Visiting Haiti

The Land Tourism Forgot
While elsewhere almost the entire Caribbean has taken up the universal ambiance of tropical tourism, Haiti has remained uniquely Haitian, a land of unexpected beauty, rich in art and culture, steeped in history and shrouded in mystery. In the 1950’s and 60’s Haiti was becoming quite the chic tourist destination but political turmoil, AIDS and an economic embargo wiped it from the tourism map. Today it remains, the land which tourism forgot.

For those who prefer a place apart from the usual tourist hustle Haiti has much to offer. The richest most exotic culture in the Caribbean. Striking scenery. Friendly people. Small, uncrowded, inexpensive hotels. Good restaurants. An abundance of quality arts and crafts, uniquely Haitian, and at bargain prices.

Three Ways to Visit
Currently there are three ways to visit Haiti. Several cruise lines include brief stops at Cap Ha´tien and a visit to an isolated northern beach in their itinerary. For a real visit there are a number of small but comfortable hotels in all the main towns. These still offer the flavor of times past where one  meets colorful characters and often senses the presence of mysterious goings on.

Transport
American Airlines serves Port-au-Prince out of Miami and New York. Air Canada connects with Montreal and Air France with Europe. The Miami flights in particular are often overbooked. At the Miami end there is usually a long line of Haitians with piles of shopping to check in. The normal international check in time of at least two hours before departure should be adhered to. If you arrive late there may be no seats left. Tip: If you travel light with only carry on luggage ask your travel agent to get your boarding pass issued with your ticket. You can then go straight to the departure lounge and avoid the long slow check in line entirely.

An alternative way to visit Haiti is by car from the Dominican Republic. The D.P. is especially popular with European visitors and small numbers make an excursion to Haiti a part of their visit there.

For ground transport in Haiti a car and driver are recommended. This can easily be arranged at your hotel. There are no traffic lights in Haiti and few traffic or road signs. Local knowledge, experience and skills are needed. Haitians are skilled and remarkably courteous drivers. They are not expensive and a local guide is indispensable.

Food
The native Creole cuisine of Haiti is tasty, inexpensive and good. The French influence is seen in a number of excellent restaurants and in the availability of a wide range of French food and wines in supermarkets. Italian, Chinese and other ethnic restaurants are also found. Haiti makes good rum. Barbancourt is one of the finest in the world. Haitian coffee is also especially flavorful.

Holidays and Festivals
Haiti has a number of colorful holidays and festivals. This is an example.

Currency
Prices are usually provided in gourdes or in Haitian dollars. There currently are about 40 gourdes to one U.S. dollar and U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Prices in galleries may be in U.S. dollars. Elsewhere the $ sign denotes Haitian dollars.

Health
Various tropical diseases are present, especially in rural areas but not so prevalent as to be of special concern to the short term visitor. Bottled water is recommended for drinking. It is readily available. The incidence of AIDS is high though probably no more so than Bangkok, and perhaps less than Key West. In Haiti AIDS is following the Asian and African pattern of predominately heterosexual transmission. This is not a good destination for a sexual holiday.

Language
French is the native language of educated Haitians but most are multilingual and English is widely spoken. The peasants speak Creole, a patois, French in vocabulary but African in grammar and syntax. If you speak French Creole is not too hard to pick up on.

Officialdom
Except on entering and leaving visitors are unlikely to have any contact with the bureaucracy. Upon entering the country immigration will issue an entry permit for which there is a small fee. Keep this document. It is required upon departure. Public servants in Haiti are generally paid very little and must make whatever extra they can, however they can. Customs may ask you to pay some moderate fee as "duty" for your camera or some such. The easiest solution is to pay it. If the amount seems a bit too much some friendly bargaining is o.k. If this happens you are not being singled out as a visitor. Haitians are treated the same.

Haiti Main Page