According to the treasure map, we had to stay on course between the helipads, then turn right and take the path up the hill. At the bottom of the hill we would find our treasure–a village! Seven of us, 3 adults and 4 kids, abandoned the picturesque stretch of beach in front of the Abaka Bay all-inclusive resort to relive our Peace Corps days and wander to a village on the island of Île à Vache, a 25-minute boat ride off of the southwest Haitian coast, under the guise of a treasure hunt for the kids. But really, we just wanted to explore a little and found the perfect foil with which to do so.
Abaka Bay on Île à Vache (English: “Cow Island”) is a serene, idyllic half-mile or so of beautiful, sandy beach a short boat ride from Les Cayes on Haiti’s southwest coast. CNN recently picked Abaka Bay as the 57th best beach in the world, and it’s easy to see why, with its near-perfect white sand, well-groomed beach, and warm, crystal-clear Caribbean water. Since the beach is in a bay, there are no waves on the beach and the water is well protected from the surrounding sea, meaning that you can have an easy kayak ride even when a storm is blowing through.
The resort is all-inclusive: 3 meals per day are included, as are various activities like horseback riding and ocean kayaking, and a separate excursion to “Lover’s Island” can be purchased as a day trip away from the bay ($50/person). Breakfast included fruit, pancakes, omelets, and coffee. Lunch and dinner always included at least 2 proteins (a fish and beef/chicken), vegetables, a rice and/or couscous dish, and dessert, and the food was well above what we expected! My only complaint about the food is that there were no snacks available nor was coffee available all day (breakfast only). The rooms are clean, air-conditioned, and right on the beach. Honestly, the water is only about 30 meters from the rooms!
Getting there: From Port-au-Prince, the drive to Les Cayes is, for the uninitiated like myself, a 5-hour, anxious slog first through PAP and its environs, then on a main two-lane highway through rural Haiti, through beautiful mountains and low agricultural valleys. Expect hidden potholes, passing motorcycles and tap taps and work trucks at high-speed on the left and right, unmarked speed bumps, and tiny market towns along the way. Once one is used to driving in Haiti, the mountain views are breathtaking. As the Creole proverb goes, dye mon, gen mon (beyond the mountains, more mountains).
The jumping off point for the island is Les Cayes, the capital of the Les Cayes commune and Sud department. Les Cayes is a nice, colonial-ish city in which we wished we had more time to walk around, if for no other reason but because we can’t really walk around in PAP and it would be nice to just be able to walk around somewhere in Haiti. Our inner Peace Corps volunteers wanted to mingle with the locals at a market.
Pro tip: Visit the village! There is a cool little village about a 20-minute walk behind the resort. Ok, there isn’t much to do in the village besides walk through it, and some enterprising English-speakers will probably follow you around and try to sell you some sort of boat ride but hey, I like villages. And a rural village soccer field to boot! It takes me back to my Peace Corps days and reminds me of simpler times, but now I get to experience it with my kids. How cool is that? We walked up and down a hill and heard, and then enveloped by, a raucous church singing hymns on the outskirts of town. We walked through the village, bought some cheap packs of cookies, and then were escorted out by a gaggle of kids, all the way back to Abaka Bay, to finish out our week of lounging on the beach.