- 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?
- … 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!
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.
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.
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…
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 western shops. There are barracks and street markets, lots of markets everywhere.
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.
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 just need to be smart and careful. Hotels usually have guards at the gates. If you want to go around, stay in groups and/or hire a driver and avoid showing off cameras, cellphones, jewellery and wallets.
Said that, enjoy!