Even though the country has suffered through poverty, natural disasters, and environmental degradation, Haiti remains proud and carries on. Since the Port au Prince earthquake in 2010 devastated the country, an effort has taken place to not only rebuild the infrastructure for international tourists but reintroduce them to this once-popular Caribbean travel destination. There are still landmarks from the early 19th century—including UNESCO World Heritage Sites—along with many culturally and historically interesting things to see in this country, which takes up almost half of the island of Hispaniola shared with the Dominican Republic.
Haiti's rich history includes the most successful slave revolt in the New World, which led directly to the establishment of the independent nation of Haiti in 1804. Jean-Jacques Dessallines, the leader of the revolt, was named emperor of the new nation and ordered construction of a vast fort atop the Pic Laferrière, near the town of Milot in northern Haiti. The sturdy construction survives largely intact and, along with the nearby Sans Souci Palace, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can tour the defensive works and see hundreds of cannons and cannonballs, still seemingly ready for action against an attempt by the French to retake the island. Tours can be arranged out of Milot or with a local guide.
Located in Milot (near the city of Cap‑Haïtien), Sans Souci was the most elaborate of the many homes and palaces built by Haiti's first king, Henri Christophe. Seen as a symbol of black power, the opulent palace completed in 1813 was inspired by European designs and played host to elaborate balls attended by foreign dignitaries. However, it was also the place where King Henri I killed himself after suffering a stroke in 1820, and where his son and heir was murdered during a coup that same year. The palace was heavily damaged in an earthquake in 1842, but the ruins hint at the past glory of a palace favorably compared to Versailles in its heyday.
Founded in 1698, the southern port city of Jacmel, about 25 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, is a time capsule from the turn of the 20th century, with impressive mansions and urban architecture little altered in the past 100-plus years. Many of these buildings have been turned into galleries and workshops by the city's large population of artists and craftspeople. The Hotel Florita is also little-changed since its construction in 1888, yet is the top-rated hotel in all of Haiti and just a block from the beach.
The city's annual Carnival in January and February attracts an international crowd, and as one of the safest places in Haiti, Jacmel has been at the forefront of the country's tourism revival. The legendary Bassin Bleu—blue pools connected by waterfalls—is just about 7 miles outside town and a popular destination for a day trip.
Named for the second-highest (7,700 feet) mountain in Haiti, Pic Macaya National Park, established in 1983, is one of the country's two national parks and is located in the Massif de la Hotte mountain range. UNESCO declared the Massif de la Hotte a Biosphere Reserve in 2016. In a nation that has largely been deforested in the past century, this park of more than 8,000 hectares in the southwestern part of the country contains one of the few remaining cloud forests in Haiti and is a sanctuary for a wide variety of flowering tropical plants like orchids and beyond. It also houses the world's largest population of endangered species, notably endemic birds and amphibians.
Port au Prince is Haiti's capital and, for better or worse, most responsible for the public image of Haiti as a tourist destination. Thousands of city residents died in the 2010 earthquake, and rebuilding from that calamity has been quite an undertaking. Crime is a serious problem in Port au Prince, as well.
Yet the city also holds many charms for visitors, such as the upscale Petionville neighborhood, a hillside sanctuary and home to many of the city's better hotels and restaurants. The historic Iron Market (the Marché en Fer or Marché de Fer), a public market and Haiti cultural landmark, has had a rough go with a 2008 fire and then the huge 2010 earthquake. It was restored to a center of commerce, though suffered again as one of the two halls burned in a 2018 fire.
In Port au Prince, you'll want to see the National Museum of Haiti which educates the public on the country from the times of indigenous peoples up until the 1940s. Also of interest are the Musée du Panthéon National Haitien—a tribute to Haiti's national heroes—and the National Museum of Art, featuring pre-Columbian art from around Haiti.
Museum Ogier-Fombrun in Montrouis, a coastal area south of Saint-Marc, is a small but interesting spot to learn about Haitian history through photos and artifacts on an estate built in 1760. The museum is in the main building, which used to be a sugarcane processing area. In Croix-des-Bouquets, about 8 miles from Port-au-Prince, head to Village Artistique de Noailles, a community of artists making and selling distinctive metal artwork.
Labadee is undoubtedly the place in Haiti seen by more international travelers than any other, thanks to the establishment of a private resort here by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in 1986. Cruise passengers come onshore to this northern coastal area via a huge concrete pier and can lounge on the pretty beach, ride waterslides, or snorkel in the ocean. They also engage in activities like ziplining or shop from (carefully vetted) local merchants.
However, the visitors cannot leave the property to explore elsewhere in Haiti, and most ordinary Haitians are not allowed in.
Founded in Port au Prince in 1862, the double-distilled Barbancourt Rum is one of the country's oldest businesses. The rum is world-famous, having won many competitions, and is possibly Haiti's most prominent export as well. The estate where the sugar cane is grown and the rum is distilled is located about 10 miles outside the city in the town of Damiens; it's open to visitors for tours and tastings, and you can buy their aged and reserve rums at bargain prices here. Reserve a tour ahead of time to learn about the history and production of the popular drink.
Located on the country's north coast, Cap-Haïtien was not only the first capital of French Haiti but also the government seat for the Kingdom of Northern Haiti, led by King Henri I. The port city is home to many historic French colonial buildings, including the restored Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L'Assomption) and additional monuments. The beach resort of Labadee is only 6 miles away, and the National History Park containing the Citadelle Laferrière, the Site des Ramiers, and Sans Souci Palace is also nearby. It is about 17 miles from the Citadelle to Cap‑Haïtien.
In the mountains of Kenscoff around 6 miles from the capital, take a private tour of a farm, and learn about composting, sustainable farming, flower production, and more. Since Haiti has only 0.5 percent primary forest remaining, you'll learn about the significance of reforestation in this outing on the 30 acres of Wynne Farm Ecological Reserve.
Reserve your tour in advance, whether in English, French, or Spanish.