Travel to Haiti: First Impressions

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021 by Audrey Scott

Haiti. It’s a country that most people today still associate with earthquakes, coups, and unrest – a sort of irretrievable chaos. Before traveling to Haiti, we knew very little about the country. Even after performing our own research — let’s face it, there’s little information on Haiti beyond the headline news – we weren’t quite certain what we would find, experience or feel while there.

Haiti Travel, Boats on Beach at Port Salut
Dugout fishing boats take a rest for the day in Port Salut, Haiti.

Haiti is complicated. Even Haitians will tell you that. Each time we thought we grasped something about Haiti, another event would intervene that would help us realize we had only just peeled back one layer of our understanding of the Haitian cultural onion. And that’s what makes Haiti so fascinating: it tempts one to question, to experience, to learn and to re-learn – an invitation to penetrate as closely as a visitor might to its innermost layers.

Haiti Travel, Sans Souci Palace
There be palaces in Haiti, too. Sans Souci Palace near Cap-Haïtien.

When we shared photos and updates while on our tour to Haiti, readers would respond: “Is that really Haiti?”

Welcome to Haiti. Time to become a little more familiar – with the everyday, the exceptional and the forces to be continually reckoned with.

1. Travel Safety in Haiti

Time to dispatch the elephant in the room. When we first announced we were headed to Haiti, responses of concern were not only common, but they often spelled expectations of doom. One reader, to wit, offered this: “I hope you survive.”

There’s no denying Haiti has historically experienced its share of instability over the decades. Between 2004 and 2006, kidnapping of wealthy Haitians, international executives and aid workers was common. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, crime and assaults increased. But as our visit to Rwanda earlier this year demonstrated, countries are not forever suspended in time: they change, they evolve, and many, quite thankfully, move on.

Haiti Travel, Cap Haitien Market Streets
Wandering the market streets of Cap-Haïtien.

As foreign travelers in Haiti, we surprisingly never felt targeted or at risk – neither in the peace of its mountains or the din of its cities. It is true that much of the time we were with a group or with others, but even when Dan or I often peeled off to engage with people, explore markets and meander down side streets on our own, we did not feel anything menacing.

Of course, common sense and basic safety measures still apply. As in most countries (including my own, the United States), I would not wander inner city streets alone at night. As taxis are surprisingly uncommon in Haiti, even in cities such as Port-au-Prince, I would arrange return transport in advance so as not be stuck without a way back to wherever I happened to be staying.

If you pack some developing world travel sense and especially follow the advice outlined in #3 below, you’ll likely find yourself feeling pretty comfortable with Haiti and its people.

2. A Land of Mountains

Despite the fact that the word Haiti means “mountainous land,” we envisioned only a few hills here and there. Instead, the country is defined by layers of mountains.

We managed a glimpse of this on our flight approach to Port-au-Prince, but our first on-the-ground taste occurred on our hike up to La Citadelle Laferrière near the town of Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti.

Haiti Travel, Citadelle Laferrière
A rubbled guard house near Citadelle Laferrière in hills of northern Haiti.

Our appreciation of Haiti's landscape was complete with our hike up to Pic la Selle, Haiti’s highest mountain, and through nearby Parc National La Visite.

Haiti Travel, Mountain Views
View from the top of Pic Cabayo. I meant it when I said layers.

It’s no wonder that Haitians say “Dèyè mon gen mon.” (Behind the mountain, there are mountains.) This Haitian proverb proved one of my favorites, as it’s not only appropriate to the country’s landscape but also metaphorically fitting to the country’s history and circumstances. “There is more than meets the eye” repeatedly rang true during our visit to Haiti.

3. “A greeting is your passport.”

Bonjou se paspò ou,” is another of a raft of available Haitian proverbs, one we learned early and put into practice often during our trip. Simple gestures such as saying “bonjou” (hello in local Kreyòl), offering a smile and nodding in respect tends to open doors of good will. Perhaps this is obvious advice, a generally accepted good travel principle, but it is particularly relevant to Haiti.

Haiti Travel, People and Safety
Although he's losing at dominoes (the clothes pins are “punishment”), we still get a smile.

On the surface, Haitians can sometimes show a stern, skeptical look that might not feel particularly welcoming at first glance. However, a respectful greeting and smile can help break down that tough exterior, thereby reducing some of the distance between you as the blan (literally meaning “white,” but slang for foreigner) and local people.

Haitians are a social bunch. Perfect strangers call each other cheri meaning “my dear” (I loved when I was referred to this way). With monikers like this, Haitians transform the atmosphere from the appearance of something serious to something more open and laughter-filled in a matter of moments.

It's also important to note that, in general, Haitians don't especially invite or seem to enjoy having their photograph taken. It's completely understandable given that there has been a string of photojournalists who have focused mostly on negative aspects of the country; people are tired of that. Best to store the big camera and lens until you've established a bit of a rapport, ask for permission and have some fun with the process by showing the image afterwards.

Haiti Travel, Kids
Goofing with kids en route to Port Salut.

4. Vodou in Haiti

“Haiti is 80% Catholic, 20% Protestant and 100% Vodou.”

Often when people think of Vodou (or Voodoo, as we foreigners like to spell it) they imagine the Hollywood-branded version: pins stuck into a voodoo doll, evil curses placed, zombies roaming the earth. Perhaps it does not come as a surprise when we say that Vodou in reality seems a far cry from this.

We were fortunate to spend time with a Vodou hougon (priest) who was open to answering questions about his practice and spirituality when we visited his ounfo (temple). Vodou in Haiti is a complex belief system that blends traditions and practices from West Africa, carried by slaves brought over during the 17th-19th centuries, with colonial Catholicism and a few local twists. At the core of Vodou are the lwa, spirits which serve as intermediaries to assist human beings to communicate and connect with a single, distant God.

Haiti Travel, Vodou Offerings
A table with offerings for the lwa at a Vodou ounfo.

There are hundreds of lwa, divided elaborately into societies. Each has his or her own characteristics and symbolism and ways in which they wish to be served. During a Vodou ceremony, a lwa will be summoned, and will often take over the body of someone present in order to provide spiritual and physical guidance and healing. A certain brand of emotional rawness is at work that yields an appreciation that death and life are in fact bound close together.

Haiti Travel, Vodou Market
Vodou section of the market with candles, scents, images and various offerings for the spirits.

As one hougon explained to us: “Vodou, it is what you cannot see that is all around you.” The suggestion: our practice only manifests what is already there.

Once you comprehend this, you’ve set off on the road to understand Vodou and the Haitian approach thereto.

Note: If you are interested to learn more about Vodou and its practice in Haiti, consider reading The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis.

5. Renegade Artists

Haitians demonstrate a remarkable artistic expression. Where this is most obvious is in veins of renegade artist communities such as Atis Rezistans, a group of avant-garde artists who live and create along a segment of Port-au-Prince’s Grand Rue. André Eugène and Jean Hérard Céleur, the founding artists of Atis Rezistans, broke tradition by cultivating a censorship-free artistic expression that defied social norms. Almost 15 years later, Atis Rezistans operates as a collective guided by a philosophy of sharing and support that trains young artists through its Ti Moun Rezistans program.

Haiti Travel, Artisans in Port-au-Prince
A wood craftsman works away in an area near Atis Rezistans on the Grand Rue. Celeur, one of the Atis Rezistans founders, was a wood carver who broke free…

To me, the feeling in this artist community is one of undressed emotion and unfettered expression. It’s clear in the atmosphere and also apparent in the works themselves.

On the surface, the art appears to exist as if to shock, particularly to a visitor like me. But it becomes apparent that the intention of their work is to stand as an emotional interpretation of a cycle of life to death, with all the requisite fears, dreams, and sex that make us human laid bare.

Artists rely heavily on recycled materials, lending a sense of re-packaging and re-purposing of emotion. Discarded items are incorporated, life’s detritus finds new life. And maybe even new hope.

Haiti Travel, Atis Rezistans Art
A shackled baby, art made from recycled materials at Atis Rezistans.

“There is no death without life…there is no art that is not a liberation of the force of life. And when death is around you all the time, you try to profit from every day of life.” – Romel Jean Pierre, an artist and filmmaker at Atis Rezistans.

6. Everything tastes better with a few chili peppers, even peanut butter.

We knew almost nothing about Haitian cuisine prior to our visit, so we look forward to writing about it in depth and sharing it with you very soon. One of the facets of Haitian food that we especially enjoyed is its occasionally liberal and often creative application of spice and employment of chili peppers. As evidence, witness spiced peanut butter whereby a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper is a thrown in with a batch of ground peanuts.

OK, heat in food I get. But spicy peanut butter?!?

Yes. And we can attest to its goodness.

Throw in Haitian hot chocolate, grilled lobster, plenty of beans, odd greens, breadfruit, avocados and dark rum and you have the making for some culinary joy.

But you’ll just have to wait for our Haitian food throw-down to hear more about all of it.

7. A Country Rich in Proverbs

No two ways about it, Haiti has a way with words. Its proverbs are deep and funny, often sad, sometimes crude, always clever. It occurs to me that Haitian proverbs are a manifestation of the country’s narrative, a form of storytelling, evidence of the importance of oral tradition in Haiti in sharing wisdom and lessons.

Haiti Travel, Transportation
Tap Taps, Haiti's colorful buses are also covered with sayings.

A day couldn't go by when we’d question or notice something and hear in response: “We have a saying for that in Haiti.”

The proverb shared was usually one with a story behind it that helped peel back for us another layer of the cultural complexity that is Haiti — one part quirky and another dark, evincing a certain pliability or resilience that almost seems required of Haitian people given their country’s history. Honesty and a bit of reflective self-deprecating humor, too.

Even when things are bad, rise up a proverb to place it all in perspective and shed some honest light on all that we humans do, good and bad.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Note: We learned these through English translations; we imagine the versions in their original Kreyòl are even better.

Lang pa lanmè, men li ka neye-w.” — The tongue is not the sea, but it can drown you.

Bourik swe pou chwal dekore ak dentel.” — The donkey sweats so the horse can be decorated with lace.

Avèk pasyans w'ap wè tete foumi.” — With patience, you can see the tits on an ant.

If you are interested in further availing yourself of Haitian wisdom through its proverbs, here is a great list.

A note on language in Haiti: French is the language of schools and government, but Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) is the language of the people.

Although one could argue that Kreyòl is French-based, the differences between the two are greater than their similarities. You’ll notice some common words and vocabulary, taken from French and employed in Kreyòl, but Kreyòl is spelled differently than French and is more phonetic. Beyond that, the structure of the languages is quite different.

8. 2010 Earthquake Recovery, International Aid

A common question asked of us since returning from Haiti: Can you still see the effects of the 2010 earthquake? (The catastrophic one centered near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 220,000 people.)

As you walk around downtown Port-au-Prince, buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake remain abandoned. In the city’s Champs de Mar area where the Palais National once stood, the square is filled with red corrugated metal construction walls.

But life goes on. It must. The central market, the Marché en Fer, was destroyed but has been rebuilt. Vendors have returned, new communities have emerged in the ruins of others. Haiti is very much an example of rebirth in the face of devastation and destruction.

You can still find a prominent international aid presence in Haiti; some organizations were there before the earthquake, others arrived afterwards and haven’t left. As anywhere in the world where a large donor-funded international aid presence exists, you can feel the draw of a double-edged sword. The flow of donor money to help in Haiti’s recovery has done a lot of good. However, big aid begets pockets if not a prevailing attitude of dependency and reliance on foreign handouts that paradoxically crowd out local solutions and create distortions in the local economy for real estate and other goods. Help is needed, but so is the idea that the citizens of Haiti must also find solutions that are suited to their own needs and context.

Haiti Travel, Boat
Fishermen recycle banners from an AIDS awareness campaign as sails.

Haiti is clearly a fertile country. It’s disappointing to see it depend so much on imported food when one imagines it could produce so much itself. We sincerely hope that the will exists to pursue long-term investments in education, infrastructure and agricultural reform.

Easier said than done, we know. But we can see the potential.

9. Haitian Music and the Singing President

“No matter what we do we have the drum. When we have problems we sing and dance, when we are happy we sing and dance. There's always the drum in Haiti” –  Maurice Etienne, Lakou Lakay Cultural Center

Haiti Travel, Music and Drums
The beat, the rhythm, the undercurrent. The drum in Haiti.

Music is infectious in Haiti; rhythm seems deep in the bones. Drums and dancing are integral to Vodou ceremonies and practice, but the love of and prevalence of music carries to all aspects of life. It's not uncommon to see workers unconsciously incorporating a few dance moves here and there as they stock shelves or work the market while listening to local music.

Haiti's current president, Michel Martelly, is also a famous musician. Known better as Sweet Micky, Martelly and his band play konpa, a style of Haitian music derived from local Méringue (similar perhaps, but not the same as Dominican Merengue) that further blends Haitian folk music with an imprint of American jazz leftover from the U.S. occupation from 1914-1934.

One of our best memories of Haitian music involved the kitchen staff at Auberge La Visite in the mountains near Seguin. They listened to konpa endlessly. We found ourselves drawn into the kitchen to find out the name behind the catchy tunes and infectious rhythmic earworms — 30-minute long ball renditions of classic konpa — that consumed the building. Although the origin of these tunes is up for discussion, the voice most often behind what we heard: Sweet Micky.

(Note: If you happen to be in Port-au-Prince area on a Friday night be sure to go by Presse Café for a live konpa band and a wide open dance floor.)

10. Haitians Love Their Lottery

Everywhere you go in Haiti, from the tiniest of villages to the biggest of cities, you will see plenty of colorful outposts labeled bank. My initial thought: a vast and highly competitive micro-credit industry in Haiti?

Haiti Travel, Lottery
Placing my bet at the Patience borlette.

I was later informed these were borlettes, or Haitian lottery outlets. Lottery, it turns out, is a national pastime. For legitimacy, lottery numbers in Haiti are based on New York Lotto numbers, drawn twice daily. As one Haitian we met put it, “Are you kidding? No Haitian would trust numbers drawn here in Haiti!”

The idea: you purchase a hand-signed ticket indicating your choice of a series of 2-digit numbers. From there, a complicated betting option exists where you can “marry” your numbers together for bigger winnings should you guess correctly more than one number. Although I didn't quite fully understand my betting options and the mathematical gymnastics embedded therein, I placed a bet on three numbers and purchased a double marriage to ensure I’d win the maximum were I to choose all three numbers correctly.

Here’s what happened:

Haiti Travel, Winning the Lottery
Winning the lottery in Haiti!! Woohoo!

I won!! I selected one correct number. From my 40 gourd ($0.90) bet on three numbers, I won 100 gourds (about $2).

As my new Haitian saying goes, “It’s not how much you win, but whether you win at all.”

A huge thanks goes to Jean Cyril Pressoir, our G Adventures CEO (guide) in Haiti. He told great stories, knew a proverb for every conceivable life scenario, and never seemed to tire of our questions about his country.

Essential Information for Traveling in Haiti

Finding hotels in Haiti: Our hotels were arranged via our G Adventures tour, but most of the main touristic destinations like Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Cap-Haïtien or Port-Salut have a variety of accommodation options, from inexpensive guesthouses to more luxurious hotels, that can be booked online. We stayed at Le Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince, which is right downtown and walking distance to a lot of places in the city.

Compare rates at hotels throughout Haiti | Read reviews of hotels in Haiti

How to get to Haiti: We traveled from Berlin, Germany to Port-au-Prince Haiti via Miami. There are several flights from Miami (and other destinations in Florida), New York City, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities around the United States to Port-au-Prince. There are also several direct flights to Cap-Haïtien. We often use Skyscanner or Expedia to compare flight prices and book tickets.

Recommended guidebook for Haiti: We used the Bradt Guide to Haiti during our trip and highly recommend it. The author, Paul Clammer, spent a considerable amount of time living in Haiti to research this book. It has also been recently been updated in January 2017.

Recommended reading for Haiti: I really enjoyed the book The Serpent and the Rainbow by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. The book documents his research in Haiti studying zombis and going deep into trying to understand vodou. This booked helped me understand the historical and cultural importance of vodou in Haiti, and how it is like no other religion or spirituality I've ever studied. Truly fascinating. Also recommended is The Comedians by Graham Greene. You can even see the room he stayed in at to write the book at Hotel Oloffson.

Recommended travel insurance: Don’t travel through Haiti without travel insurance. You never know if you'll end up with some bug or sprain your ankle when climbing up to the fort, or your phone gets stolen, or some illness or injury means you need to cancel all or portions of your trip. With all of these scenarios, travel insurance will be there to help you and ensure that you don't end up with a huge bill at the end. We recommend and used for years World Nomads as travel insurance for trips to Haiti.

Haiti Travel Podcast

Grab a coffee and listen in to the Amateur Traveler Podcast on Haiti where we talk about our travels throughout the country– where we went, what surprised us, what we felt, and more.

Pin for later:

Haiti Travel
Disclosure: Our tour to Haiti was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. We stayed a few extra days to go hiking in the mountains on our own dime. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.


If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on one of the links above. The price remains the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

55 thoughts on “Travel to Haiti: First Impressions”

  1. I haven’t been to Haiti and I’m now so curious about their culture, their food, the must visits, the people and their art and music.. they seem like they would keep you company and make you comfortable in your stay. But that baby is really creepy. But it’s awesome.

    • Rachel, and we only scratched the surface with this piece! It was tough to decide what to include in these first impressions as there is SO much to experience and learn in Haiti. The culture, music, arts and cuisine are all unique and I hope that this is what Haiti puts forward for tourism development and its image. And yes, that baby is a bit creepy (and awesome), but it’s nothing compared to some of the other art pieces 🙂

  2. Now, that gives a very different perspective compared to how Haiti is seen & presented in the west. I didn’t know there is so much to explore in the mountains there! Love the fact how they find a proverb to everything & I guess they are great storytellers too. Based on your experience, what do you think, how much is Haiti accessible for independent travellers (e.g.accommodation, transport)?
    Thanks again for an inside view and the tip on the Wade Davis’ book!

    • Ivana, the goal of this piece (and future ones) was to give an idea of what Haiti is like on the ground and little bits of its culture and characteristic. Unfortunately, this is rarely covered in the news. And Haitians are frustrated that the only image of their country that is portrayed is of violence and destruction. As you see there is SO many more stories and avenues to explore to the country and culture.

      As for your question regarding independent travel, Haiti is still in early stages and I’m hoping that with more people visiting in the next years competition will create more options and better prices. As for transport, there are buses (i.e., not pick-up trucks or chicken buses) that go between the main cities. But, transport within the cities and to activities/sites can be a bit tricky and the usual mode of local transport is on the back of a motorbike (but usually without a helmet). If you are comfortable on a motorbike, then that makes transport a bit easier 🙂

      Accommodation can be found in most places where travelers would go, but it’s not inexpensive (e.g., expect minimum $60 for a basic double room). This is because there isn’t much competition and Haiti has had a large international aid community for a while and they can often afford more expensive options. We didn’t look into Couchsurfing or Airbnb, but those might be good budget options.

      Street food is usually cheap (e.g., $2 for rice and a stew that is big enough for 2-3 people), but eating in a restaurant starts to add up as even the most basic places are about $6-7 for a regular lunch while at nicer restaurants you’re looking at $12+. One of the reasons for this is that so much in Haiti is imported so just getting some of the ingredients can get costly.

      However, there is so much culturally that you’ll find in Haiti that you won’t find elsewhere that if you are traveling in the region I would definitely try to spend 1-2 weeks there. Hope this information helps!!

      • Thank you very much for this, Audrey. Transport and food sounds great and accommodation… well, as you said, with more visitors more options will appear. Still, Haiti looks to me as a very interesting place to go and see something really different. Thanks for the tips and looking forward to upcoming posts and more info!

  3. Audrey, I love this article. And how can you not love a country with expression about patience and tits on an ant! When I am next in Miami, I will book a tour. Thank you for the motivation….Jan P.

    • Jan, thanks so much for your kind comment and glad that we intrigued you enough about Haiti to include it next time you visit Miami. Can’t wait to hear your stories from there!!

      We also loved the proverb about patience and the ant. There are even more like that, but we tried to keep the selection here clean 🙂

  4. I like how real this story, and the images show the country is. It doesn’t look like its been covered over with a blanket to only show you the best parts of the country and the people. Surely these people have been through hard times, and that is just part of their culture, and who they are. I hope that they can keep this outlook as hopefully tourism increases in Haiti, so as to boost their economy. I hope that they can keep the realism present as well though, It keeps it more interesting, even if people coming in from the outside will never completely understand the “complicated” nature of the country.
    Cheers, great article.

    • Thanks, Cory. Really appreciate your comment about the tone of this article and photos, trying to show a more nuanced, real view of what we experienced in Haiti. With tourism developing, I also hope that people not only keep their culture, but that their pride in that richness will encourage them to share it with visitors. Haiti is not your typical Caribbean beach vacation, but that’s what makes it so interesting and will hopefully attract travelers who are interested in a bit of that “complicated-ness.”

  5. I was lucky to visit Haiti twice and both times it was a heart opening experience. The people of Haiti have so little yet they are so generous and so easy to connect to. Haiti is unique, beautiful and culturally rich – thank you for writing about all the positive it has to offer.

    It will be nice to see the country slowly and wisely building an infrastructure that can support independent travelers as it is still a challenging place to visit. But for the brave travelers Haiti can be a very rewarding destination – as far as I know it is quite untouched by the tourist industry, so the money of visitors can benefit the struggling communities directly. Thank you for the great read!

    • Maria, great to hear about your two visits to Haiti and how they affected you so much. In addition to adoring Haitian proverbs I also loved how people were so open about discussing everything, not trying to gloss things over like I would do in the States. It’s refreshing.

      Although some parts of an independent tourism infrastructure exist, it is still not easy — or particularly inexpensive — to get around independently yet. And if travelers spend their money at independent, family-run hotels, restaurants and shops the money will stay local. The G Adventures tour that we were on was designed by a Haitian who is passionate about his country and trying to develop tourism in a healthy way so that it improves the lives – and living & education standards — of everyone. There are many challenges and it will take time, but it seems like the foundation for community-oriented tourism development is there.

  6. How were the overnight accommodations while in Haiti? Did you couchsurf? Stay in hostels? Hotels? Are you gonna visit and explore DR while in the area?

    • AJ, our tour included independently owned, local hotels that were of a medium to high level. This means that all rooms had the option of A/C and usually a good restaurant attached. I believe the price for many of these were in the $80 range for a double room (including breakfast). Imagine you can find guesthouse type places for less than that. When we went into the mountains we stayed at a forestry project’s headquarters and that was $40/person (including 3 meals). As far as I know there isn’t a hostel network in Haiti yet, but I’ve heard that some volunteer or missionary groups have guesthouses that are cheaper. Didn’t try couchsurfing as we were fortunate to be able to stay with a family in Port-au-Prince, but think that would be a fantastic experience.

      No, won’t make it to DR this time. We did hear talk that some people want to make the border crossings easier in the mountains so that travelers could more easily cross back and forth on treks.

  7. Great post! I just returned from Haiti last week as well, on a press trip with the Tourism Board. I’m currently writing up my recap post, and agree with all you said. Such a surprising destination–nothing like I imagined and so cultural, so vibrant! I can’t wait to return next year. Definitely my favorite destination of dozens I’ve visited this year.

    • Lily, great to hear that you also had a good trip to Haiti! It is a surprising place, and often for reasons you couldn’t have imagined prior to experiencing it for yourself. And yes, the culture is vibrant, unique and also intriguing as you know there’s so much more to learn about it. Look forward to seeing your reports from your trip!

    • Thanks! Usually Haiti is in the news for not-so-great reasons, so we wanted to highlight the culture and strengths of the country that usually don’t get attention.

  8. I really appreciate that you’re showing another side of Haiti. Thank you for sharing the complexity of the country and the beauty of the culture. We went to Haiti in 2009 and hope to have an opportunity to return soon. The country has such a unique history and complicated political/economic situation, which is deeply affected by and entwined with policies enacted by the U.S. The more that we Americans can better understand the Haitian context, the more effectively we can support their development and empowerment.

    • Michelle, thanks for your kind comment! Haiti is a complicated place – full of beautiful places and a fascinating culture, but it’s also very challenged by environmental, economic and social issues. These contradictions make it quite fascinating.

      Although we had done a bit of reading before our trip to Haiti, we didn’t realize the complexity of the place and how the country is still affected by policies and “interventions” that happened decades (or centuries) ago. I didn’t realize before the US involvement in the early 20th century, and also how our “help” of subsidized rice (known as Miami rice) ended up destroying local rice production. Couldn’t agree more with more we can listen and understand where Haiti has been, where it is now and where it wants to go, the better foreigners can support true, sustainable development.

  9. Cannot wait to explore Haiti! It’s been on my radar a while and this article confirms the fabtastic sights & culture. Definitely an exciting emerging destination for coming years!

    • Anisha, glad that our piece just added to your curiosity and desire to visit Haiti! It is one of the region’s emerging destinations, so don’t wait too long 🙂

  10. Truth be told, prior to the earthquake in 2010 I don’t think I could have told you much about Haiti at all, let alone where it is on the map; but the tragic events that evolved and took away the lives of so many really made me take notice of not just the country at the terrible time, but also of the people and their unique culture.

    I’m so intreagued by your piece to know more about the history of the people, to learn all of their proverbs (love, ‘The tongue is not the sea, but it can drown you’!), and all about how they enjoy their lives and seem to almost always be smiling in the pictures I see.

    The sound of the jazz influence really attracts me too as it’s right from the period of jazz that I love the most!

    • Dale, I think that a lot of people fall into the same category – not knowing much, if anything, about Haiti before the 2010 earthquake.

      The history of Haiti is both inspiring, fascinating and tragic. All the layers — from the indigenous population being entirely wiped out within decades of Columbus discovering the island to bringing slaves from West Africa to work the island to the slave revolt that led to defeating the French to back-to-back dictator governments — have contributed to people, culture and life that you see in Haiti today. We really fell under the spell of Haitian proverbs and humor to help us make sense of this history-culture-people connection.

      If you love that period of jazz, then do a search on YouTube or Spotify for konpa (or kanpa) music. We’ve been listening to it since returning 🙂

  11. Audrey, thank you for such a well written, expansive and comprehensive piece about your experiences in Haiti. As you know I’ve been twice for a total of 3 weeks on my own in Dec/Jan 2013-2014. I couchsurfed in Mizak mostly as I interviewed Haitian activists, artists, educators, entrepreneurs and innovators. What I discovered was an incredibly resilient people who really want to be listened to and respected for the ideas they have to offer. I met such driven 20’s somethings who were truly living, “find a need, fill it” and in such generous and innovative ways; Tigo who has started 4 businesses and is 26. He started repairing bicycles, then motorcycles and then cars/trucks and his last business is a bakery because there was no good bread available where he lived. 🙂 Daniel age 24 has constructed the 1st cyber cafe in his village so locals have another option closer than the gas station down the mountain.
    I would point out only one area of slight expansion to your post regarding international aid and importation of food: international aid has killed local initiatives because often the outside group is given preference and lucrative contracts rather than a local innovation being chosen. The importation of outside food stuffs is connected to this as well; outside agriculture gains a lot of money from contracts. The locals are just as upset by this and want to see this change. Just an FYI from all the folks interviewed as well as Lee Rainboth the gentleman I couchsurfed with who has been on the ground and living full time in Haiti since 2007 and with Haitians in a home he built up in Mizak.
    Agreed it is beautiful beautiful country with so much to offer and teach us. Thank you again for such a complete and thoughtful post of so many of Haiti’s facets! Makes me want to return! Great job!
    PS. I’m off to Nepal and would love to speak to you and Dan about that trip sometime. HUG!

    • Kristin, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I also agree that people are interested in being engaged and having an opportunity to share their ideas and solutions. We wrote about the disruption that international aid can bring to economy, but thanks for expanding regarding the food and agricultural production. I knew about the “Miami rice” that destroyed some local Haitian rice farmers, but didn’t know about the grain. But I have seen this aid “system” work in other countries where bringing in subsidized, foreign food ends up hurting the local farmers and systems in place that this development work is supposed to be helping. Haitians are a proud people, and I know that it frustrates them to see their country dependent on imports and other countries when it could be so much more self-sufficient. I do hope that as some of the big aid organizations reduce their work there, more emphasis will be spent on finding local solutions that are truly sustainable (e.g., don’t go away when the aid money leaves).

      Excited for your upcoming trip to Nepal! I’ll send you some information about a great project in Kathmandu working with survivors of trafficking and then we can set up a time to chat.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing your interesting photos. Thank you for such eye-opening coverage of a place that has suffered too much lately. The culture reminds me a bit of that of Brazil because of the African influences on the music, clothing, religion, even the many superstitions and proverbs (which are probably a result of Catholicism in Brazil, though I’m not sure).

    • Jenna, glad you enjoyed this! Haitian people are resilient and want to create a beautiful country for their children. And we hope that by sharing different stories than what is normally seen on the news others will want to visit and see for themselves.

      We haven’t yet been to Brazil, but I can imagine that there are some cultural similarities due to African influences. We saw this a bit in Cuba as well with music and Santaria. It’s a fascinating world!

  13. What a fantastic overview. Countries like Haiti are often misinterpreted (not sure that’s the right word, but you get what I mean!) by foreign media, and I hope this piece (and the others to come) will go some way to dispel some of the myths. I like how you’ve been very objective talking about both the challenges and the great things about this country.

    Your photos on Instagram of Haiti are gorgeous! 🙂

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your kind words about this article and our Instagram pics from Haiti. One of our goals with traveling to Haiti was to try and dispel some of the misconceptions and stereotypes we often see on the news. Haiti still has many socio-economic and environmental challenges, but it also has a rich and deep culture that we usually don’t hear about. Glad you enjoyed this!

  14. Nice to see someone writing positive things about a misunderstood destination. My wife and I took the bus over froM the DR last year and had just a grat time in Port au Price/Petonville. Your article shows how much we missed in the country ( and what a tour can open up).
    Just as an aside, we read all the info on Haiti before going and the one thing that stood out was “don’t go out after dark”. I’m not recommending it but our bus got in late around 10p.m. And there aren’t things like taxis available. Local people on the street were so kind and generous with their time and assistance getting us to our accomodations.
    Not much tourism infrastructure (that’s was a good thing for us), but a more colorful destination is hard to find. And that vudum baby just scratches the surface.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience regarding arriving in Port-au-Prince at night. I can definitely see local people going out of their way to help you get to your accommodation and even some offering you a ride. I wanted to clarify that I didn’t mean don’t go out at night at all. In fact, some of our best times in Port-au-Prince were at night sampling street food and going to see music. But, it’s more about knowing where you’re going (e.g., there are some neighborhoods that are good during the day and not so safe at night) and also have a way to get back.

      And yes, that Vodou baby was one of the more tame art pieces we saw. Didn’t want to shock people too much 🙂

  15. Excellent! You managed to touch on so many parts of Haiti and Haitian culture in such a short post! I visited Haiti a year or so ago, doing research for a book based there. I was not prepared to leave a piece of my heart behind, i can not wait to return.

    • Chip, thanks for your kind words on this piece. It was quite difficult to keep it to a manageable length as there was so much about Haiti that we wanted to cover. It took some ninja editing work to get it to this length 🙂

      I hope the research for your book went well and that you’ll have a chance to return to Haiti sometime in the near future. Perhaps for a follow-up book?

      • That’s my plan, I am heading to Brazil for the next book in the series and then back to Haiti for a totally different book. Basically 70 years of Haitian history as seen through the eyes of a Haitian guide who lived it all. If not that, I will just have to admit I am visiting purely for pleasure.

    • Thanks, Frank! That’s the goal — that more people go and see Haiti for themselves to come up with their own impressions and experiences.

  16. What a beautifully written and informative post! I’m booked on the March G Adventures trip to Haiti and reading your articles has been so incredibly helpful. I cannot wait to discover this wonderful country! I’m curious if you could advise on what time of luggage is most appropriate for this trip with G? I often use a backpack for travel, but as I’ll only be traveling in Haiti for 9 days and then am returning home, would a regular wheeled suitcase work or would it be too cumbersome? Thank you for your help!

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Great to hear that you’re booked on an upcoming G Adventures tour to Haiti! Exciting!

      We had a backpack with us as we were planning to go into the mountains afterwards, but most people in our group had a wheeled suitcase. So I believe that a regular wheeled suitcase would work just fine for your trip. There’s plenty of room in the van for luggage and it will be taken out of the vehicle for you so you don’t have to worry about dragging it down the bus aisle.

      Enjoy your trip!

  17. Hi all,

    I am an academic specialised in Tourism Management. My research are all focused on tourism development in Haiti. As part of my research, I would appreciate if you could take 3 min of your time to complete the following questionnaire. Thank you in advance.


    • Hi Hugues,
      Thanks for sharing your research with us. We filled out the questionnaire that you posted earlier. Hope it helps!

  18. So lovely to read such a positive perspective. Many challenges of course but I found Haiti is full of colour and beautiful light. When I stepped off the plane in the airport there were local musicians playing fun Haitian music on their boula. It set the tone for my trip and I couldn’t wait to explore.

    The proverbs are something I didn’t know about. Although the one about patience couldn’t be more true!

    • Cristina, just realized I never responded to your great comment as I followed up on Twitter instead 😉

      Really enjoyed hearing your stories of volunteering and working with a Haitian organization in Port-au-Prince. And I do hope you have an opportunity to return. The place gets under your skin 🙂

      And yes, Haitian proverbs are so great. I imagine they are even more rich when you understand Creyol.

  19. wooo I was thinking Haiti is one of the dangerous places to visit but this article gives me a clear view of what Haiti looks like. I do appreciate to visit this country. natural disasters are not threats to me because they gona happen any where in the world, my fear was on war and how hospitable are the Haitians

    thanks, I want to take just one tour to HAITI this year.

    • Glad to hear that our article and sharing our experiences could replace some of the images of Haiti you might have from the news with difference types of stories. Hope you have a chance to see Haiti for yourself soon!

  20. I can’t agree more. I currently reside in Haiti up in kenscoff. I lived here for about two years now and I can concur that you summed up the country well. It makes me happy to see that people are still curious to see what Haiti is like.Even though I was born in the United States, my father is Haitian and he rambles on and on about life here. Your work inspires me to make a blog about living Haiti.

    • Thank you, Franklin. We’re glad to hear that this resonates with you — and that it may also inspire you to launch a living in Haiti blog of your own. Let us know if you do.

  21. Hi,

    I’ll be traveling to Haiti in July. It was a spur of the moment decision and everything was bought and booked; however, I am having a hard time trying to find travel arrangements. Any tips? I’ll be going from PAP Airport to Cotes Des Arcadins the first three nights.

    Thank you in advance,

    George P.

    • Hi George,
      Sounds like a great trip you have coming up! I would suggest trying to arrange transport through the hotel you are staying at in Cotes des Arcadins. It’s likely that they have a shuttle that goes between PAP and the hotel or can book a car and driver in advance for you. Otherwise, you could try Tour Haiti as they offer transportation as one of their main services:

      We know the owner of this agency as he was our guide when we were in Haiti. The company is very trustworthy.

      Enjoy your trip!

  22. Hi,

    Good day!

    I would like to travel to Haiti for one week this coming June . I would like to know if really safe for tourist to go there and how much I need per day? Hoping you can help me with this. Thank you!

  23. I love the post!!
    I´ve been living in Haiti for almost 4 months and i can realate with everything you said!
    I also write my journy in a blog so if anyone is interested in coming to Haiti I share a lot of information or Ill be here in PAP for anything you need!!

    • Hey Paula!

      I am interested in your blog about Haiti as I am interested in going there for a week in possibly a few months. I am wondering how safe it is and what there is to do. Any info is a big help thanks!


  24. I am looking forward to coming to Haiti on the 28th of April staying till May 8th. I will be 1 or 8 people on a mission trip from a local Church

    Many of the trip has been planned but open to hear other locals and places an things to do

    • Steve, hope you had a great trip to Haiti and were able to explore outside of your fixed itinerary as well!

  25. You paint a great picture of Haiti. I leaves me to wonder why exactly are so many trying to escape. Yes poverty, I realize that, but it seems to me that their own countrymen need to see it through your eyes and fight for their beautiful country and not flee illegally to their neighbouring country or other countries. It seems to me from reading your article, there’s a lot worth fighting for!

    • It’s one thing to visit a country as a tourist and it’s another to live there and try and make a living to support your family. The reality is that Haiti’s economy is still struggling and it’s challenging to work one’s way out of poverty, especially as there is such a large socio-economic divide and corruption is still a big problem. That said, there are many things that Haitians have to be proud of in their country and its history and culture. It is a fascinating place.


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