Why we’re going to Haiti later this week. A view to a different side of the country, including its re-emergence — and we hope, a path to sustainable tourism development. It’s also about our pursuit of Haitian culture, landscape and cuisine – and the unknown.
While on a press trip earlier this fall, we mentioned to a well-traveled British journalist with an intrepid penchant for hot spots, particularly those in the Middle East, that we were headed to Haiti later in the year.
“Really?!” His reply was shriek-like. “Be safe.”
When most people think Haiti, they don’t often think travel. The images that come to most peoples’ minds are those from of the 2010 earthquake and various other political and environmental disasters that news reports suggest seem to plague the country indefinitely — rather than of artists, musicians, waterfalls, clear Caribbean waters, hilltop fortresses, cave networks and the mysteries of Vodou.
So that’s where we come in.
We don’t mean to imply that Haiti doesn’t still have its share of serious economic and environmental issues to address. But like so many places we’ve visited, we suspect there’s a different, additional side to the story and dimension to the place than what we’re deprived of in prevailing media.
That’s why we’re going to Haiti this week to find out.
Tourism in Haiti. Is that even a thing?
Not currently. Let’s just say there aren't a lot of travelers coursing through Haiti at the moment. This is one of the things that stoked our curiosity about visiting now.
In fact, when our partner G Adventures were first engaged by Haiti under an Inter-American Development Bank project to assess tourism potential in the country, its analysts were uncertain if not skeptical as to what they might find. Perhaps surprisingly, they found remarkable landscape, a rich living history – one full of art, music, Vodou religious heritage, Creole culture – and a resilient people seeking to move on toward a better future.
The result? Not only did G Adventures suggest that Haiti does have tourism potential, especially of the community-based variety, but they developed a new tour to the country for 2015 to act on their own evaluation.
It’s this tour – in addition to our own independent exploration — that we will experience during our time in Haiti.
Sustainable Tourism in Haiti?
But wait. Will tourism development be a force for good in Haiti? Can’t it destroy a local culture and environment?
Tourism is the people’s business. And how tourism develops in a country, particularly in its early stages, truly does make a difference — good and bad — to the lives of its people.
Our own tourism and travel experience tells us that both outcomes are possible.
So where has Haiti landed in all of this? And more importantly, where does it hope to go?
It's still early days, but the Haitian Tourism Ministry has apparently indicated that it wishes to pursue tourism development of the more community-based or sustainable variety. It’s because of this that we’re excited to have a look at Haiti for ourselves in its formative stages of tourism development – to not only see and highlight what the country has to offer generally as a destination, but how a community-focused approach might benefit locals and travelers alike.
The circumstances recall a Haitian proverb: “Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” Which roughly translates as “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”
So what is there to do and see in Haiti?
Although the first G Adventures’ Haiti tour officially launches in February 2015, we’re part of a visiting group including a few independent journalists and G Adventures staff who will have the advance opportunity to experience it for ourselves. We will also extend our stay and explore parts of Haiti on our own.
Although you may find all the details for the G Adventures Haiti tour on the official itinerary, here's a snapshot of what we'll do and see:
- Citadelle Laferrière: Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, born of a slave revolt from 1791-1804 that defeated French forces and resulted in the founding of a free country. With that in mind, we’ll visit the UNESCO-designated Citadelle Laferrière, a hilltop fortress built in the early 19th century to help defend Haiti’s newfound independence from its colonizers.
- Cap-Haïtien: We’ll explore various markets and learn how to make Haitian rum from a brandy-like sugar cane extract called guildive, a mispronunciation of “kill devil” which is supposedly what happens when you drink the stuff.
- Port-au-Prince: The 2010 earthquake left Haiti’s capital city largely in ruins; remnants of this are still visible. We’ll visit the artist community of Atis Rezistan that has emerged from the rubble, and we’ll have a chance to learn more about Haiti’s Vodou culture by meeting with a Vodou priest. Of course, we will spend time in local markets and walking the streets.
- Jacmel and Bassin Bleu: We continue with the theme of local artistic expression in Jacmel by exploring the town’s street mosaics and visiting the studios of various local artists. Then we’ll enjoy some time at Bassin-Bleu, a network of waterfalls and freshwater pools.
- Port-Salut and Grotte Marie-Jeanne at Port-à-Piment: On our way out of Jacmel we’ll stop by the Art Creation Foundation for Children. The foundation provides leadership training and practical lessons in various crafts – in addition to providing meals — to at-risk youth. From a stopover in Port Salut, we’ll set off for Port-a-Piment to explore the underground cave network at Grotte Marie-Jeanne.
We will spend an additional week in Haiti in Les Cayes along Haiti’s southwestern coastline, in and around Port-au-Prince, and quite possibly climbing Haiti's highest peak, Pic la Selle.
Follow our Haiti adventure in real-time
Curious to know what Haiti is like? Who are the Haitian people? What do they eat? What does the island look like? What is the spirit of the place?
We hope to answer that and more.
Please follow along real-time with our adventure via social media. Follow the hashtags #DnA2Haiti and #GadvHaiti on Twitter and Instagram. We will also share updates on our Facebook and Google Plus pages. We're excited to have the opportunity to share what we see and experience in Haiti with you.
Photo credit: Oana Dragan (G Adventures) and Alex Proimos