Tourism off the beaten path: Haiti

posted in: North America, Travels | 12

  • Where are you going this summer?
  • To Haiti
  • Wow, so cool!!!
  • … Well… yeah…
  • Where is it, Polynesia?
  • Ah no, no. That’s Tahiti. I go to Haiti. The poorest country in the American continent.
  • What… wait… The earthquake one?
  • Exactly!
  • … Ah…

Tourism off the beaten path has been very fashionable in the last few years. Alternative locations, untouched nature, no crowd nor queues, discovery of the real local life are becoming more and more attractive activities.
I haven’t done any of this kind of tourism during my time in Haiti. My time on the island has been a bit of an edgy touristic experience in between working time. But I still consider it a touristic adventure fairly extreme!

Pinterest image: Tourism in Haiti

Is tourism possible in Haiti?

I went to Haiti for a volunteering trip. I’ve written my experience and my thought about the island in a post that I called “Haiti is no country for old men“, because this is the country with the shortest life expectancy in the entire American continent.
During those days I’ve found a Caribbean island rich in both potential and contradictions, that left me with a bit of a bitter-sweet feeling. This is why I want now suggest it as a touristic destination for those, for instance, that are already on the same island, on the other side of the border, in the much more known Dominican Republic.

With most EU nationalities, it’s possible to get the visa directly at the airport/border. But you can also ask for it at the Haitian embassy before leaving, saving yourselves some last minute stress.

4 places to visit in Haiti

The common question about tourism in Haiti is: Do I find anything interesting, besides poverty, earthquake ruins and cholera?
And the answer is: of course!! Tourism in Haiti is uncommon, especially the international one, but active! Here are few ideas.

1. It’s a Caribbean island: let’s go to the beach!

The coast line of the Republic of Haiti are often not as taken care of as those of the nearby islands. You need to get to specific areas. For instance, most of the hotels and resorts have access to private beaches which are kept clean and safe.

I’ve been at the Ocean View resort: it’s small, with a swimming pool, an indoor restaurant, shaded areas, a couple of tennis courts and, obviously, the beach and asses to the sea.
As in many others, you can enter the resort for a daily fee and enjoy all the comforts.

The easier attraction for mass tourism in Haiti is the Caribbean sea, when the beach is kept clean like in this resort on the west coast.
Caribbean see in Haiti, 50 km north of the capital city Port-Au-Prince

2. Jacmel

On the south coast, there’s a beautiful colonial town, a UNESCO world heritage site. Jacmel is known for its typical “gingerbread” architecture. Some of these colourful houses were built in the XIX century, even though a fire destroyed many of them at the end of that century.
Jacmel has been nicknamed ” City of Light ” because it was the first Caribbean town reached by electricity in 1925.

There are bars and restaurants and a pretty promenade facing the sea. I’d rather advise against the public beaches, because they tend to be fairly dirty. There are plenty of resorts and hotel with good access to the coast, to choose from.
The 2010 earthquake partially destroyed Jacmel. Sadly it has not been completely reconstructed, some buildings are still unsafe and left in ruins. Nonetheless, I consider this town one of the prettiest in all Haiti and the most likely to be able to welcome a tourist wave.

Jacmel is one of the most touristic town in Haiti, characterized by its colourful gingerbread huoses.
Gingerbread houses in one of the central street of Jacmel – Jacmel bay seen from above.

3. The Basin Blue

Besides the Caribbean sea, another natural beauty is the Basin Blue. It consists in a series of fresh water ponds connected by waterfalls, in a flourishing forest.
There’s an entrance fee to pay and you’re more or less forced into hiring a guide that leads you into the woods. It’s actually not mandatory and they only ask for a tip at the end of the tour, but they are so insistent that it’s really hard to avoid them. The path to follow it’s fairly simple, even though there are just a couple of passages where the help of these guides actually might become handy.

Bassin Blue is noways visited by mostly Haitian tourists, maybe because it’s not very easy to reach. It’s fairly close to Jacmel but the roads that lead to it are only partially paved, in what seems to be a random pattern. Here is paved, then it’s not, then yes again, ah no, now not anymore…

Basin blue, with its fresh water pools, is one of the most known places for local tourism in Haiti
Waterfalls and pools of fresh water at the Basin Blue.

4. Port-au-Prince: traffic, supermarkets and colourful houses

The capital of the country, Port-au-Prince, is a town of almost 1 million inhabitant, half of them living in barracks. The traffic is crazy, between unpaved streets, almost total absence of traffic-lights and an insane amount of various vehicles.

I’ve added it to this list because I think it’s a unique experience. There actually are a couple of touristic attractions, but I believe the most interesting part of visiting it, is to “live” the mad atmosphere.
Book a driver (I advise against driving yourself!) and have a tour around. Ask to be taken to a local supermarket, for instance. Goods are displayed with double prices: Haitian gourde and Haitian dollars (which don’t exists in reality!), but you can also pay in American dollars. Genius.
There are entire neighborhooda, such as Jalousie, of colourful little “houses” perched on the hills. There’s the expats and rich Haitians neighborhood, with villas and eastern shops. There are barracks and street markets, markets everywhere.

Two typical street scenes in Port-au-Prince: people boarding a tap-tap and women at the daily market.
“Tap tap”: the local public transport, something in between a taxi and a bus – Streetmarket in Port-au-Prince

Art and souvenirs

Outside the hotels you can often find street vendors waiting for someone to walk in or out of the gate. Downtown Port-au-Prince, close by the Musee du Pantheon National Haitien, Haiti history museum, there’s an entire market selling local handicraft.

All the vendors sell pretty much the same things. I was told there’s an organization that organizes the artists in groups and helps them to sell and promote their goods. I don’t know what are the terms of the deal, just I hoped there would not be too much speculation going on.
Still, I loved the coconuts and wooden handicraft. You can find kitchen tools, statues, jewellery, frames…

Likewise Dominican Republic, art naive is the main painting style. The paintings show almost always stylized and colourful persons. I find them adorable. They are not all beautiful, but there are so many of them, it’s impossible not to find something you like.

Painting in naive style by Tajson.
Naive art from the Republic of Haiti (credit: Tajson)

Safety

Mass tourism is difficult in Haiti partially because of its reputation and the alarmism that western TV spreads.
It is true, though, that white skin is instantly connected with richness and, often, naivety. Tourists becomes then easy prays. But like for many other countries in the world, you mostly need to be smart and careful.Hotels usually have guards at the gates. If you want to go around, stay in groups and/or a driver. And avoid showing off cameras, cellphones, jewellery and wallets.
Said that, enjoy!

Armed guard at the entrance of one of the hotels in Port-au-Prince
For the guests security, my hotel had a nice and sweet armed guard at the gate, that would never ever leave his weapon down (whatever that massive thing was…)

All the images in this page are owned by the author and therefore protected by copyright.
Some can be bought on
Shutterstock and Dreamstime.



12 Responses

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    Britt

    Oh wow, your pictures are stunning, especially those from The Basin Blue! I’ve honestly never considered Haiti as a tourist destination but after reading this, I think you’ve changed my mind on that!

    • The Lady
      The Lady

      Thank you! I love taking pictured of weird places! 😀 Haiti is still a difficult touristic destination, but definitely possible and totally worthy!

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    Jenny

    Wow! Here I am gushing over the beauty of Puerto Rico and there is this hidden gem basically two doors down. Haiti looks beautiful and untouched. I hope they can continue to rebuild and maybe thrive someday. What a life changing experience this was for you.

    • The Lady
      The Lady

      Yeah, not too far away from Puerto Rico, isn’t it?? well, at least compared to Europe! 😀 I do hope they will be able to get properly on their feet and thrive, they deserve better!

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    Craige Hardel

    Haiti had some varied events, like what Trump calling it a s**t hole, but it’s quite nice. Nice to see you bringing it out in your post

    • The Lady
      The Lady

      Yes, it’s not been the luckiest place, in the past! It’s been underestimate a lot too, which doesn’t help. I hope for its people to be able to stand up proud and strong again, like they did for their independence!!

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