June 4-9 2003
Considering there are many misconceptions and unanswered questions about travelling in Haiti, I decided to accept the invitation of my friend Philippe Bayard to visit Parc National La Visite in Massiff La Selle, Haiti. Hopefully my experiences during this trip will help clarify many of these questions, so that other collegues and friends can pursue similar visits in the future.
The purpose of my trip was also to evaluate the possibilty of an avian research trip to La Visite later on this year and to asess the overall condition of Parc National La Visite.
The Help on nationals such as Philippe is extremely important when trying to arrange these types of expeditions. Philippe facilitated obtaing a travel visa, discounts at the various hotels, and his inmense enthusiasm for conservation in Haiti are very much appreciated.
Traveling to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, where I am from, requires a visa for all Dominican citizens. To obtain this visa one must visit the Haitian Consulate with a 2 x 2 picture and US$30 per person. The visa can be issued within the same day, so I recommend arriving at the consulate early.
There are several options for travelling to Haiti from Dominican Republic. Metro Bus has a regular bus service between Port-Au-Prince and Santo Domingo. Visas are expedited much more quickly for those travelling by bus. Normal travel time would be around 6.5 hours.
The other option is to fly to PAP from Herrera (the local Santo Domingo Airport) via Caribair. A plane ticket in Caribair is normally US$210 and the flight is only 40 minutes. I chose the latter in order to save time.
I´m also certain there are flights from other international destinations.
Once in the PAP airport, getting a taxi by an official uniformed airport employee is relatively straightforward.
Once in PAP, I stayed in a higher-end hotel called Villa Creole ((509) 257-1570, email@example.com ), but there are other options. Villa Creole is a bit higher up the mountain from PAP in the upscale neighborhood of Petionville. My rate at Ville Creole was US$106 per day not including meals. I thought that the rate was a bit pricey for what was offered, but there aren´t a lot of options to choose from. Food at the hotel was excellent, especially breakfasts.
Other hotels that were recommended by my host included the following:
Montana (509) 229-4000.
Oloffson (509) 223-4000.
Visa Lodge (509) 250-1409 (close to the airport).
Car rentals are available in PAP, but driving can be a bit chaotic (same as in the Dominican Republic). The streets are bit confusing to I only recommend driving if you are going to be leaving PAP for other destinations. Hotels can arrange for taxis during your stay.
Traveling to La Viste:
Parc Nacional La Visite is close to the town of Seguin. It can be accessed two ways: one is to take the road from Kenscoff to Seguin and the other is two drive west of PAP and head over the mountain to the town of Jacmel and then east to the town of Marigot, at which point you will drive up the mountain to the town of Seguin. Although the first sounds much easier and shorter (1 hour by car or 4-5 hours hiking), there are a couple of places where the road has been washed out by torrential rain and thus it is not possible by car. The second option is pretty much not complicated once you are outside of PAP, but it takes about 5 hours of non-stop driving. A four-wheel drive vehicle is a must, especially for the last part of the road, on the way to Seguin.
The main roads in Haiti have signs that indicate where to go, but once you take a secondary road you need to be able to speak creole or french to ask for directions. In my case, I was travelling with Philippe and Erwing, his son-in-law, who knew the way without hesitation.
As soon as you pass the small town of Seguin, ask for directions to Auberge La Visite. The Auberge is off the main road but visible.
Auberge La Visite is owned by local conservationists Winnie Attie and his partner Daniel (Rue Cleverau, PAP, fax. (509) 257-1579, phone (509) 408-6131). The Auberge consists of three rooms (each with its own spacious bathroom and each with two beds), one diningroom, and several outdoor porches. Elecricity is powered by solar panels, which runs a radio and the kitchen lights. The rest of the house is lit by gas lamps, which give the place a great atmosphere for sipping Barbancourt (the local rum brand). The food is pretty good and there is hot water in all three bathrooms. Daily rate at Auberge La Visit is US$50 all-inclusive. Guides to the park can be provided by Auberge La Visite and I highly recomend them.
Parc National La Visite:
The Park has an approximately area of 3,000 hectares mainly of pine forest, savannas, and some montane broadleaf at an altitude above 1,700 meters.
Contrary to Sierra de Bahoruco National Park in the Dominican Republic, Parc National La Visite seems to be an important watershed. La Visite River is one of the first attractions one encounters when visiting the park. Besides this, there are a good numbers of streams and creeks on the way to Pic La Visite. A few of these streams had narrow strands of a broadleaf-bushy habitat along their banks which provided sanctuary for La Selle Thrushes and two pairs of Western Chat Tanagers that were sighted and photographed. In the sites that we visited during our two-day stay, the size of broadleaf habitat was not nearly as extensive as those found in Sierra de Bahoruco National Park.
Another point of interest is a system of caves created by the erosion of water on karstic rock. This was completely different from anything I had seen on the Dominican side.
A similar formation was refered to as "the twins", next to the road to Kenscoff as you are exiting the park. This is a sinkhole with two openings at a surface level, which holds beautiful tree ferns inside. The bottom of this sinkhole is only available through ropes, so I recommend bringing your own equipment if this is something you want to do.
Undoubtedly birds are the biggest attraction in the parc and we had a chance to see a few, including some very threatened species (see the list at the bottom).
On the two days that we spent in the park, it was obvious that a recent fire (February 2003) had burned about 50% of the areas in which we walked, including Pic La Visite. Most of the pines were not affected considerably as it is apparent that the brushy understory was not high enough for the flames to burn the pine completely. However, the fact that there are burnt portions of pine forest is an excuse for some people to cut and log pines within the park boundaries. Erwing, Philippe and myself found a makeshift-logging site not far from Pic La Visite and not far from a great La Selle Thrush site.
Other infractions include farming within park boundaries and as well as squatting. Some of the streams were seen carrying a lot of topsoil from farming plots inside the park due to a hard rain the night before.
The overall condition of the park is not bad and it is definitely recoverable, but people have to be moved out and farming and logging practices within the park must be erradicated. Although onemight think that an initial approach might be to start awareness-type program among all the communities surrounding the park, the situation requires a more immediate and short-term approach. I would recommend the use of park guards or military to force farmers, loggers and squatters out of the park. If this is not done soon, I´m afraid the park will be gone in less than 8 years.
The park has enourmous potential for visitors. That fact that it holds so much water could even be considered a blessing. The park is ideal for hikers and birdwatcher who don´t mind walking.
Between PAP and Seguin:
1. White Necked Crow, 2. Palm Chat, 3. Black Faced Grassquit, 4.Yellow Faced Grassquit, 5. Black-Whiskered Vireo, 6. Bananaquit, 7. Ground Dove, 8. Palm Swift, 9. Hispaniolan Woodpecker, 10. American Kestrel, 11. Village Weaver.
Parc National La Visite:
1. Antillean Siskins (many), 2. Palm Chat, 3. Black-Faced Grassquit, 4. Yellow-Faced Grassquit, 5. Black-Crowned Palm Tanager, 6. Golden Swallow (common), 7. Red Legged Thrush (many), 8. Greater Antillean Grackle (many), 9. Red-Tailed Hawk , 10. Hispaniolan Woodpecker, 11. Palm Crow, 12. White-Collared Swift, 13. Greater Antillean Elaenia, 14. Hispaniolan Trogon, 15. Pine Warbler (common), 16. Bobwhite (heard several times), 17. Caribbean Martin, 18. Rufous Throated Solitaire, 19. Narrow Billed Tody, 20. Kildeer, 21. Gray Kingbird, 22. Hispaniolan Crossbill (heard not seen), 23. Hispaniolan Emerald, 24. Scaly-Naped Pigeon, 25. Northern Mockinbird, 26. Western Chat Tanager (2 pairs in narrow strips of broadleaf habitat), 27. La Selle´s Thrush (the largest group we found would fly out from a small broadleaf patch to forage on the ground in pine forest with no understory. I had never seen them forage under pines before and this may be do to a lack of broadleaf habitat).
The overall experience of the trip was very positive.
Safety in Haiti has always been a topic of concern. I felt safe at all times outside of Port- Au- Prince, but I think one must be remain cautious while in the city. This does not mean that one should not visit downtown Port- Au- Prince, for this area is culturally very interesting.
This trip could not have been possible without the help of locals and I strongly encourage everyone to use this resource, unless you are of the adventurous type.
Considering the apparent lack of interest in preserving the park by the Haitian Government, this responsability should be undertaken by a private entity such as a local NGO. This NGO should be able to administer funds from the government and international partner organizations for the sustainable administration of Parc National La Visite and its surrounding communities.
Eventhough he is a busy local businessman, Philippe Bayard is currently trying to constitute a new NGO in Haiti for this purpose. He has already met briefly with some of the players and researchers on the Dominican side in order to summon support for his iniciative. Philippe is new at the game of conservation, but his enthusiasm and postion make him an ideal candidate to meet this goal. For further information please contact him at the following numbers:
Philippe Bayard- office (509) 299-3040,
or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eladio Fernandez, Sociedad Ornitologica Hispaniola, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. email@example.com . (809) 683-0603.