The charming town of Jacmel (pop. 217,000) on Haiti's south coast has interesting architecture and magnificent beaches. It is a handicraft production center, particularly for papier-mache masks and carved-wood animal figures. There's not a lot to do except enjoy water-related activities: The best swimming is at Bassin Bleu, a natural mountain pool fed by waterfalls (it lives up to its name—except after a rain, when the blue water becomes muddy yellow). You'll need a guide to get there, and expect an arduous journey (2-3 hours each way if you hike or go on horseback, less if you make part of the journey by four-wheel-drive vehicle). Area beaches include Congo Black Sand Beach (formed by lava cinders), Raymond les Bains (gentle water, easy for swimming) and Cyvadier Cove (a small, protected white-sand beach). The undeveloped beaches in the area, such as Gelee Beach and Pointe Sable at Port Salut, are excellent.
Jacmel is home to a coffee-sorting plant, the source of Haiti's best coffee. The town also has some of the nation's finest examples of late-19th-century French architecture. The house where Simon Bolivar lived is on the central plaza. He trained troops in Haiti to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule but later refused to acknowledge Haiti's independence because he favored slavery. Drop in on the active marketplace, and visit La Ruine, a "topless" (translation: roofless) discotheque.
Farther to the west, along the peninsula that juts out into the Caribbean, is Les Cayes, site of Counouboua Caves. The road from Les Cayes to Jeremie, a town of fading colonial architecture and beautiful landscapes, is difficult but offers great views. In Petit Goave, another charming colonial town, you can hire a boat to go to Cocoyer Beach, one of the best in the area. Also on the peninsula is Macaya Peak National Park. Jacmel is 25 mi/40 km southwest of Port-au-Prince.
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