My father grew up in a beautiful city located on the southern side of the island of Haiti: Jacmel. This city is nestled in a bay with lush green mountains rising behind it and gives visitors a great chance to see the beauty of Haiti. Getting to Jacmel is easiest by car: From the capital, take the winding road up into the mountains and after 2 hours you will arrive in the bustling city of Jacmel. Luckily for me, I have gotten the chance to visit a couple times with my father and see where he spent his childhood. Below I share my list of favorite things to do when I visit Jacmel, Haiti.
1. Swim in Bassin Bleu
Hidden in the mountains above Jacmel is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. If you truly want to understand the beauty of Haiti then you must visit this breathtaking gem. Bassin Bleu consists of three different pools of water that flow down from a natural waterfall, the furthest one being the most beautiful. Getting to the waterfall itself is not incredibly difficult and easy enough for children, but guides wait at the entrance to the trail to help those who need assistance. It might benefit to have a guide with you when you climb down the rope to reach the final pool, as the rocks are quite slippery and it is harder when you have a bag with you (I recommend removing your shoes for this last part). The hike and short climb are well worth it when you see the waterfall waiting at the end of the journey. Make sure to bring your bathing suit – the final pool is the perfect place to swim in the clearest mountain water you will ever see. If you are brave, your guide can help you climb the waterfall and jump in. I tried it and it was exhilarating!
Cost: Entrance fee is 100 Gouds. Guides are an additional fee.
Distance from Jacmel: 25 minute drive into the mountains from downtown Jacmel. The hike to the waterfall is about 25-30 minutes.
Insider Tip: The easiest way to get to the entrance of the park is by car: hire one through your hotel (best for families) or take a motorcycle taxi (best for individuals).
2. Beach Day at Raymond les Bains
Anytime you visit a Caribbean island, a beach day should be on the vacation schedule. My favorite beach in Jacmel is located a short drive away and has a beautiful sandy beach. The beach restaurant has many tables and chairs available in both sunny and shady spots, depending on your preference. Make sure to order a plate of freshly caught and baked fish; wash it down with a Prestige beer or Cola.
Cost: Free to get in, only pay for food & drinks
Distance from Jacmel: 15 -20 minute drive
Insider Tip: While there are usually plenty of tables and chairs available, in order to sit at one you have to order something to eat or drink. Weekends are busiest.
3. Check out the local art scene
In 2014, Jacmel became a member of the UNESCO Creative City Network for its crafts and folk arts, the first Caribbean city to gain such an honor. Many of the local artists have shops that feature their arts and crafts, though some sell them right along the streets. A great way to pass the time is browse the unique wares offered by the local people. They make a perfect one-of-a-kind gift for a loved one. To truly see the creativity that lives in Jacmel, visit during Carnival. During this colorful time of year in February, artists create beautiful paper mache masks, which the city is well known for.
Cost: Free – though you will be more than tempted to purchase a unique item
Location: Best art galleries and craft shops can be found along Rue du Commerce and Rue St. Anne. Murals and mosaics can be found all over town; a walk around will offer you more than a few to admire.
Insider Tip: Prices in shops are up for negotiation. Part of the fun is haggling for a great price.
4. Beach Day at Ti Moulliage
There is no such thing as too many beach days when you are on vacation in the Caribbean. My second favorite beach in Jacmel is Ti Moulliage, located 15 minute drive from Jacmel in the next door town of Cayes Jacmel, this small beach is an excellent place to spend the day. Soak up the sun, sand, and surf while enjoying food right on the beach at the restaurant which serves fresh food for beach goers.
Distance from Jacmel: 15 minute drive
Insider Tip: Visit the beach on a weekday for an almost private beach. On the weekends, locals visit to enjoy the food and waters.
5. Experience the Marché en Fer
On most days you will find the market located in the middle of Jacmel bustling with business. At the Marche en Fer, which translates to Iron Market, you can find almost anything including shoes, clothes, food, live animals, toys, tools, and electronics. Vendors claim a small spot in the open air market in order to sell their goods to the multitude of Haitians that come to shop. It is open only to pedestrians during the week, and you will have to duck and weave your way through it. The Marche en Fer is a part of island life that everyone should experience – go and enjoy the chaos! If crowds are not your thing, the market is closed on Sundays and has a completely different feel. Go to admire the large Caribbean baroque church that stands on one side of the market.
Location: Right in the heart of downtown
Insider Tip: Be aware of your surroundings and leave anything of value back at your hotel. I would also suggest bringing smaller change and Haitian currency. Don’t forget to haggle!
6. Eat like a local
I may be partial since I grew up eating my fathers food, but Haitian food is some of the best you will ever have the pleasure of tasting. Jamel is home to some excellent restaurants that will give you a great taste of local flavor. Some of my favorites dishes I ate were:
- baked fish with fried plantains and pikliz, spicy cabbage (Raymond les Bains)
- fresh coconuts (Raymond les Bains, but can be found many places)
- Prestige Beer, the national beer of Haiti (any store or restaurant)
- Corn ice cream (various ice cream vendors)
- My hotel, Cap Lamandou, had an excellent restaurant I ate in daily. I would recommend anything on their menu!
7. Take in the sights and smells
One of the best ways to experience a new place is to simply walk around and explore. Jacmel is a small yet busy city, and a stroll will give you a chance to see more of the local side of Haiti. A walk down to Jacmel beach will take you to a beautiful new boardwalk with mosaic paths, ocean smells, and gorgeous views.
Insider Tip: Sidewalks in Jacmel are rare. Be careful and watch out for cars and motorcycles when walking in the streets.
8. Ride a motorcycle taxi
When my father was growing up, he said there was one motorcycle in town and when it drove by it was quite an event. Today, there are what feels like a million bikes zooming up and down, and back and forth, many of them with people on the back. I soon found out that this is a lucrative business for many of the young men in town, who provide taxi rides for single or double passengers. Of course, I knew that I had to try it, and took the opportunity twice to ride one back to my hotel after walking around downtown. The ride was exhilarating and a little scary at times – drivers in Jacmel sometimes act as if there are no real rules of the road. But would I do it again? Absolutely.
Cost: Depends on how far you want to go
Location: Literally everywhere
Insider Tip: Make sure to hold on tight to your driver and just enjoy the ride! To avoid paying too much, haggle for a price before getting on so that you don’t have to have that conversation once you get off. If the driver tries to charge you more than you’re willing to pay, simply find another one – you won’t have trouble finding a taxi no matter where you are.
9. Grab a drink at Hotel de la Place or Hotel Florita
The two best hotels in the center of town are Hotel de la Place, right next to the Marche en Fer, and Hotel Florita, closer to the local art shops. Both hotels are excellent places to stop while walking around Jacmel for a break and a refreshing drink. Hotel Florita is great because it has large comfortable chairs for guests to sit in and enjoy their beverage. Hotel de la Place, on the other hand, stands at the top of a hill and provides great views of the central square and locals visiting the market.
Cost: Drinks average about 500 Gouds
Location: Hotel Florita is located near Jacmel beach. Hotel de la Place sits in the center of town.
Insider Tip: For those people without international data on their phone plan, Hotel Florita is a great place to also stop for some free wifi.
10. Admire the colonial architecture
Jacmel is often described as Haiti’s most beautiful city, partially because of French colonial architecture still visible today. Walk around the historic district to view beautiful 19th century buildings that survived the earthquake. As you wander, many parts of town may remind you of New Orleans.
Insider Tip: The Hotel Florita can arrange a tour of the Historic District of Jacmel
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
Have you been to Jacmel, Haiti? Share your favorite places to visit in the comments below!