Port au Prince Haiti is the capital and largest city of this nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It is set on the Gulf of Gonaves, a large bay with sheltered harbor on the western end of the island. There is a large island in the bay also called Gonaves, which has great potential for tourism development along these beaches in Haiti. A development group has been formed to explore the potential, which hopefully will see fruition when the country is better able to develop its infrastructure.
The Spanish arrived in what would become Port au Prince Haiti in the late fifteenth century. The city was actually founded in 1742 during the most prosperous years of French rule. At the time, the French colony was called St. Domingue, and the city was founded to provide a new port for the export of the coffee and sugar that provided such wealth to France. The city was named for the French ship “Prince,” which was the first ship to moor in the harbor in 1706. In the mid-sixteenth century, the port was used by Caribbean pirates and buccaneers and Dutch merchants used it as a base to hunt the plentiful game used as a source of leather. In 1770, the city replaced what is today Cap-Haitien as capital of the French colony, and remained the capital of the independent republic in 1804. The city has always played an important economic role and an important role in the history of Haiti. The city was a major target during the Slave Rebellion (1791-1804); the slave leader and first emperor of the new republic (Jean-Jacques Dessalines) was assassinated here in 1806. From the city’s beginning, the wealthier residents of the city began to settle up in the hills to the east. This became the trendy suburb of Petion-Ville, which boasted a number of excellent restaurants and nightclubs prior to the earthquake. This is still a place where wealthier citizens, businesspeople, and international diplomats live, and the suburb is sure to regain its status.
Most visitors to the country arrive in Port au Prince Haiti by air. There are flights into the international airport from the United States as well as from the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Other visitors come into the country overland from Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic. In addition to the ruins of the formerly beautiful National Palace and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, you might want to visit the Musee du Pantheon National Haitien, which boasts a mural depicting the periods of Haitian history and displays the anchor of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria. There are only a very few Port au Prince hotels and bed and breakfasts suitable for tourists, including the Hotel Oloffson, which is a lovely colonial building and one of the best hotels in the city.
The city, already swollen with makeshift slums on the surrounding hillsides, suffered tremendous devastation in the January 2010 earthquake. Virtually all Port au Prince hotels and other buildings in the city were severely damaged or destroyed. Sadly, the historic center of Port au Prince Haiti was also badly damaged. The beautiful cathedral built between 1884 and 1914 was destroyed. The parliament and court buildings were badly damaged, as was the historic Presidential Palace. While rebuilding and reconstruction are moving slowly, they are moving.