Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a reputation caused by poverty and dictatorships that only worsened after the devastating earthquake of 2010. It remains a destination that is not for everyone. But this small nation that shares an island with the Dominican Republic has a great deal to offer visitors.
In fact, Haiti tourism was a bustling industry as recently as the 1980s. The untamed scenery and exotic locale were legendary, attracting movie stars and business moguls from all over the world. Notoriety was brought to the wider public because of the proliferation of horror movies that mis-portrayed the religion of vodou (incorrectly referred to as voodoo) beginning in the early 1950s. Then came notorious dictatorships, drug trafficking, widespread poverty and violence, all of which seriously damaged Haiti tourism. And despite the return of democracy to the country in the 21st century, it is still in the process of recovery.
Haitian culture and a warm and welcoming people make the country one of the most complex and fascinating locations in all of the Caribbean. While similar to the cuisine of most other Caribbean island, traditional Haitian cuisine is quite unique and delicious. There are also beautifully unspoiled natural places to discover. One of the benefits of tourists staying away during the periods of the Duvalier dictators is that the wild places in the country sustained very little impact from hordes of visitors.
You can discover the country’s rich history at a number of locations, including the National History Park with the Citadel Henry, Palace of San Souci, and the Site de Ramiers. The structures here comprise a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are the first major structures in the Western Hemisphere to be built (in the beginning of the 19th century) by slaves who had gained their freedom. Independence was gained in 1804, making Haiti the second Western Hemisphere country after the United States to throw off its colonial yoke.
Although damaged in the 2010 earthquake, the charming gingerbread houses and colonial architecture of historic Jacmel on the northern coast make the city one of the most beautiful locations in all of the Caribbean. This area has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, although the southern coast, which has become a bit of a backpackers’ paradise, probably has the most secluded beaches. Also on the northern coast is Labadee (sometimes spelled Labadie), a completely private beach resort leased to Royal Caribbean. Here, cruise passengers spend a day or two enjoying one of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean. If you’re not a cruise ship passenger, you will probably enter the country overland from the neighboring Dominican Republic or landing on a flight into the capital city of Port au Prince.
While traveling in Haiti has great rewards, it is important to remember some health and safety tips. In the larger cities, you should not walk alone after dark. Drink only bottled water. The Atlanta Centers for Disease Control has valuable medical advice for those planning to travel to any country, including Haiti.