Sep 192012

When I was planning the trip, from what I could find online there seemed to really be two decent options for hotels. The first was the Karibe Hotel, and the second was the Hotel Villa Creole, both of which were located less than a mile apart in Petionville.  I don’t remember why I ended up choosing the Villa Creole in the end, but I was obviously confused, because I’d told the driver that I was going to the Karibe.  So, we arrived at the Karibe, he dropped me off, and I went to check in.  It was definitely quite nice looking, and I was happy with my choice…until they couldn’t find my reservation.  Why’s that?  Because I was at the wrong hotel, of course.  They were smooth though, “maybe you want to stay here instead.”  Nope, sorry, gave the other hotel my credit card number already, and as nice as this place looks I’ll probably be stuck with it.  Can you arrange a taxi to the other hotel?  “Sure, it will be $20.”  To go less than a mile…I kid you not.  I didn’t exactly have many other options at this point since the sun was setting, so off I went.

Pulling up to the Villa Creole, the reception area was certainly much more…spartan.  Unlike the Karibe, the front desk spoke little to no English, so we made do in French.  I noticed my rate was about $30 higher than I’d agreed to…that’s because you’re in a junior suite now.  Um, no, I didn’t ask for that…but for $30/night I’ll at least have a look at both rooms.  Off to see both, the junior suite was more than double the size, and seemed to have much more functional air conditioning. Ok, sold.  I’m game for it!

So, first a review of the hotel  The room was quite nice, bed was very comfortable, and the shower had nice warm water.  Well, except for the fact the water completely went out for 1-2 hours at a time several times during my stay.  Maybe they were working on it, but it was never a big deal since it wasn’t out when I needed it.  The AC in the room was plenty cool, so overall I was very pleased with the room for the price paid.

I didn’t eat at the restaurant for lunch or dinner, but did enjoy a beer by the pool the first night, and a rum punch by the pool the second afternoon.  The beer was a very reasonable $2-3, but the rum punch was nearly $11.  A bit much if you ask me for Haïti, but it was definitely delicious.  Before the rum punch, I had a nice swim in the pool, which had incredibly warm water and felt great after trekking about the city in the heat and grime.  A rum punch by the pool:

…and a bit better shot of the pool.  Looks inviting, no?

Breakfast was also included in the room rate, and was relatively tasty.  A few cut up fruits including pineapple and watermelon, croissants and toast, and scrambled eggs and a couple other hot dishes like beans.  Most importantly, the coffee was fresh and tasty.  Service seemed a slight bit distant, and the staff seemed a bit more interested in chatting and gossiping with each other than really interacting with guests.  That said, I never had trouble getting anything I needed, just that it wasn’t necessarily friendly by the standard I was used to.  There were probably 5-6 staff working the breakfast, and I never saw more than 10 guests there at a time.  

Now, on to a few restaurant reviews.  For a country recovering from a massive earthquake that killed thousands, and with a history of grinding poverty, there are a sunning amount of fantastic restaurants in Haïti.  This is partly due to an elite class, but seemed even more due to the staggering number of foreign aid workers that seemed to be everywhere in Petionville.  Nowhere was that more staggering than the restaurant I chose for the first meal, Magdoos, which is a Lebanese restaurant of all things…yes, Lebanese in the middle of Haïti.  It came strongly recommended by a friend who’d worked in Haïti as “the place” to be on a Friday night, as well as being ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Port-au-Prince, so I decided to check it out.  Walking in, there was definitely a festive atmosphere to the place.  The place was absolutely packed with what seemed to be 100% expats, most in their 20s or early 30s.  It was definitely a young and western/European crowd.  As far as the food goes, there’s a famous quote about the fact you can’t be a “real country” without an airline and a beer.  So, decided to start with the local brew, a Prestige, which was actually quite decent.

I decided to follow that up with an order of Hummus with Foul, since several people on TripAdvisor had recommended it.  It was extremely tasty, and definitely as good as I’ve had anywhere in the Middle East.

Granted, the place was incredibly busy, but service was quite slow again.  I got the sense everywhere I went in Haiti that things just move at a slow pace.  It had nothing to do with being busy, or being understaffed, that’s just the pace things go.  Once I got more used to it, it wasn’t a problem at all.  Only problem was this first meal, when I’d told my taxi driver to come back and fetch me in 90 minutes.  75 minutes in, and I was just ordering my main.  Oh well, he could wait a little bit.  Ended up getting a beef kabob at the recommendation of the waiter, and it was delicious and good quantity.  The place was definitely not cheap, but the food was delicious, and for an expat hangout I guess that’s to be expected.  Overall, I’d definitely recommend checking the place out.

The next day, when out touring around in the town of Kenscoff, we stopped at Le Florville restaurant up “on top of the mountain” for lunch.  I wanted a rum punch, but unfortunately, despite being on the menu they “didn’t have that today.    How about a rum sour?  Ok sure, it seemed to be a popular local drink so I figured I’d give it a shot.  It was pretty tasty…and I’m not just saying that because I had to try a second one to be sure.  The meals all came with a salad and bread, which was a good starter because I was starving by this point in the day.  I wanted to try something a bit more traditional and local, and my guide recommended trying the Lambi (conch) Gratinée.  It was actually delicious, big meaty pieces of conch in a delicious cheesy goo with just the right amount of browning crust on the top.  Absolutely delicious…unfortunately I forgot to take a picture.

For my other dinner, I had a hard time choosing between three places.  For a “nice French meal” my friend recommended La Souvenance as probably the best food in Haïti, white tablecloths and all.  Sounded a little fancier than I was up for, preferring good food and people watching over fancy food.  Another option was Papaye which she said was a more modern French/Haïtian mix, but was a much smaller place.  In the end, I decided to trust TripAdvisor and my guide and go with Brasserie Quartier Latin, which my guide said was run by the wife of the Dutch Ambassador, and had a great mix of foods and a really nice garden to eat in.

It wasn’t too full when I arrived just before 8, and this time I’d made sure to tell my taxi not to come back for two hours.  Speaking of taxis, my guide had recommended I use Nicks taxis. Their phone number is 2948 7777 and they are the only taxis in Haïti that use meters.  On top of it, their cars have and use air conditioning.  In the end, they were much cheaper.  The night before, I’d paid $30 roundtrip with waiting time, and despite some confusion with Nicks I ended up paying $18 roundtrip.  See, I assumed the meter was in dollars, and that 400 meant $4.  It meant 400 Gourdes, which is much closer to $8.  Still, it was quite a good deal.  Now, back to the food!  I started off with a rum punch, which was delicious.  Delicious enough I had to have a second (and eventually a third) just to be sure!

From there, it was time to browse the menu.  There was an eclectic mix of starters, and although I was extremely skeptical I decided to trust the waitress and go with the French onion soup.  I mean seriously, this is Haïti.  French onion soup?  You’re kidding, right?  Well, in the end, I’ll eat my words.  It was absolutely delicious, and the best I’ve had anywhere in the world, France included.  I actually wanted to order a second bowl and almost did.  Actually, I’m not sure why I didn’t…it was THAT good!  From there, I moved on to the mains.  I’d read their pizzas and burgers were good, but decided I wanted something more of a “meal.”  Tough choices:

Although lots of things looked good, I couldn’t resist the temptation to “go local” and try the Cabrit – the Haïtian goat stew.  In the end, it turned out to be absolutely delicious!  Spicy, but lots of meat and super tender and tasty.  I wound up with nasty food poisoning approximately 28 hours later, which I’m pretty sure is more likely due to my airline meal the next day and not this, but I feel it’s only fair to mention it just in case.  That said, it was hot, delicious, and I’d go there and order it again!

As I was finishing up my stew, I noticed the table next to me was getting rather festive.  Seemed it was a birthday party, and they were all singing to one of the guests.  It was a table of 20 or so, and they were singing Happy Birthday with a Haïtian twist.  I meant to right down the unique lyrics, but forgot to and now can’t remember them.  Anyone with any input?  A small snapshot of the festivities, dancing, and cake:

Since I had a little time left, I had to go with desert, and couldn’t resist trying the ice cream with salty caramel sauce.  I have to admit, it was pretty amazing!  Everything about this meal was great, and it could have been in any major world capital.  Hats off to Haïti and to Quartier Latin!

So, that’s a quick thought on the hotels I saw, and the restaurants I tried in Haïti.  Any feedback welcome, especially because I definitely want to go back on a longer trip and am curious about the places I might have missed.

  2 Responses to “Exploring Haïti – Hotels and Restaurants”

  1. Sounds like a great trip !

    Since you asked for ideas next time in Haiti, maybe you want to visit the Hotel Oloffson (of Graham Greene fame), at least for drinks. It is my favourite “Spy – War – Dangerzone Hotel” worldwide:

    Owner Richard August Morse is a Voodoo expert and bit of a celebrity himself.

  2. I stumbled upon your blog while ranting to see the menu for Central and wow I am absolutely in love with your blog. I am Haitian and love your review of my country. I would suggest you go there now and visit since its been 5 years since the earthquake. We now have at least 4 new hotels and numerous new restaurants. Happy you enjoyed my country!

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