Tourism off the beaten path: Haiti

posted in: North America, Travels | 26

(Latest update: 17/1/2023)

  • 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 off the beaten path during my stay 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 that are in the Caribbeans or, even better, 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, especially international tourism, in Haiti is uncommon but alive! Here are a few ideas.

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

The coastline of the Republic of Haiti is 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.

Pure clear sea water on the Carebbean costline of Haiti
The Caribbean sea in Haiti

I’ve been to 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 access to the sea.
As in many other hotels, 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.
A seaside resort 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.

Jacmel is one of the most touristic town in Haiti, characterized by its colourful gingerbread huoses.
Gingerbread houses in Jacmel

There are bars and restaurants and a pretty promenade facing the sea. I’d rather advise against public beaches because they tend to be fairly dirty. There are plenty of resorts and hotels with good access to the coast, to choose from.

The 2010 earthquake partially destroyed Jacmel. Sadly it has not been completely reconstructed (more earthquakes in recent years didn’t help the situation!), 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.

View over Jacmel, its bay and coastline
View over Jacmel and its bay

3. The Bassin Bleu

Besides the Caribbean sea, another natural beauty is Bassin Bleu. It consists of a series of freshwater ponds connected by waterfalls, in a flourishing forest.

Bassin Bleu, with its fresh water pools, is one of the most known places for local tourism in Haiti
One of the many waterfalls and pools of the Bassin Bleu

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 Bleu is visited mostly by 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…

The lady happily swimming in the fresh water at the Bassin Bleu
The lady enjoying the fresh water at the Bassin Bleu

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

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

Typical street scenes in Port-au-Prince: people boarding a tap-tap
“Tap tap”: the local public transport, something in between a taxi and a bus

I’ve added it to this list because I think it’s a unique experience. There actually are a couple of tourist 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 exist in reality!), but you can also pay in American dollars. Genius.
There are entire neighbourhoods, such as Jalousie, of colourful little “houses” perched on the hills. There’s the expats and rich Haitians neighbourhood, with villas and western shops. There are barracks and street markets, lots of markets everywhere.

women at the daily market in the capital city of Haiti
Street market in Port-au-Prince

5. The fortress of Cap-Haitien

To the north of the country, sits Cap-Haitien, also called Le Cap, the biggest city in the region. I’ve never been there, but I want to mention it because close by there’s the Citadelle Leferrière, which is a UNESCO site since 1982.
It is located about thirty km from Cap-Haitien, and it’s the largest fortress in the American continent. It was built in the early 19th century at an altitude of 900 meters and it has been of fundamental importance in maintaining the newly proclaimed independence from France. It was equipped with more than 30 cannons and containers to supply 500 men for at least a full year.

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 to the Musee du Pantheon National Haitien, Haiti history museum, there’s an entire market selling local handicrafts.

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 the 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)


Mass tourism is difficult in Haiti partially because of its reputation and the western TV/news bad propaganda.
It is true, though, that white skin is instantly connected with richness and, often, naivety. Tourists become 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 a group and/or hire a driver, Avoid showing off cameras, cellphones, jewellery and wallets, like you would do in any dodgy neighbourhood in the world.
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 Dreamtime.

26 Responses

  1. 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

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

  2. 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

      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!

  3. 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

      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!!

  4. Discover More

    Thanks for another informative blog. The place else could I get that kind of information written in such a perfect means? I’ve a project that I’m simply now working on, and I’ve been on the glance out for such info.

    • The Lady

      Thank you for reading! 😀 But I’m afraid I don’t understand our question… :S What is your project about? Tell me more!!

  5. Pierre P

    I’m so happy to See all those comments for haiti specially my hometown.. Jacmel in the South East of Port-au-Prince ,we, as Jacmelian we got a lot to offer you . Please be happy to visit .. I know in the news it always the bad news about Haiti .. but ,if one day you go to Haiti you will fall in love from the first day…Our hospitality it’s incomparable.

    • The Lady

      Hello Pierre, thank you for your hospitality! 😀 Jacmel is really pretty indeed! I hope your country will be able to become a tourist destination as good as any other Caribbean island. It deserve it!

  6. Kelcy

    Thanks for posting this. I visited Haiti two years ago and found so many things you said to be true. I’d like to visit Jacmel if I return.

    • The Lady

      Thanks for reading 🙂 Jacmel it’s cute. And if they manage to mantain it properly, it can become attractive touristic place! I’d love to see the north, if I return! 😀

  7. Pierre Norame

    I’m so proud as a Haitian to see how other nations are talking good about my country. In fact, I’m the CEO of a nonprofit organization I’m putting together the biggest project ever in Haiti’s History and will be launched soon to help restore Haiti and it’s people. Please we will need your support by visiting our website

    • The Lady

      I’m happy you enjoyed my brief “review” about Haitian tourism! Good luck with your biggest-ever project! 😀

  8. Patricia Ferguson

    Thank you for your brief review of Haiti_ however you missed the northern part of the country!! The mountains and valley of Haiti are very beautiful and have many great historical sites and cities to explore also as well as very hospitable native Haitians . I have traveled more in the north than in the south on various medical mission trips in last decade.

    • The Lady

      You’re totally right! I heard great things of the northern part, I just didn’t have the chance to properly explore it! 🙂

  9. Stephen Wade

    I fly to Cap Haiten via the Bahamas on the 19th June and I am so excited.

    • The Lady

      An exciting time indeed!!! Wish you a fun and good time over there. It’s a very peculiar place. Enjoy your stay1!! 😀

  10. tracfone

    Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

    • The Lady

      Thanks!! I use V-hosting, it’s an Italian provider. You can find them here 🙂

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