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Did You Know … ?

  • Haiti was the world’s first post-colonial black-led nation (1804).
  • Haiti’s 19th century Laferriere Citadel is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Haiti claims more exhibited artists per capita than any other country.
  • Roughly half the population practices voodoo.
  • Haiti’s Ile a Vache was the scene of a failed 1860s colonization plan for ex-slaves from the U.S.

Of voodoo and primitive art

Haiti has so many problems and deficiencies it barely qualifies as a tourist destination. Yet, it has cultural features found nowhere else, lush mountainous terrain and turquoise waters, and monuments recalling historic encounters between Europe and the Western Hemisphere — all of which make this a must-see for the intellectually curious, the adventurous and the empathetic traveler.

First, the downside:

Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere, and the grinding poverty is very evident. With so much need, crime is an issue and there are risks; it’s wise to look for safety discussions from the U.S. State Department or similar agencies.

Roads are poor and surface travel is slow. Gridlock rules in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Many of these problems stem from the Duvalier dictatorships, which ended in 1986.

Furthermore, a 2010 earthquake, inflicting $7.8 billion in damage, destroyed much of the capital and badly damaged area towns, while killing Haitians in heartbreaking numbers — an estimated 300,000. Hurricanes have since brought further damage.

The natural disasters largely sank tourism, excepting voluntourism, referring to those who’ve participated in recovery efforts. However, a few years on, the tourism ministry vigorously strives to recharge the travel business for the economic benefits tourism offers in a country where more than half are unemployed.

Now, for the upside:

Haiti is, effectively, the world epicenter for voodoo. Voodoo, part of the belief system for at least half of Haitians, is a defining feature of the culture. Voodoo ceremonies are staged for tourists, but visitors may find chances to attend authentic events, too.

The country also can be deemed the world capital for naive, or primitive, art. Some pieces command high prices on world markets, but visitors can buy locally from artists or galleries. Colorful art even appears on buses. Another category of artists is known for iron sculptures.

The centerpiece of Haiti’s monuments is the 19th century Laferriere Citadel, but there are other historic sites including the place where Columbus celebrated the Western Hemisphere’s first Christmas (1492).

Finally, visitors can choose diving, snorkeling, surfing and swimming or drive into the mountains, but many opportunities for active vacationing remain to be realized.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Come to Haiti as a volunteer. Much work still needs doing after the 2010 earthquake.
  • Try to attend an authentic voodoo ceremony.
  • Sample uniquely Haitian foods. Order at least one dish that involves ti-malice, a local hot sauce that is just what the name suggests.
  • Put Haiti’s national Carnival — which has been rotating among major cities — on your itinerary, or come a bit earlier for the Jacmel Carnival.
  • Also, in Jacmel, take a self-guided tour to discover the charms of Haiti’s culture capital and observe the town’s recovery process in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
  • Although the diving is not world class due to overfishing in Haitian waters, there are choices for enthusiasts, such as in the area of Gonave island west of Haiti and at a site called Zombie Hole near St. Marc, on Haiti’s west coast.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Swim and snorkel in the shallow waters around the Arcadins Islands on the Arcadins Coast north of Port-au-Prince.
  • Shop for Haitian goods at the rebuilt Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, but give anything made with goat skin a pass because it can harbor disease.
  • Make time for guided sightseeing at the 19th century Laferriere Citadel on Haiti’s north coast; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Sample local rum, Barbancourt, and the local beer, Prestige. Also, visit the Barbancourt Rum Distillery in Port-au-Prince as part of sightseeing in the capital city.
  • Organize beach time at Cormier Beach or Labadee Beach on the north coast.
  • In Port-au-Prince, tour the Sugar Cane Museum, once a colonial sugarcane production site, for insights into the role sugarcane played in the country’s history. Haiti was once the world’s top sugar producer.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Make a visit as a cruise passenger, calling at Labadee on the north coast.
  • Have a drink on the veranda of the historic Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince. Or stay at the hotel, once known as the Greenwich Village of the Tropics because of its artsy clientele. It was featured in Graham Greene’s book, “The Comedians.”
  • Visit art galleries wherever you go. Buy original Haitian art to take home.
  • Photograph the brightly colored artwork wherever you find it, even on city buses. Also, photograph colorful hillside housing when you see it.
  • Book a colonial city walking tour in Cap-Haitien on the north coast.
  • Travel eight miles out of Port-au-Prince to shop for iron sculptures and meet the artists in their workshops at Croix-des-Bouquets, birthplace of this artistic tradition.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Haiti Tourism Ministry at (in French only).