"Di m kisa our renmen, ma di ou ki moun ou ye." Tell me what you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.
-Haitian proverb

Île-à-Vache, (Spanish: Isla Vaca; English: Cow Island) is an island commune about 20 km (13 miles) by ferry south from Les Cayes, in the Southern Department of Haiti. It's sole communal section of the same name is coextensive with the Comnune of île-à-Vache, governed under the Borough of Les Cayes. As of the 2015 census, the population was 15,399. 

The modern media cites île-à-Vache's Abaka Bay Beach, located on the island's northwest side, as a tourist destination. It was designated as being the "57th best beach in the world". In 2013, île-à-Vache was voted number two (behind Port-Salut), by MondoBlog magazine, on its annual Top-ten list of the "most beautiful communes" in Haiti.

IAV 822 Michael Vedrine passenger

Abaka Bay Beach. ranked 57th in the 100 world's best beaches CNN list; Île-à-Vache, Sud, Haiti


Its modern history goes back to the discovery of Haiti in 1492, when it was first known to be Spanish territory, until it was turned to the French after the Ryswick treaty of 1687 that ended a war between France and Spain. Over the two centuries, it was a place for both Spanish settlers and later the French settlers – the buccaneers – to safely raise their cattle, thus its name Isla Vaca (Spanish) or Ile-à-Vâche in French.


Location in Haiti


With a population of about 16,000 people and an untouched ecosystem, Ile a Vâche — about 8 miles long and 2 miles wide — remains again one of the rare havens that (so far) does not accommodate cars or other four-wheel motorized vehicles. At a mere 30 minutes from the wharf of Les Cayes, the third largest city of Haiti, its character hasn’t changed over the years. A Caribbean island, Île-à-Vache is one of Haiti's satellite islands. It lies in the Baie de Cayes about 6.5 miles (10.5 km) off the coast of the country's southwest peninsula, roughly between the town of Les Cayes and Pointe l'Abacou. It was formerly known by the name of Abacca. Its inhabitants bear the name of Ile à Vachois. Administratively, it became a commune in 1976 as part of the Les Cayes Arrondissement in the Sud department.

IAV's relief is the plain and its climate is normal.



Island of Cows, Haiti

The known history of the island began with the Spanish conquest. Île-à-Vache was claimed by the Spanish Empire in 1492 as part of Hispaniola, and for the next two centuries it was known by the name Isla Vaca. Two hundred years later, in 1697, the island of Hispaniola was formally divided between Spain and France in the Treaty of Ryswick which ended the Nine Years War. France assumed control of the western half of Hispaniola and named it Saint-Domingue, and Isla Vaca took on its current name, Île-à-Vache.

August 6, 1909 the house erected the island of Île-à-Vache to a district.

• S.E.M. de Voltaire Castor was Count of the Île-à-Vaches, under the Empire in 1849.

• A lighthouse was installed in April 1922. The projections are visible at 9 miles.


US President Lincoln and Haitian president Geffrard with investor Bernard Koch who attempted in 1862 to relocate some 5,000 emancipated blacks from the US on the island in an ill-fated project to grow and export fine Haitian cotton to US markets.

Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, Ile-à-Vâche residents have enjoyed a quiet and uneventful life. That is, until Bernard Koch convinced the Lincoln administration to let him bring some 500 emancipated blacks from the US – part of the attempt to “resolve” the slave “issue” by migrating blacks to other regions, such as the newly created Liberia. Aside from the negative fallout of complex state negotiations, the 500 emancipated blacks working for Koch did not assimilate well with the local population used to freedom and owner of their lands.


View from Port-Morgan; Île-à-Vache, Haiti



Port-Morgan; Île-à-Vache, Sud, Haiti

According to the IHSI, the commune has a total area of 45.96 square kilometers (17.75 mi²), of which 44.66 square km (97%) is suburban and rural and 1.30 square km (3%) is urban. It is both the tenth smallest commune in Haiti by land area and tenth-smallest by population. Administered under the Southern Department, its land acreage, a very green island with plenty of swamp areas, containing 10,000-15,000 occupants, is said to be the most scenic place in the entire Caribbean region. Two resorts on the island attract the tourist trade: Abaka Bay and Port Morgan. The triangular region of ocean between Île-à-Vache, Pointe de l'Abacou, and Les Cayes is Baie des Cayes. The highest point on the island is the hilly area in the western section, about 50 (200 ft) above sea level.

Lying off the south-western end of Haiti, Ile a Vache is located 3 leagues (10 miles) to the SSE from Downtown Les Cayes. It takes its name, given to it by the Buccaneers, of the large quantity of cows they found there. It was often also a place of release for the Pirates. It presents to its centre occupied by mounds, a pond, and abounds in guano and nanettes. There is chromium oxide.

The island was leased by the Government of Haiti in 1878 to Mr. Girard-Bastille. Food supplies are very successful. It makes a great butter. To the north of the island, there are several islets surrounded by reefs, the Cayes-à-l'Eau, ile au Grand Gosier, l’Ile à la Bourre, and la Folle. The Ile-à-Vache Canal is the strait that separates this island from the coast.


IAV MtoF ratio
Year Population  % +/-
1998 12,289
2009 12,306 +14%
2015 15,399 +25%

Communal sections Edit

IAV Île-à-Vache 15,399
Ville de Île-à-Vache 2,066
IVA 1ère Section Île-à-Vache 13,333


At the level of Economic and Financial Infrastructures, a hotel, a reception center for foreigners and a credit union have been listed on Ile à Vache.

Fishing, agriculture, livestock and trade are the dominant activities of the municipality. With regard to commercial establishments, the municipality has only two food supply centers. There is no gas station, no private morgues, and no hairdressers. There is only one pharmacy.



Ile-a-Vache's ferry


Although coastal, the town has no formal port. About a hundred sailing boats frequent the coast of the municipality carrying passengers, goods and sometimes drinking water.


The Ministry of National Education of Youth and Sports is not represented in the Municipality of Ile à Vache. One kindergarten, five primary schools, two secondary schools and a technical and vocational center have been identified on Ile à Vache.


The Ministry of Public Health and Population is not represented in the commune of Ile à Vache. A health center without a bed was inventoried with a few nurses, auxiliaries and a certified matron.


The Ile à Vache confronts many difficulties with regard to water resources. The inhabitants dig wells to be able to find water and sometimes they source in other communes like Les Cayes for example. At the time of the inventory, the town was not electrified.


The National Police of Haiti is not represented in the commune of Ile à Vache, there is a court of peace and a registry office; there is no prison.



The town has four Catholic churches (including chapels), five Baptist, two Pentecostal and seven other churches.


The Commune has no representation of Political Parties, there are only three grassroots organizations and a peasants group.


There is no postal service in the municipality. There is also no radio station, newspaper / magazine, nor television station.


As for Leisure, the town has no library, nor museum. There is a theater room that can hold nearly 800 people. Football (soccer) is the only sport practiced in the municipality. In addition, the town celebrates its patron saint every last Sunday of May.

Getting to Île-à-VacheEdit

One alternative to flying is to rent a good SUV – average of $60/day - to make the four hour drive from PAP to Les Cayes. Public transportation is also an option: air-conditioned minibuses are available at affordable $10 – one way. At the Les Cayes bus station, cabs take visitors to the wharf for less than $2.

Usually the visitor would make prior arrangement to be picked up by a small speedboat at the wharf, to cross the 7 miles in some thirty minutes before arriving to one of the three resorts. Price may range from $30-40 for a one way ride or at a lesser price for groups, but once on the island, the magic begins.


For adventurous minds, Ile-à-Vâche may mean the ultimate discovery of a pristine island surrounded by emerald-like waters disrupted by gentle bubbling waves that go on to crash against bands of fine white sand that circle the island. On the velvet green grass that covers most of the island, indolent cows munching on the grass, hyper active goats and other farm animals seek shelter against the sun, under tall coconut or mango trees that move their branches as if shuddering under the caress of the breeze

Ile-a-Vâche, a tiny 20 square mile piece of paradise in the Southwest of Haiti has been captivating the imagination of curious or daring travelers for years. Considered one of the most romantic get-aways in the Caribbean, Ile a Vache Abaka Bay represents a Garden of Eden for sensualists, who marvel at its sugar-white beaches and verdant mountains, and valleys brimming with tropical vegetation. Livestock roam freely, grazing on vast grasslands.

Whatever the motivation, a tour in Ile a Vâche offers a variety of options for the tourist in search of a good leisure time or of a stimulating social and community experience. The 7-mile-long island offers some great car-free paths that take the visitor toward the top of various soft hills from where one can enjoy some fascinating scenic views: Large swaths of green space similar to a natural golf courses, colorful little ajoupa covered with hays, indolent cows chewing on the wet grass, or residents heading to the fields or the market.

While the island has retained its natural beauty and ancient way of life, it features more modern lodging accommodations thanks to (named after the infamous Captain Morgan) Port Morgan, Abaka Bay, and the community-oriented Vacations Village / Village Vacancies which has roots in Massachusetts (home to its first investors). Across the three sites, visitors’ choices are rather rich: sailing, diving, swimming, boat tours, speed boat practice, inland guided tour, kayaking, volleyball, community soccer. They can also venture in the nearby Island of Love said to be exclusively for romantic tête-à-têtes, or to the Fishermen’s’ Island for some time fishing or interacting with local fishermen. One old fisherman demonstrates his savvy staying 10 minutes under the water and sometimes triumphantly bringing a fish in his bare hand!

The plans by the Haitian government to make of Ile-à-Vâches an ultimate Caribbean resort have resulted in controversies due to fear of relocation by the locals. According to some accounts, their fears include an initial lack of communication with the locals and potential damage to the ecosystem, along with concerns about social and economic reengineering in the once quiet and bucolic island. There have been some first steps to address these issues, however regardless one’s position on such plans, Ile-à-Vâches is not about to change soon.


Île-à-Vache, Haiti


The natives of Ile a Vache are welcoming, willing to share the folklore of their region with curious visitors. According to the townspeople, at one time a madly-in-love couple, visiting the island, became enchanted with it, re-settling there. They built schools, started healthcare clinics, and provided a school-lunch program for the island's children. But over time, the couple fought bitterly and moved to opposite ends of the island, where they continued their humanitarian works separately. The townspeople since that time have referred to these parts of the island by their benefactors' names: Cox-town and Bernard-place.

Ile a Vache MAP


IAV Île-à-Vache 15,399
Ville de Île-à-Vache Urban 2,066
IVA 1ère Section Île-à-Vache Rural section 13,333 Aux Palmistes, Bois Boutou, Boutte, Cacoq, Grand-Barrière, Gros-Morne, La Hatte, Mme Bernard, Pradel, Richard, Roche, Trou l'Embaras


Île-à-Vache [1]

Ile a Vache [2]

Michael Vedrine

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