Completing the other half of the island Hispaniola, Haiti is worlds apart from its famous neighboring country, Puerto Rico. While Haiti is best known for its stereotypical laid-back island lifestyle, it’s also a country that struggles with issues like poverty, corruption, and overall lack of development.
As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, most people see Haiti as a daring destination for kindhearted humanitarians.
Akeyi – Welcome to Haiti!
While Haiti desperately needs humanitarian aid, it’s time to look at the country in a new light. By shedding the bad reputation that surrounds the country, travelers can unlock Haiti’s secret side. With amazing Caribbean beaches and luxury all-inclusive resorts lining the shores, Haiti is beginning to embrace tourism.
The survivor of a successful slave rebellion, Haiti has a diverse culture that mixes elements from African, Taíno, and European influences. While geographically they are a Latin American country, Haiti’s culture strays far from the path of its Dominican neighbors, which surprises most tourists. Without Spanish colonizers, Haiti’s culture and traditions are entirely unique.
Representing the county, Port-au-Prince is the chaotic and crowded capital city of Haiti. Most people would say that Port-au-Prince is like the country in a nutshell where the streets demonstrate two different words colliding.
On one hand, Port-au-Prince is stately and clean. A representation of the country’s historic triumphs with some of the most luxurious experiences that the country has to offer. However, in other parts of Port-au-Prince, the streets highlight the country’s issue with poverty and the lack of development.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Haiti’s recorded history began when Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in 1492. However, historians agree that similar to many other Latin-Caribbean islands, the native people came from the Arawak people of South America. These people became known as the Taíno, which were eventually wiped out by colonization.
While the island of Hispaniola was discovered by the Spanish, Haiti was largely ignored. Instead, the island acted as a gateway into the rest of the Americas, which proved to be more interesting due to the large amounts of gold and silver. By 1543, the island became an area of interest for French pirates who used the ports for trading.
After over 100 years of fighting, Spain gave the French the western part of the island. During the 1600s and 1700s, the French began to develop the island and establish sugar, coffee, and cotton crops. The development of plantations led to an increase in slavery and it’s estimated that Hispaniola fueled over one-third of the Atlantic slave trade.
By the late 1700s, the slaves began to seek their independence. In 1791, the Haitian Revolution began, which is the only success story of an uprising led by slaves. Haiti was eventually declared the Black Republic, which led to the first Haitian Empire. Yet, the country continued to struggle to unite.
Since then, a brief occupation by the United States and corruption in the local government have prevented Haiti from becoming a democratic nation. Other issues that have hurt the island are deforestation and environmental factors.
Haiti’s location in the Caribbean puts it at risk for hurricanes and multiple hurricanes have caused severe damage throughout the years. Hurricane Matthew was the last big hurricane that struck the island and it caused widespread devastation.
Throughout all the hardships, Haitian people have remained proud of their country. A local saying, “Pa gen pwoblem” means “No have problem”, but it has become the country’s way of life.
Home to 11.4 million people as of 2020, locals have been taught to appreciate everything that they have and to live in the moment. This positive outlook on life has helped the country thrive, despite its many burdens.
Leftover from the days of colonization, French is an official language in Haiti. However, most local people speak Haitian Creole, which is a French-based language. However, the two are not the same and there are different pronunciations and grammar rules that make each language distinct.
Yet, most people in Haiti also speak French because it’s taught in schools and used by the government and media. While rare, some people in Haiti speak foreign languages like English and Spanish. Most foreign languages will be concentrated in tourist areas like the all-inclusive resorts. US travelers should prepare to experience the difficulty of a language barrier when they visit Haiti.
While most online searches will tell you that Haiti is an extremely affordable travel destination, you need to take caution when trying to find budget deals on the island. Safety is the number one issue for all travelers in Haiti, and the island has yet to develop widespread tourism. While relatively few tourists, the prices of accommodation can be quite expensive, which will affect your overall budget.
For reasons of safety, many tourists should prepare to spend a little more in Haiti for their transportation or security detail. A spending budget can help you prepare for the cost of a trip to Haiti. Your spending budget needs to include the price of airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
While some tourists choose to cross the land border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the vast majority of travelers will fly into the international airport in Port-au-Prince. A flight from the US to Port-au-Prince costs a high sum during the tourist high season. Sometimes airlines have discounted ticket prices though.
As a tropical island, most tourism in Haiti happens during the winter months from December to February. The warm weather is a major draw for travelers, and it’s also during this time that there is less rain.
Most tourists choose to avoid Haiti in the off-season, which is when hurricanes are a prominent threat.
With minimal tourist infrastructure, finding a place to stay in Haiti can be challenging. There are only a few budget accommodation options in Haiti and some places are not safe to stay overnight. It’s better to look for a well-rated hotel or guest house, which can provide security to its guests.
In Port-au-Prince or beach resort areas, all-inclusive resorts can be quite expensive. The resorts are normally Western style with some big international companies like Marriot, owning hotels in the capital. These luxury hotels can cost a few hundred dollars a night.
Most of these luxury locations have all-inclusive packages, which would add the cost of food to your nightly rate. The most expensive hotels in Haiti with all-inclusive packages tend to cost more.
For travelers who aren’t paying for an all-inclusive package, adding the cost of food to your spending budget is important. Food is very affordable in Haiti and travelers on a budget will find the most affordable prices at street stalls and vendors. While Haitian cuisine isn’t famous, it’s derived from Creole culture, which is a popular style of cooking.
Haitian cuisine has been influenced by its diverse culture, and its love for spice means that each dish packs a delicious punch. One popular dish is called griot, which is spicy fried pork. Another fried delight is called accra, which is malanga fritters.
Malanga is a root vegetable that is more well-known as taro. The fritters are served with spicy salsa and they are a favorite dish amongst locals.
As one-half of Hispaniola, Haiti’s proximity to the sea is a vital resource for many of the people. Conch is a delicacy in the country and is served with a spicy stew and black steamed rice. Smoked herring is also popular, and it’s often served with mayi moulin, which is a cornmeal-based dish.
For breakfast or even as a main course, Haitian porridge is a popular option. The porridge is called labouyi ble, and it’s made from Bulgar wheat.
On average, travelers who eat at local establishments or in street stalls will spend minimal as dishes are only a few dollars.
While all-inclusive resorts set their own prices for meal packages, dining at a resort area restaurant will cost more. In comparison, travelers who are sticking to touristy areas should expect to spend a moderate amount.
Unlike food, alcohol is quite expensive in Haiti. For safety reasons, it’s better to drink in touristy areas to avoid becoming a target for crime. This also means that many establishments sell their alcohol for a hefty price.
How to Get Around
In a country like Haiti, knowing how to get around is essential for your safety. Domestic flights are available in Haiti, but other options include renting a car, hiring a private driver, and using local transportation.
One of the fastest and safest ways to get around the island is to hop from location to location on a domestic flight. The Mission Aviation Fellowship and Sunrise Airways are two companies that provide domestic service throughout Haiti. However, domestic flights are expensive and not the best option for budget travelers.
Another option that is expensive, but a reliable way to get around is by booking a rental car. Most rental car agencies will charge a far amount per day for a vehicle. If you choose to travel around Haiti using a rental car, you must have a valid driver’s license from your home country or an international driver’s license.
It’s important to always carry your passport when you are driving, in case you are stopped by the police. Safety can also be a concern when renting a car because private cars are often targeted for robberies. Whenever you drive, you should keep the windows up and the doors locked.
Do not stop for anyone who cannot provide an official document or proof of their identity. Drivers should never be on the road at night. Road conditions can be a challenge and once you get out of the city, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle.
For about the same cost as renting a car, you can also hire a private driver or tour company to transport you around Haiti. These companies are reliable, and they are often the safest option for tourists traveling around the country.
While Haiti doesn’t have a widespread public transportation system, there are local buses that may service certain areas of the island. Often called tap-taps, the local buses are the most affordable way to get around Haiti, but they aren’t the most comfortable.
Cramped and crowded, the buses also lack reliable departure or arrival schedules. However, if you aren’t familiar with the local language, you might want to avoid public transportation altogether.
Top Cities to Visit
Port-au-Prince is the most famous city in Haiti, but there are lots of other towns and seaside resorts that are tourist friendly. While some are more accessible, and safer, than others, each has its unique charm. Here are the top cities to visit in Haiti.
With a crime-ridden reputation, Port-au-Prince is the nation’s capital and most questionable destination. While some tourists are eager to experience everything that Haiti has to offer, Port-au-Prince is often a city that surprises most visitors.
The contrast between the rich areas of Port-au-Prince is a shock when you caught glimpses of the nation’s struggle with poverty. Some areas of the city are unsafe, including Cite Soleil, Carrefour, and Martissant. Highlights include the Musée de Panthéon National and the Barbancourt Rum Distillery.
A major port, Les Cayes is a magnet for Haiti’s tourists. This port city has been mostly unaffected by the unrest in the nation’s capital and the affluent area is most famous for being the site of Gelée Beach.
The beach is arguably the country’s most famous and it consistently is a favorite amongst tourists. Another highlight is the Kayanou Music Festival, which is held in August every year.
Most well-known for its French architecture, Cap-Haïtien used to be the country’s capital before it was moved to Port-au-Prince. Now, the city is a tourist attraction for its famous Palais Sans Soucis and Citadelle.
Small in size, Cap-Haïten can be explored on two feet, unless you are going to the Citadelle. Visits to the Citadelle will require an official guide and taxi.
Just outside of Cap-Haïtien is Labadee, which is a popular port for cruise ships. New renovations and family-friendly entertainment have helped Labadee become a popular tourist destination.
There are zip lines and a water park for an afternoon of fun activities. The broad range of restaurants also makes Labadee a delight for culinary enthusiasts.
La Côte des Arcadins
Boasting some of Haiti’s best resorts, La Côte des Arcadins oozes luxury. The hotels on these beaches take care of their guests and provide them with the best experiences the island has to offer. With clear blue water and white sand beaches, La Côte des Arcadins is exceptionally beautiful.
Safe and clean, visitors will love visiting this resort town where you can bask in the local culture and cuisine.
Points of Interest
Tucked away in Haitian paradise are multiple tourist attractions. Offering respite from busier areas, these locations are ideal for those looking to explore the country. Whether you’re out to visit nature or experience the nation’s history, here are Haiti’s top points of interest.
Nestled in the hills outside of Jacamel, Bassin Bleu is a hidden waterfall that embodies the definition of tropical paradise. With a large basin at the bottom, visitors can have fun splashing in the water or go exploring through the dense vegetation. The clear water is safe for swimming, but with a rocky shore, you might want to pack a pair of water shoes.
Kokoye Beach is one of the most remote locations in Haiti, but it’s a tourist favorite because of the clear water and clean beaches. Snorkeling is the best activity for guests in Kokoye Beach, but it isn’t the only one.
Guests can also take a stroll along the sand or a dip in the ocean as they have fun in the sun. With fewer tourists, Kokoye Beach is ideal for those who want to escape the crowds. Access to Kokoye Beach is only provided by boat or hiking.
Fueled by the Rivière de Cavaillon, Saut-Mathurine is the largest waterfall in the southwest region of Haiti. The waterfall has a beautiful pool at the base, which is safe for swimming. Lined with vibrant green plants, Saut-Mathurine is a must-see Haitian destination.
Built to defend against the French invasion, the Citadelle Laferrière was built after Haiti gained its independence. Situated on the top of Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain, the citadel provides an exceptional view of the Haitian landscape.
Well-maintained, the Citadelle is in great condition and open to visitors. Close to the citadel is Site des Ramiers, which was constructed by Black slaves after they gained their freedom. With the citadel, the Site de Ramiers is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
“L’Union fait la force” (“Union makes strength”)
While negative stereotypes have marred Haiti’s reputation, the country is much more than what meets the eye. Hidden beneath the images of poverty and chaos, Haiti is a beautiful nation that will provide a one-of-a-kind experience for travelers who dare visit its shores.
With tourism growing in the country, now is the time for Haiti to shine as its secluded beaches and luxury resorts are put into the spotlight. So, be brave and dare to venture where others won’t because Haiti will be an unforgettable reward.