Cautionary Tales for the Concerned Traveler: The Story of the Key Deer and Speeding

The Florida Keys have plenty of attractions to bring travelers from all over the globe – an otherworldly highway of bridges over the sea, a massive, empty fortress on the edge of American waters, and the sea-side town of Key West at the center of it all (all of which you can learn more about in my last post here).

Highway 1 (c) ABR 2016
Highway 1 (c) ABR 2016

These man-made wonders aren’t the only thing that makes the keys special. The keys are home to many different animals, all of which play a role in the systems that make this destination unique. Believe it or not, even things like poisonous plants and mosquito are essential building blocks for the nature that so enchants us. As travelers, it is our responsibility to protect  and respect these living beings (except the mosquito biting you, we all have permission to kill those rude ladies with a well-aimed slap), even if it means we don’t get that selfie we’d love to have, or get to hike through a cave or island with nesting animals.

Why is this our responsibility? As I mentioned before, each species plays a role in creating the environments that we travel so far to visit. If we value these places, it wouldn’t be right to leave it any lesser when we return home. Local people and future generations also deserve to have these environments and their inhabitants protected. Also, as many of us are animal lovers, and it is important to consider the consequences of anything that we do. The story of the key deer of the Florida Keys is a good example of why we must be careful, and the consequences of not doing so.

Key deer (c) Marc Averette (CC via Wikipedia)
Key deer (c) Marc Averette (CC via Wikipedia)

The key deer has the long and illustrious scientific name Odocoileus virginianus clavium – try saying THAT three times fast. For the uninitiated, the fact that this species has three components to its scientific name, means that it is a subspecies, which is basically a group of animals that has been isolated long enough to start to look like a new species, but isn’t quite there yet. The key deer is a subspecies of the more common white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which most Americans have seen at one time or another. Unlike the white-tailed deer, however, the key deer is found in only one place in the entire world, the Florida Keys (specifically from Little Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key), and it is easily distinguished from white-tailed deer due to its tiny size.

Sadly, this special little creature has been on the brink of extinction since the 1950s, when hunting brought its population down to 50 animals. We tried to address this problem by using the Endangered Species Act to stop people from directly killing these tiny, island deer, and in 1957 the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge was established. The hope was, as it often is, that if we gave them some room, and kept the stressors of human activity away from them, that their numbers might start to grow. And they did! For a time.

key deer fawn (c) Ianaré Sévi (CC via Wikipedia)
key deer fawn (c) Ianaré Sévi (CC via Wikipedia)

The highway that makes the Florida Keys such a road trip destination isn’t innocent in this story. Since key deer have lived near ever increasing numbers of humans for decades, they have lost their fear of people and the roads that allow us to explore the keys with ease. However, even if they hadn’t lost that fear, Highway 1 cuts through their refuge, and this forces the deer to cross the road in order to find food and mates. Each crossing puts them in danger of cars that are move through the refuge, especially at night, when the deer are most active and people are the least able to make them out in time to slow down. So, altogether, this means that the popularity of Highway 1, as well as people’s mindset while they are travelling it, has created a continuing threat to the key deer (along with other issues that you can read more about here – https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Animals/Archives/1997/Whats-Killing-the-Key-Deer.aspx).

So now you’re asking, how can I be part of the solution and not the problem? Well, if you ever find yourself driving through the keys, SLOW DOWN. There are plenty of signs informing you when you are entering their refuge area, and special speed limits imposed on the highway here as well. With a population of only around 300, a single deer killed on the road is a risk for the species. If you’re passengers complain, you can tell them to Google the key deer so they can look at their cute little faces and that they really should have gone to the bathroom earlier.

Travel and happiness go hand in hand for many of us, but often we don’t think about what impact we have on our journey. We should always respect the places we visit, and the people and animals that call those places home.

The beautiful Florida Keys (c) ABR 2016
The beautiful Florida Keys (c) ABR 2016
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Beyond the Overseas Highway: Three Fabulous Places for Nature and History in the Florida Keys

Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas (c) ABR 2016
Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas (c) ABR 2016

For most, the Florida Keys is an alluring road trip destination due to the Overseas Highway, which takes drivers through the keys and over the ocean, as its name suggests. The sights and sounds of the Florida Keys may be a little bit disappointing to nature lovers when the ocean is out of sight, because human habitation here feels thick and unending. But as I always say, there is something for everyone in all destinations, and the Keys are no exception. So, fellow outdoorswomen and men, here are my top three activities for you in the Keys.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Inside of Fort Jefferson (c) ABR 2016
Inside of Fort Jefferson (c) ABR 2016

Seventy miles west of Key West lay the seven small islands of the Dry Tortugas, now home to the historic Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. Fort construction began in 1846 but even after 30 years of progress, it was never completed. This massive complex was meant to help the United States control the Caribbean Sea, its strategic position is pretty clear even to the casual onlooker. The fort itself offers at least an hour or more of thorough exploration, with three levels and the sandy trail that loops around its top and base. But aside from the fort, the Dry Tortugas are also a splendid place to snorkel, and in the right season, you can get some casual hiking in as well. Mid-October to mid-January is when the beaches of Bush Key are open – a unique ecosystem and an important nesting ground for several species of marine birds. The easiest way to get out here is with the Yankee Freedom, which can either take you out for the day, or deposit you on Garden Key for some camping.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park (c) ABR 2016
Biscayne National Park (c) ABR 2016

Arguably, Biscayne is more part of Miami than the Florida Keys, but the main part of this Floridian wonder is the tail end of the Keys, along the shore of the mainland. There is a visitor center on the mainland, but this is really just a gateway to the keys that are part of this protected area including Adams Key, Elliot Key, and Boca Chita Key. While they are close to Key, they aren’t accessible by land, so taking a day tour with one of the companies that works with the National Park Service is necessary if you want to snorkel, kayak or hike in the park.

Florida Key State Parks

Windly Key Fossil Reef Geological Area State Park (c) ABR 2016
Windly Key Fossil Reef Geological Area State Park (c) ABR 2016

So, we have nice nature stops at the base of the Keys, and far out to sea past Key West, but what about all those islands in the middle? Is there anything other than concrete bridges and strip malls? Well, of course! First of all, there are plenty of places to park at near the bridges where you can stop to fish or walk around. But more importantly, there are multiple state parks throughout the Keys that give you a glimpse into what these islands were like before humans started paving them. Florida Hikes has a great post about this that I referenced when driving through. You can give yourself a driving break AND support Florida’s protected areas, making checking out these parks a true travel perk.

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Sandstone, Sweet Sandstone: Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park

I was in Las Vegas recently and though it has its many charms (and vices), I think it can get a liiiiittle overwhelming.

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I mean, what isn’t just INCREDIBLY charming about a large shoe?

If you’re looking to get away from the glitz and gambling (and TERRIFYING street performers) of Sin City, have no fear, nature is here to cradle you in its sweet, sandy arms.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley (which I sadly did NOT get to visit), Nevada and Zion National Park in Utah are all features that are under 3 hours away.

Some quick tips before you step foot into ANY of these places. If you aren’t keen on reading further, at least read this:

  • Bring lots of water – often at visitors centers or at the head of a trail their will be a water fountain or water refill station, but if you’re out on the trail, you’re probably out of luck
  • Which brings me to my next point, GO before you go (I stole this phrase from a Zion sign) – hit the bathroom before you hit the trail and scope out any other pit stops along the way
  • If a sign says DON’T do something – like don’t stray from the trail, don’t swim in the water, don’t feed the deer – then don’t do these things, it’s safer for you and the surrounding environment
  • Lastly, it’s never a bad idea to check the websites of these places for weather conditions or any other alerts like a trail or park closure – it would be a real bummer to drive all the way only to find out the trail you wanted to hike is closed

Now onto the good stuff!

Red Rock Canyon

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Much red. So rock. Wow.

Red Rock Canyon is a great place for hikers, bikers, climbers and it’s barely 30 minutes out from the Las Vegas Strip. If you’re one of those I’d-rather-admire-nature-from-the-car types (or your feet are hurting from walking up and down the Strip because you’re too cheap to pay for parking), they have a one-way scenic drive for some easy 40-minute cruisin’.

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Climbers gon’ climb.

There’s a fee per car, per bike or per pedestrian but these are really minimal – we paid $7 for our car – but check the website for fees if you’re really concerned.

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If you love rocks, this is the place to be. If you don’t love rocks, it’s still pretty cool.

Plenty of stops along the way of the drive for you to enjoy the activity you prefer. Ask for a map when you pay your fee or when you stop at the visitor center (or check it out online, which I would do before you arrive, because cell service in no bueno due to canyon). I did a little bit of exploring and photographing – I think I’d like to dedicate myself to an actual hike the next time I visit.

Zion National Park

zion_02
OOOOOOOOOH.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is just a bit over two-and-a-half hours away from Las Vegas, so dedicating a day to it is pretty easy to do, not just because the drive, but because of how much there is to see.

There are nine designated stops inside of the park and they have a pretty nifty shuttle system that runs through Springdale (the town outside of Zion) and the rest of the canyon. It’s a great way to avoid any parking problems and it’s also FREE-NINETY-NINE (meaning, you know, free). It seems to run in early Spring – Late Fall/Early Winter. We were there during Thanksgiving weekend and that seemed to be the last shuttle run. Private vehicles are also allowed to drive along the same scenic drive.

Although the shuttle is free, there is a fee to get into the park. And be forewarned, if you go during a holiday/holiday weekend, it will be crowded as HECK.

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AHHHHHHH.

I could ramble on for days about the trails, camping and climbing available, the cute little Zion lodge you can stay at or just how beautiful it is, but my words and these few photos cannot do it justice. You simply have to see for yourself how vast and HUGE these formations are.

I’d like to boogie on back here some day soon (when it’s warmer, because I’m a big baby) to do some serious hiking and exploring. I encourage you, if you’re visiting to slow down and take some time, to not just only enjoy Zion but to check out the picturesque small towns on the way in.

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10/10 would canyon again.

If you were waffling about visiting either of these places, I hope this makes you decidedly un-waffled and that you take the plunge!

Until next time, safe travels!

xx
Katie

Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip (Day Two)

Made with Google Maps
Made with Google Maps

On December 1st, Nightborn Travel posted about Day One of our Southern Arizona Ghost Town Roadtrip, and this post will finish our guide to this journey through some of Arizona’s (sort of) abandoned and historic towns, including our stay in Tombstone, and our visits to Charleston and Fairbank. This area has a somewhat shared history, as Tombstone was once home to the silver mine that provided ore to the mills of Charleston and Fairbanks, which processed the ore into metallic bars that could be more easily transported for sale and refinement.

Tombstone Bordello (c) K. Arrington 2016
Tombstone Bordello (c) K. Arrington 2016

After deciding that Gleeson wouldn’t appreciate us snooping around, we drove the short 30 min road to Tombstone, where we were spending the night in the Tombstone Bordello. We wanted to stay in a hotel with some history, and the Bordello certainly has that because it was originally the home of Big Nose Kate. For those of you not familiar with Tombstone’s cast of characters, Kate is primarily known for her relationship to the infamous Doc Holliday, as well as her work in the “world’s oldest profession.” Although she is well known for her illicit activities, I think it is well worth noting that Kate made her way in the world in a time when options for women were extremely limited, and she was an legitimate entrepreneur as much as she took advantage of businesses that some would consider less legitimate. We enjoyed our time in the Bordello. The people working there were friendly, the rooms were very cozy, and the included breakfast was delicious.

Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone (c) ABR 2016
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone (c) ABR 2016

Our experience of Tombstone itself was less pleasant, so I will preface this short review of the town by saying that many people do enjoy it, so doing some of your own research on the location and what it has to offer would be good. Tombstone has been very transformed by tourism in both good and bad ways. Tourism has allowed this historic town to persist in fairly good health into the modern era, which is wonderful, but it has commidified nearly everything there. There are some spots, like Boothill Graveyard, which are not too expensive, as they only request a donation for entry, but just about everything else has a price tag. The food options in the main tourist area are also subpar in terms of cost, service, and taste. The cool thing about stopping here is that if you walk down Allen Street, it is easy to imagine that you are in a western movie. The buildings are classic, and if you don’t mind spending some money, there are some interesting spots, like the Bird Cage Theater, which I hear is haunted.

Remnants of Charleston (c) K. Arrington 2016
Remnants of Charleston (c) K. Arrington 2016

Charleston was our first stop on Day Two, once we had packed up and left Tombstone and the lovely Bordello behind. It was actually quite hard to find, because it has been all but destroyed. This is due to the fact that Charleston’s abandonment after Tombstone’s mines began closing was exasperated by an earthquake in 1887, and the remnants of the ghost town were further decimated when the US army used the site to train for urban warfare during WWII. All that we managed to find were the foundations of some of the town’s buildings, and our guide was not specific enough about how to find the site. So, here are some updated directions: If you are traveling from Tombstone, take Charleston Road for 8.3-8.5 miles. Look for a fire danger sign on the right side of the road, and turn onto the dirt road on the same side that is just behind the sign (this will also be before the bridge that crosses over the San Pedro River). You will pass a trailhead there, but we suggest driving a little further past the bathroom and parking at the second trailhead. There are signs there for the Millville petroglyph discovery trail. Take this for a short ways, and then turn left down a small side trail after a warning sign about used munitions in the area. PLEASE HEED THE SIGN! If you want to visit Charleston, you should keep your eyes peeled for anything potentially dangerous left behind from military testing there.

Bridge over the San Pedro (c) K. Arrington 2016
Bridge over the San Pedro (c) K. Arrington 2016

After we snapped a few pictures of Charleston, we also took this opportunity to visit the San Pedro River near the bridge. I would definitely suggest doing the same, and if you are a hiker, you might consider setting aside enough time to hike up to Millville (which we were unable to do). This trail also connects to Fairbanks, but unless you want to hike all day, and/or have a shuttle up there, I wouldn’t suggest it just due to time constraints.

Post office in Fairbank (c) K. Arrington 2016
Post office in Fairbank (c) K. Arrington 2016

Finally, when we were done in finding Charleston, we drove to Fairbank, which is a ghost town that is now maintained for visitors by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is free to visit. Due to the fact that Fairbank’s historic nature has been maintained, and is set aside for people to come and experience, it was my favorite ghost town of the entire trip. It was much more comfortable to wander around in than the towns where people still lived, and it lacked the tourist flavor of Tombstone. While many of the buildings here have not been restored to the point that visitors can enter them, the schoolhouse has been renovated and also serves as a museum and visitor’s center. The people working here were extremely friendly and knew all about the history of the town, as well as the wildlife and trails of the area. Besides the town itself, there is a nice loop trail that you can take to the Fairbank graveyard (home to many unmarked graves belonging to people murdered in Charleston and tossed in the river, coincidentally), as well as what is left of the mill that sustained the town in the past. The hike up this trail was beautiful, and overall, Fairbank offered me the best window into this region’s past.

Fairbank's graveyard (c) ABR 2016
Fairbank’s graveyard (c) ABR 2016

We would appreciate any comments that you have on this post! What do you think about ghost towns? Have you visited any that are discussed here? What was your experience? Also, please feel free to ask us any questions about the trip, as we would be happy to help anyone looking to explore these locations. Finally, come back on the 20th to learn about Katie’s journey to Red Rock Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah.

Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip

Base made with Google Maps
Base made with Google Maps

Ghost towns are a part of Arizona’s unique character, and there are a few really special places that come to mind when people mention these destinations, specifically towns like Bisbee, Jerome, and Tombstone. However, none of these are true ghost towns, because they have survived into the modern era with some vitality due to tourism, and in the case of Bisbee and Jerome, also thanks to artists that have made their homes in these beautiful towns. So, we here at Nightborn Travel were excited when we saw Only In Your State’s Overnight Ghost Town Road Trip. It looked like a chance to see the real ghost towns of historic Arizona, and even though we are Arizona natives, the names of the destinations were unknown to us (besides the ubiquitous Tombstone), so it was also a chance to explore some new places. The trip was a great experience, but there are some key things that the above itinerary was missing that we think bare noting from two female travelers that made the drive.

Cochise Hotel (c) K. Arrington
Cochise Hotel with its owner, Phillip Gessert (c) K. Arrington

Our first stop, as per the itinerary linked above, was Cochise, which is a very small village just off of the I-10 south of Dragoon on the 191. Seems the census is a little confused on the size of this town, but I can say, after driving through, it feels like it has a population of no more than 50. There is a single road (Rath Ave, named after the town’s founder) that runs past the school, and post office from the 191, and which ends at Cochise Stronghold road. It is a picturesque place, tucked between the vistas of the Dragoon Mountains to the west, the Chiricahuas to the southeast, and Mt Graham to the north. Besides the Cochise Hotel, however, there is really not much to see here. Well, nothing that you can see without feeling like you are snooping, and I really must say, if you are going to go on this road trip, you need to be sensitive to that. Many of these “ghost towns” have become smaller over time, but a few still have people living in them. And as far as I am concerned, when that is the case, you need to be very careful about how you explore. Privacy is important to all of us, and the secluded character of many of these locations is something that residents cherish. Please don’t disrupt that. The Cochise Hotel, however, is open to visitors and is a very historic location. We will cover that in a separate post in the near future, because it is integral to the community and has a very interesting story.

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington
The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

Pearce was the next stop, just down the 191 from Cochise and at the head of the road so fittingly named Ghost Town Trail. Pearce reminded me of a very small artist colony, because the general store is close to a little pottery store and the Prickly Pear Emporium, which sells Arizona souvenirs rather than prickly pear products. Pearce also strikes me as being a little more interested in visitors as the general store is supposed to be a museum (although it was closed and lacked a sign when we visited), and the little historic jail which can be explored on the outside on any day, is open for visitors to see the inside on the first Saturday of every month. Anna Nickell is the local contact for events at the jail and in Pearce. She had her number posted at the site, but I’d prefer to not reveal it to the entire internet. If you would like to visit Pearce, however, please send me a message and I can give her number to you. This little town has some very cool cultural events that it would be worth visiting for.

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington
The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

Once you leave Pearce, you will take Ghost Town Trail south, and just outside of town, it will turn into a dirt road. It is a well-maintained dirt road that we found easy to navigate in a car, but you should be mentally prepared for the dust and this little bit of extra adventure. Courtland itself is down the dirt road quite a ways, tucked along the side of the road as it passes between two hills. It is really little more than a single ruined jailhouse; if there are more ruins here, we didn’t see them. The jailhouse itself is intriguing due to the fact that Courtland is a true ghost town, no one is left here, and thus, the structure that remains is truly an abandoned relic of the past. However, I would not suggest stopping by here with your kids if they are old enough to read, as this was clearly a hangout for the local middle/high schoolers and there is some vulgar graffiti here.

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington
Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

Finally, before we stopped for the night in Tombstone, was the town of Gleeson, which was just off the paved road that the Ghost Town Trail ends at. The itinerary said that people live among the ruins of this town, and to respect their privacy. After our experience there, I would say that this translates to a ghost town that is particularly hard to explore if you want to leave the local residents be. We did not find Gleeson to be a welcoming place, and without any location open to visitors, I wouldn’t suggest stopping here. Best to leave the local people in peace until/if they decide to set a spot up for people to come to without bothering anyone.

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington
The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

Come back on Dec 15th for Day Two of our adventure in Tombstone, Charleston, and my favorite ghost town, Fairbanks!

 

The Story Behind the Name: Nightborn Travel

First, let me just come right out and say, Nightborn is named after a short-story by Jack London called The Night-born. Some of you may be familiar with the author, because of his famous book, The Call of the Wild. Many people also know that while he inspired people to be adventurers, and wrote many stories about the Alaskan wilderness, Jack London didn’t spend all that much time there, and he died an early death at 40. He was far from perfect, and the books that made him famous underscored a part of his life that was fairly fleeting, although it enchanted him and shaped his view of the world. I would venture to say that Alaska and places like it have done that for many people, including myself.

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(c) ABR

Despite his short-comings, Jack London has remained one of my favorite thinkers of the early 20th-century for one main reason. He shaped his life by his will and wit after coming to the determination that physical work was only temporary, and reliant on his physical health. On the other hand, he knew that his mind was not so fragile, and if he could make a living off of it, he would be all the better for it. The dogged persistence of Buck in The Call of the Wild is the perfect call-back to the kind of person Jack London himself was; he pursued his goal of becoming a writer despite his background and in spite of naysayers, and he got there. London was one of the most popular authors of his day, and he explored themes far beyond those of the Alaskan wilderness. He wrote about the human condition, and some of his most fascinating (and less well known) books examine the travesties of imprisonment and extreme poverty.

I won’t feign away from the fact that while London can certainly be said to be a product of the time (in other words, a least a bit racist and sexist), he had moments of clarity. One of those moments, in my opinion, comes from one of my favorite stories- The Night-born. What follows is my brief interpretation of the story; while I considered rereading it in detail to make sure I knew all my facts, I decided against it. I want to highlight what I remember of the tale, because that is what I named the site after, and it’s the principles that stuck with me that I want to shape the stories that we tell here and the information that we share.

(c) ABR
(c) ABR

The Night-born is essentially the story of a woman who never felt that she fit into the mold of society. In a time when the natural world was a thing to be dominated and destroyed, she felt called to the open and wild spaces. Practicality summoned her elsewhere, however, and the woman ended up married to a man in Juneau, toiling her days away in the city to make ends meet. One day, however, the following quote inspired her to follow nature’s siren call:

‘The young pines springing up, in the corn field from year to year are to me a refreshing fact. We talk of civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has glances of starry recognition, to which our saloons are strangers. The steady illumination of his qenius, dim only because distant, is like the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared with the dazzling but ineffectual and short-lived blaze of candles. The Society Islanders had their day-born gods, but they were not supposed to be of equal antiquity with the….. night-born gods.’

I could write an entire blog post on this one quote, its historical context and its layers of meaning, but instead I will simply say, that it served as her inspiration to seek the life she was meant to live. She left the city and went into the wilderness, and there she found herself.

So, what do I love about this story, written by a man that many consider to be extremely flawed? Like London’s own life, Nightborn follows the tale of someone that followed their dreams, and in this rare case, that person is a woman. Though things are changing now, women were often barred from participating in many outdoor activities, and there are still those who are unhappy with the growing presence of ladies in the wilderness. But like the Night-born, we here seek to persist towards our dreams, and as women, we also want to step out and show our strength as explorers, and thinkers.

(c) ABR
(c) ABR

Top 10 Things to See in Haiti

  1. Le Citadelle
Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016
Le Citadelle, Haiti (c) ABR 2016

This is the landmark that I wanted to see most in Haiti, and it was everything I hoped that it would be. Le Citadelle is the massive fort that was built overlooking Cap-Haitien by the Haitian army after France was defeated. It was meant to protect the north from any attempt by the French to take back the colony, but such an attack never came. Now Le Citadelle is a UNESCO World Heritage open for visitors to learn about the history and heritage of the Haitian people. In order to tour the fortress, you first need to hike or ride a mule up a steep, cobblestone path. People with mules will follow you up the trail if you opt to hike, just in case you get tired, but it is just fine to keep going on foot. The fortress itself is well worth the struggle up the hill, for those of you uncertain about hiking, and the views of the verdant, surrounding mountains definitely add to the appeal.

  1. San Souci Palace
San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016
San Souci Palace (c) ABR 2016

San Souci Palace is just down the mountain from Le Citadelle, and it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, this beautiful ruin wasn’t as developed or crowded as the fortress. Here, we were guided through the building by a guide from the nearby town, and the only other people there were a couple locals enjoying the views and shade of the high walls. We learned that San Souci Palace was the home of Henri Christophe, also known as King Henri I, after the country won its independence from France. When it was built, San Souci was said to rival Versailles, and after seeing Le Citadelle, I could imagine that this was true. Much like the fortress, this site tells an important story about the history of this often misunderstood Caribbean country.

  1. Grotto Marie-Jeanne
Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016
Grotto Marie-Jeanne (c) ABR 2016

Ever since I first visited Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, I have been in love with caves, and so far, I have had the opportunity to visit some in almost every country that I have visited. Haiti was no exception, thanks to the itinerary that Tour Haiti put together, and the cavern that we visited was Grotto Marie-Jeanne west of Port Salut. This cave was not well developed compared to some others that I have visited, but that was honestly something that I found very attractive about it. One half of the cave was easily accessible to the whole tour group via some stone steps. The other part of the cave required that we crawl through some narrow spaces, and carefully climb down some steep and slippery inclines. I would only suggest this for people that are good hikers and sure on their feet, but it was really cool. It was a true caving experience, even though it was not technical, so that was quite unique.

  1. Bassin Bleu
Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016
Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Bassin Bleu is one of the most popular, natural attractions in Haiti, and it is essentially a waterfall and a deep, stone swimming hole. Getting here is difficult, as the road to the trailhead passes through the river, and is quite steep. There is also a bit of a hike from the parking area to Bassin Bleu, which isn’t all that difficult for hikers, but might be hard for people not used it. The walk is quite beautiful, however. There are several pools below Bassin Bleu, as well as the river, which you cross on the walk there. Bleu itself, as its name suggests, has blue water, and it is deep enough to jump from the rocks into the water (but follow guide instructions for safety). There is also a lovely waterfall here that has a little nook behind it, where you can relax and enjoy this little, tropical oasis. It is a bit busy here, however, so it is good to go as early as you can.

  1. Beaches (Cap-Haitien, Jacmel-area, and Port Salut)
Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016
Coast near Cap-Haitien (c) ABR 2016

The Caribbean is known for its beaches, and Haiti is no exception, so it only makes sense to experience some of the country’s coasts. My favorite beach was north of Cap-Haitian, because it was very unique. The sand was dark here, and there were cacti growing on the coast; it was unlike any other beach that I have seen in the region. Alternatively, the beaches of Port Salut were nice, white sand that was fun to stroll along. Sadly, this area was hit quite hard by the recent hurricane, so I am not sure what the current state of this place was. However, there are many beautiful beaches in Haiti for the ocean-lover.

  1. The Observatoire
The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016
The view of Port-au-Prince from the Observatoire (c) ABR 2016

In the mountains above Port-au-Prince is a little bar that sits on the one of the best views of the city that you can get as a tourist. Catching a sunset here should be a priority if you are spending any time in Port-au-Prince. This viewpoint reveals the city’s beautiful side, and getting to see the surrounding mountains and the coast all at once really paints the perfect picture of just what a dynamic area Port-au-Prince sits in. The drive up here is beautiful, if steep and sometimes crowded, and the restaurant itself is a wonderful place to relax in the open air and take it all in.

  1. Jacmel
Jacmel (c) ABR 2016
Jacmel (c) ABR 2016

This little coastal town is a well-known tourist destination in Haiti. Besides its historic marketplace near the port, the mosaic along the shore is a common sight in pictures of the town. However, a good guide will show you the city’s other works of art as well. There are mosaics all over the city, and all but the one on the beach were done by the town’s own artists, many of them children. Jacmel is also the perfect place to buy paper mache, which is a true art form in Haiti. When I initially heard about it, I was imagining that stuff we all made in elementary school, but this is some real sturdy and beautiful paper mache, a must-buy in Haiti.

  1. Explore Port-au-Prince
The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016
The Iron Market in Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

This is low down on my list, just above two things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t able to, because Port-au-Prince actually kind of scares me. I have just heard so many bad things about this city through the media, and through some of my contacts in Haiti as well. That being said, I’m not sure a trip to Haiti would be complete without seeing some of the capital, and if you go with a good guide, it is no problem. The iron market in Port-au-Prince is really amazing, and has been rebuilt since the earthquake; it is also a great place to pick up souvenirs. Hotel Olofson is a wonderful stop, because of its historic and beautiful architecture, and Petion-Ville has some nice restaurants and bars to check out as well.

  1. Ile-a-Vache

I haven’t actually been to this location (or the next), but if I ever had the chance to travel back to Haiti, this is one of the places that would be at the top of my list of places to see. Ile-a-Vache is a small island off of the southern coast of Haiti, which is known for its pristine beaches. Based on what I have heard, I actually think that this may be one of the most untouched coastal areas of the Caribbean, but that is changing rapidly. Resorts and cruise ships have set their sights on this little slice of paradise, so if you visit here in the future, please be sure to support local people- find out what hotels and restaurants are owned by Haitians (and are safe) and give them a try. Anything owned by a large company is almost guaranteed to send most of your money out of the country.

For more information on this stop, check out Nerdy Nomad’s Post on Ile-a-Vache

  1. Pic la Selle: The Highest Peak in Haiti

Hiking is probably my favorite thing, period. So, while I had an amazing time in Haiti, I really missed it. Some of my fellows on the tour that I took to explore the country would consider the walk up to Le Citadelle to be a hike, but it was paved and it wasn’t all that long of a walk. So, for people like me, I would suggest trying something a little harder. Here I have listed Pic la Selle, the highest mountain in Haiti, because I love bagging high points (but I am no mountaineer). That being said, this isn’t actually a hike that I have done, and I am sure that there are alternative options for hiking in Haiti as well. I am listing some resources below for further info:

Summit Post Entry on Pic la Selle

Trekking in Haiti