Haiti is one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, but word is starting to get out on this island that has a uniquely French flavored creole culture. New hotels and investments are coming into Haiti as the island slowly recovers from a series of natural and economic disasters. And while the U.S. State Department still considers Haiti unsafe for tourists, savvy visitors who risk the journey will experience vibrant culture and nightlife, magnificent architectural attractions, and stunning natural beauty.
Haiti Basic Travel Information
Location: Western third of the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, west of the Dominican Republic
Size: 10,714 square miles. See Map
Language: French and Creole
Religions: Mostly Roman Catholic, some voodoo
Currency: Haitian gourde, U.S. dollars also widely accepted
Area Code: 509
Tipping: 10 percent
Weather: Temperatures range from 68 to 95 degrees
Haiti Security Situation
Violent crime, including kidnapping, carjacking, theft and murder, is prevalent, especially in Port-au-Prince, which is still struggling to overcome the devastating earthquake of 2010. The U.S. State Department recommends that if you must travel to Haiti, register on their Web site. Other safety tips:
- Travel in pairs or small groups.
- Keep car windows closed and doors locked at all times.
- Don’t wear jewelry or conspicuously carry valuables.
- Stay away from shantytowns, such as Cité Soleil, La Saline, Bel Air and Martissant, where gang activity is common.
- Do not photograph individuals without first seeking their permission.
Haiti Activities and Attractions
Haiti has two magnificent architectural attractions, Sans-Souci Palace, known as the Caribbean Versailles, and Citadelle la Ferriere, the largest fortress in the Caribbean. Both are near Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city. Port-au-Prince's chaotic Iron Market is packed with stalls selling everything from fruit to religious totems. Haiti’s top natural attractions include Étang Saumâtre, a large saltwater lake with flamingos and crocodiles, and the Bassins Bleu, three deep blue pools linked by spectacular waterfalls.
Labadee Beach near Cap-Haïtien has superb sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling opportunities. In the vicinity of Jacmel are white-sand beaches like Cyvadier Plage, Raymond Les Bains, Cayes-Jacmel and Ti-Mouillage.
Haiti Hotels and Resorts
Most of Haiti’s hotels are in or near Port-au-Prince. Affluent Petionville, which overlooks the capital city, is a center for restaurants, art galleries and hotels. The Kaliko Beach Club is on a black-sand beach about an hour’s drive from Port-au-Prince.
Haiti Restaurants and Cuisine
Haiti’s French heritage is reflected prominently in its food, which also shows Creole, African and Latin American influences.
Some local dishes worth sampling are accras, or fish batter balls; griot, or fried pork; and tassot, or turkey in a spicy marinade. Petionville, which contains many of Haiti’s hotels, features restaurants offering French, Caribbean, American and local cuisine.
Haiti History and Culture
Columbus discovered Hispaniola in 1492, but in 1697 Spain ceded what is now Haiti to France. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half-million slaves revolted, leading to independence in 1804. For much of the 20th century, Haiti has suffered from political instability. The vibrant Haitian culture is felt most powerfully in its religion, music, art and food. In 1944, a group of untrained artists opened the celebrated Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince. Today, Haitian arts, particularly paintings, are popular with collectors worldwide.
Haiti Events and Festivals
Carnival in February is Haiti’s biggest festival. During this time, Port-au-Prince is filled with music, parade floats, all-night parties, and people dancing and singing in the streets. After Carnival, Rara celebrations begin. Rara is a form of music that celebrates Haiti’s African ancestry and voodoo culture.