Hiking in Haiti? Yes really. There is some wonderful hiking in Haiti. The Haitian proverb “Dèyè mòn, gen mòn” means “beyond mountains, more mountains”. Those mountains mean great hiking opportunities.
Perhaps the most well known is the hike into Parc National La Visite set high in the mountains between Port au Prince and Jacmel.
Doing the hike is a wonderful way to connect Port au Prince and Jacmel and “escape” the hustle and bustle of the cities for the cool air and calm of the mountains. The mountain scenery is stunning, the people you encounter on the way are friendly and you get to see a side of Haiti that not many “blans” (white travellers) get to see.
Anyone of an average fitness level or above would be able to do this hike.
Most people suggest leaving Port au Prince around 6am to give you a chance to beat the heat while hiking and to give you time to explore when up in Seguin.
It is roughly 1.5-2 hours from Port au Prince or an hour or so from Petionville depending of course on the ever present traffic. It is possible to get local buses to Furcy but this require a couple of bus changes at least, the patience of a Saint and most of the day. Best to hire a local driver.
As you head up into the hills, you wind your way past the cool market town of Kenscoff until basically you can’t drive any further, just past Furcy to what is known as Carrefour Badyo.
You can start in either Port au Prince or Jacmel. You can retrace your steps or do it all one way. Doing it one way is a great way to incorporate the hike into a longer itinerary.
The hike all the way through is roughly 40kms (25 miles) split into 2 days with an overnight in the Auberge la Visite (also known as Kay Winnie) near the village of Seguin.
We went north to south, starting in Port au Prince and hiking towards Jacmel.
Day 1: Furcy to Seguin 4-6 hours hiking
Elevation is from sea level to about 2000 metre (6500 feet). It is much cooler in the mountains than in Port au Prince and Jacmel. Temps get down to about 10 degrees Celcius (50 Fahrenheit), which doesn’t sound that cold except it is 30+ Celcius (86+ Fahrenheit) at Port au Prince and Jacmel on either side of the trek.
Day 2: Seguin to Perado 5-7 hours hiking.
From Seguin to Perado you head mostly downhill towards to the Caribbean Sea on the southern coast of Haiti. From Perado a short drive takes you to the arts capital of Jacmel.
What to take:
A day pack is big enough, no need for a huge hiking pack but you will need room for extra layers, snacks, water and camera.
Water, a couple of litres if possible (there is a chance to refill at the Auberge).
Trail snacks like granola bars, trail mix, which you can bring from home, and some fruit as not much opportunity to buy anything while hiking.
Decent shoes/boots. You wont need $400 Scarpa boots but the trail can be a bit rocky (see photo and understatement below). It is a lot of uphill and downhill so decent hiking shoes/boots will help ankles and knees. Sneakers might not be rugged enough. I have Merrill Moab Ventilators, light hiking shoes with decent grip and you can use them for just generally getting around town as well rather than bringing specific boots just for the hike. Unless you are a local Parliamentarian, you shouldn’t need a suit for the hike.
You will (perhaps surprisingly) need long pants and a light jumper or fleece type jacket in the evening.
On the flip side, also take a good hat and sunblock as you can get sunburnt while hiking.
A change of shirt, undies and socks. You can have a cool shower at the Auberge. Good hiking socks will help the feet as it is a rocky trail and moleskin is handy to have in case of blisters (learnt that the hard way).
Camera and a spare battery. If possible take a portable battery charger as it is handy for keeping devices and camera batteries charged if the electricity is spotty up in the Auberge.
Hiking Day 1:
The “trail” is essentially the “road” over the mountains, Route 101 to be precise.
At one point cars and Rhinos (car-like ATV’s that farmers often use) could use the road, but now it is on foot or motorcycle (moto) only. The motos act as taxis in the area, carrying people (sometimes up to 5), vegetables, mattresses, chickens, hikers who don’t want to hike anymore, and even politicians. You will be offered a moto several times throughout your hike by local moto drivers who think you are crazy for hiking up here for fun. You will pass hundreds of people throughout the day carrying various things, more often than not it will be large bags of shallots, some other vegetables and the occasional chickens on their heads taking them down to the markets.
The kids will cheekily yell “blan”(white person) at you, then try and hide with huge smiles on their faces. The men and women walking the other way will always reply to you with a very polite and sometimes pleasantly surprised bonjou or “koman w ye?” (loosely – how are you?) if you say to bonjou to them as you pass.
It is a steady climb as the trail twists and turns up towards the plateau. Depending on your pace it will take anywhere between 3-4 hours to get to this point and then it flattens out to the pine forests of the National Park.
Another hour or so will get you to the Auberge. Walking the hour through the pine forests on a flat dirt road feels pretty cruisey after the long rocky windy climb to the plateau.
Arriving at the Auberge you get a chance to take the pack off your sweaty shirt, collapse into a rocking chair, put the feet up and catch your breath. Elevation is around 2000 metres (6500 feet) so it is a little chillier and those extra layers you lugged up now seem like a wise move. Lunch will soon follow and the rest of the afternoon is yours to explore. There are trails, waterfalls and the village of Seguin itself to explore.
The Auberge is involved with the Foundation Seguin that works on reforestation, erosion, protecting natural resources and helping farmers and you can see the prove of the good work around you in the area. http://www.fondationseguin.org/
The owner Winnie is a legend, very friendly and willing to share his knowledge of the area and Haiti in general with you.
3 very good meals are provided at Auberge le Visite, lunch and dinner on Day 1 and breakfast on Day 2. We had lamb stew and salad from the garden for lunch, hearty potato soup for dinner and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Plus the wild peppermint tea and local coffee was awesome.
Once the sun sets you can either hang around the dining table for a chat, read, play some cards or head to bed.
Electricity is spotty up here, so you may have solar lights. Cell phone service will go in and out too.
There are 3 rooms, all pretty basic but clean and comfortable with a shower and toilet. There is also room for camping in the Auberge grounds.
One suggestion, have your shower (and you will need a shower) before dinner. It will be a little warmer as the water may not be and be still light through the skylight if the electricity is off.
Hiking Day 2:
As you head down towards the coast it will get hotter so you want to go early to beat the heat as much as you can.
A different days hiking from day 1. A longer hiking day 5-6 hours to Peredo, mostly downhill and mostly following the road with a few deviations to walk on dirt racks through fields or to cut across the windy curve of the road. Some really cool rock formations around the village of Seguin as well.
As you walk you will catch glimpses of the Caribbean in the distance that inspire you to keep walking. The land is lush, bananas and fruit trees, rich dirt and houses scattered off the road.
As you get to Peredo it can be a bit of an assault on the senses. Cars, buses, motos, hustle and bustle all seem a bit overwhelming after the relative calm of the last 2 days hiking.
Getting to Jacmel:
You will get offered lots of moto rides and you can technically take a moto all the way from Seguin. It is a bouncy ride, your colon will become very acquainted with your kidneys as they jostle about. If you want to take a moto, maybe hike 3 hours or so to get half way to Macary then take a moto all the way to Jacmel (maybe 1.5 hours). Or if you go the whole hog it is 5-7 hours hiking to Peredo where you can arrange a driver to pick you up, or get a moto from there to Jacmel (about 30 minutes).
You will likely be sore, sweaty, tired but feeling pretty good about finishing the trek. Recover with a well earned Prestige beer and a late lunch in Jacmel, or in one the beach hotels on the road before Jacmel, like Hotel Cyvadier Plage, where you can also have a nap in the hammock or sooth the sore legs with a quick dip in the Caribbean Sea.