, idyllic, Caribbean dreamscape couldn’t possibly be the reason so many people stay away from Haiti.

It couldn’t be the fluttering hummingbirds moving from flower to flower or the warm smiling and welcoming faces waiting behind the Cyvadier reception desk keeping travelers away. With so little information available by guidebook and on the internet I wouldn’t be surprised if most people knew nothing of Jacmel or the Cyvadier, but now that I have your attention let me tell you more about the place.
The Hotel-Restaurant Cyvadier Plage is located off of Avenue Baranquilla in the direction of Marigot. Once in Jacmel the drive up the road is roughly seven minutes. As you near the Cyvadier you will notice the ‘Bienvenue’ signs before pulling up into the parking lot. With my travel companions by my side we made our way to the reception, checked-in and headed to our rooms.

Sadly, I did a fine job photographing the exterior, but failed to take a picture of the cozy double bed luxury room I was staying in. A great idea of what the interior looked like can be found on the hotel website. By description the room was actually quite simple. There were two double beds, two chairs, a small table, a nightstand, and a sliding glass door with a view of the Caribbean Sea. The room is equipped with AC and a ceiling fan to keep one extra cool after a day of sight-seeing. There wasn’t a TV in my room or my companion’s room, but who needs TV? If you are looking for amenities that provide access to the outside world during your short escape try some other place.

At the Cyvadier you can get lost in a book while lounging around the spring water filled pool.

If you find yourself running on an empty stomach, step-up into the restaurant for a bite to eat with a cool fruity drink to wash it down.

And when you’re ready to get a better view of the ‘plage’ or beach instead of the one found at the restaurant and bar walk down the steps to the private beach cove.

Cyvadier Plage does not offer miles of sandy beach, but it has enough for a honeymooning couple or a small family of four to enjoy without the bother of hundreds of beach-goers. Again, it is a private beach which means it is kept extremely clean. The water is often warm and rivals that found splashing up on the shores of many other islands with its crystal clear blue-green color. From time to time you may find a few locals laying out and selling local handicrafts, but even then you’ll always find plenty of room to catch some sun and surf.

If you’d like to plan your own stay – do check out the hotel website for full contact, rate, and reservation information. Rooms come in luxury and standard and rates can vary depending on whether you want all-inclusive type of service or wish to have only breakfast included. Luxury double rooms typically go for $55 per person. Additional rate information can be found here. Staff and management are very accommodating and awaiting all interested island visitors.

The Hotel-Restaurant Cyvadier Plage can be reached by phone at 509.288.3323. Email:

Ready to visit Jacmel, but prefer public beaches, more in-town action and more atmosphere? As mentioned before there are a number of options. During my stay I swung into a few of the hotels and found charm in many.

The Jaclef Plaza Hotel is located next door to the Cyvadier. The establishment seemed like a nice place to camp out and I actually had a reservation booked here for my driver, but with all the commotion from the music festival taking place my reservation somehow got tossed out the window. The management wasn’t as apologetic as I would have liked. I’m sure things could be different on a regular weekend without an event, but in other words – book at your own risk.

Jaclef Plaza Hotel Ph. 509.288.9700 / 509.554.2296 / 509.482.3064 Web:

La Jacmelienne Hotel rests in front of Congo Plage and were the head-quarters for practically everything taking place during the Festival Mizik Jakmel. I caught a glimpse of the rooms and found them very pleasing. The beach views aren’t as charming as that found at the Cyvadier, but La Jacmelienne offers much more access to the town and is located near many art galleries and shops.

La Jacmelienne Hotel has 30 rooms and is located at 17, rue Ste Anne. Ph. 509.288.3451 Email:

Should I find my way back to Jacmel sometime in the near future, the Hotel Florita may very well win my business. There are no beach views and it is noted there are only eight rooms, but it has tons of character. Beautiful Haitian artwork can be found on each floor and it too is located near art galleries, shops and restaurants.

Hotel Florita is located at 29, rue du Commerce. Ph. 509.288.2805 / 509.482.5158 / 509.785.5154 Email:

Yesterday: Kreyól Cuisine
Tomorrow: Art & Souvenirs

Haiti Part 2: Kreyól Cuisine

One might imagine that food and its preparation between each Caribbean island couldn’t possibly vary drastically in taste, but then one would be wrong. I’ve learned now through an odd handful of islands visited; St. Lucia, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago and now Haiti, that the art and science of cooking and eating a good meal on each is an experience of its own. No where else have I been able to feast upon conch salad the way I had in the Bahamas or the doubles and roti found in T&T and in Haiti, Creole cabrit, picklise, and lambi. The islands are without a doubt full of flavors. I’m sure I did not come close to taste-testing every Haitian delight on the menu or even the grilled corn on the cob which I longed for from one of the street vendors, but what I have here is only a glance of what savory, mouth-watering dishes await the visitor hoping to dig into Kreyól Cuisine during a weekend, week or months stay in the country.

Pasta Nostra was not the first sit down restaurant I dined at, but it easily became my favorite. It possibly was the story behind the place alone that won my affection. As the story goes the breath-taking, beautiful mademoiselle pictured above had once been involved with an Italian man who taught her the art of cooking pasta and other Italian dishes. While the man in the story is somewhat of a ghost now, the beautiful chef can still be found preparing fresh seafood and pasta dishes across from the quiet beach of Ti Mouillage.

The establishment is cool, casual and comfortable like most situated next to the beach. Wooden chairs and tables sit atop of a small deck and small, bright, colorful artwork hangs from the wooden pools along the restaurant. Come before you feel you will absolutely faint of hunger because it is a one-woman operation in the kitchen and so it will be a moment before the food arrives. If you’ve come all the way to Haiti only to sample items typical to the country and wish not to have what I call ‘Italian fare remixed’ there is enough delicious fresh seafood to fill you right on up and if you weren’t aware – seafood is pretty typical for most islands.

On my plate: Grilled red snapper with plantains covered in a spicy red leafy sauce. The fish was cooked wonderfully and the sauce (I cannot remember the name – pictured below) had the right amount of kick. My companions all had the same with the exception of one who sampled the lobster and noted it was delicious. To wash it all down I sipped on cold cherry juice which I expressed some initial skepticism over as I’m not wild about cherry flavored foods/beverages in the States, yet the taste of cherry in Haiti is much different. The gelato featured on the desert menu was not available, so I skipped on having sweets afterwards. The rest of the bunch ordered crepes, which I took only a bite of found tasty as well. After you’ve refueled head across to the beach for a snooze underneath the island sun. ($$)

Pasta Nostra is located in Ti Mouillage, up the road from Jacmel. Ph. 509.453.3413

The restaurant at Hotel Cyvadier was the first I ate at and found the food appetizing. It wasn’t until we’d made the long three hour drive from Port-au-Prince and got all checked in did I finally rest my limbs and gobble down my first real meal. The restaurant as best described on the hotel website ‘seats up to 70 people and specializes in a diverse variety of fish, crawfish and lobster delivered daily from the local fishermen.’ The atmosphere is casual for breakfast and lunch which were the only two times I actually dined at the Cyvadier. Views of the hotel, swimming pool and the alluring Cyadier Plage (beach) can all be seen from the restaurant.

On my breakfast plate: I usually went the light way for breakfast having fruits (mango, banana, pineapple and/or melon) and bread with confiture (jelly or peanut butter). Simple and yummy! On the lunch plate: Spaghetti with ham and onions. If my memory serves me correctly I believe it may have been called Creole spaghetti, but I could also be wrong. For the first meal it wasn’t too bad. It was not mind-blowing, but highly satisfying. I would have liked to have explored other dishes on the menu, but didn’t want to stick exclusively to the hotel restaurant. ($$$)

Hotel Cyvadier Restaurant Plage is located in Jacmel off of Avenue Baranquilla in the direction towards Marigot. Ph. 509.288.3323

Ambiance was the dinner stop right before heading out to the second night of Festival Mizik Jakmel. It sits on the second floor above a business which I did not bother taking notice of and has a nice view of the activity taking place on the streets below. There isn’t a ton of ‘ambiance’ with the speeding motor ‘taxi’ bikes passing along, but once your meal is served you forget about all that is surrounding you including the screeching tires. The dishes took a while to prepare and by the time my Cabrit Creole (Creole goat) arrived I had lost the sense to take a photo of it and instead dug right in.

It was accompanied by a small field salad and a plate of red beans and rice far to large for me to tackle alone. The goat itself was very tasty and the meat was falling off the bone. Considering how different the taste was from the curry goat I’d had in T&T so many times and how easy it was to rip right into the meal I questioned whether I was truly having goat, but only for a short few seconds. I cannot recall what was on everyone else’s plate, but the overall reaction to the food was a good one. ($$)

Ambiance is located at Avenue Baranquilla, Jacmel, Haiti. Ph. 509.288.3067

There were a few things on my wish list that I still hadn’t eaten and I didn’t want to wait anymore. I had been told about how delicious the picklese and Creole lambi was in Haiti and I didn’t want to miss either and in the process I still managed to miss one. The last sit-down spot where I had the opportunity and sadly failed was at Le Lambi Beach Hotel near Carrefour.

Le Lambi is HUGE! It was by far the biggest place we’d been to and during the time of our visit one of the quietest. It was obvious the restaurant had been there for ages as it was decorated from every inch of the ceiling in colorful baskets and every inch of the walls in conch shells. When you walk in your attention is split between the dance floor to the right and the open floor in the center where one can look down into the sea beneath. Old kompa tunes hum from the stereo system calling music lovers to the dance floor on a packed night I’m sure, but for lunch every patron in the restaurant was either far too hungry or too relaxed. I was so thrilled that they had picklese (a chopped cabbage in an extra delectable vinegar dressing) that I made the mistake of ordering my lambi grille
d and not the typical way which is served in Creole sauces.

When my meal arrived I looked down at what seemed like an appetizer. My companions then confessed that they’d never eaten the lambi (conch) grilled before and always order it in Creole sauce. I thought to myself why they hadn’t shared that valuable information before I ordered and let it slide as they were probably only trying to provide me with a reason to come back. In the end the grilled lambi was ‘OK’ and the picklese amazing! In fact I had everyone else’s picklese too. They were more than happy to share. And yes, I must finish what I started and return to sample more. ($$)

Le Lambi Beach Hotel is located in/near Carrefour at Mariani Mer Frayyte, Haiti. Ph. 509.234.0272

Dollar Guide: ($) Under U.S. $10 ($$) Under U.S. $20 ($$$) Over U.S. $20. While some restaurants are pricey and there is much street food to devour there are cheap tasty items on most if not all menus. Menu prices are noted in Haitian dollars (which do not actually exist) and can be paid for in Gourdes or U.S. dollars. To get the price in Gourdes multiply the Haitian dollar amount by five. For the price in U.S. dollars divide the amount of Gourdes by the going exchange rate approx 35-37. After you’ve done all the math treat yourself to a cocktail.

Want to go cheaper and hit the streets! Go for it! Among most busy town roadsides you can find chicken, plantains, sugarcane, juices, you name it! Just be careful to always have bottled water.

Yesterday: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation
Tomorrow: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels