Thursday, December 8, 2022
Haiti travel guide - Travel S helper

Haiti

travel guide

Haiti, formally the Republic of Haiti (French: République d’Hati; Haitian Creole: Repiblik Ayiti), is a Western Hemisphere sovereign state (North America). The nation is situated on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago. It controls three-eighths of the island’s western third, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has an area of 27,750 square kilometers (10,714 square miles) and is home to an estimated 10.6 million people, making it the most populated nation in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the second most populous in the Caribbean as a whole.

Originally, the area was inhabited by the indigenous Tano people. Spain discovered the island for Europeans on 5 December 1492, during Christopher Columbus’s first transatlantic trip. When Columbus first arrived in Haiti, he believed he had discovered India or Asia. Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, went aground north of what is now Limonade on Christmas Day 1492. As a result, Columbus sent his men to salvage everything they could from the ship and established the first European colony in the Americas, which he named La Navidad in honor of the day the ship was wrecked.

Spain, which governed until the early 17th century, called the island La Espaola and claimed it. The French surrendered the western part of the island to France, which renamed it Saint-Domingue, as a result of competing claims and settlements. The growth of sugarcane plantations, which were labored on by African slaves, resulted in the colony being one of the most prosperous in the world.

Slaves and free people of color revolutionized Haiti during the French Revolution (1789–1799), ending in the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at the Battle of Vertières. Following that, on 1 January 1804, the sovereign nation of Haiti was established – the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, the second republic in the Americas, the only nation in the western hemisphere to defeat three European superpowers (Britain, France, and Spain), and the only nation in the world to be founded as a result of a successful slave revolt. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave and the first black commander in the French Army, led the revolt that started in 1791, transforming a whole society of slaves into an independent nation via his military brilliance and political savvy. After his death in a French jail, his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, proclaimed Haiti’s sovereignty and eventually became the country’s first Emperor, Jacques I. The Haitian Revolution lasted almost a decade, and all of the country’s initial leaders were former slaves, with the exception of Alexandre Pétion, the Republic’s first President. The Citadelle Laferrière is the world’s biggest fortification. Henri Christophe – a former slave who became Haiti’s first monarch, Henri I – constructed it to resist a potential foreign invasion.

Haiti is also a member of the Latin Union, the Organization of American States, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States; it is also pursuing associate membership in the African Union and was a founding member of the International Francophonie Organisation. It has the Americas’ lowest Human Development Index. Most recently, in February 2004, a coup d’état originating in the country’s north forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation and exile. A temporary government seized power, with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti providing security (MINUSTAH). The former president, Michel Martelly, was elected in the 2011 general election.

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Haiti - Info Card

Population

11,439,646

Currency

Gourde (G) (HTG)

Time zone

UTC−5 (EST)

Area

27,750 km2 (10,710 sq mi)

Calling code

+509

Official language

French, Haitian Creole

Haiti | Introduction

Tourism in Haiti

In 2014, the country hosted 1,250,000 tourists (mainly cruise ships) and the industry generated US$200 million in 2014. In December 2014, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the country, pointing out that while thousands of US citizens travel safely to Haiti each year, some foreign tourists have been victims of burglaries, especially in the Port-au-Prince area.

Several hotels opened in 2014, including an upscale Best Western Premier, a five-star Royal Oasis by Occidental Hotel and Resorts in Pétionville, a four-star Marriott hotel in the Turgeau district of Port-au-Prince, and other new hotel projects in Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes, Cap-Haitien and Jacmel. Other tourist destinations are Île-à-Vache, Camp-Perrin, Pic Macaya.

The Haitian Carnival is one of the most popular in the Caribbean. In 2010, the government decided to hold the event in a city other than Port-au-Prince each year in an attempt to decentralise the country. The national carnival, which is usually held in one of the country’s largest cities (Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien or Les Cayes), follows the very popular carnival in Jacmel, which takes place a week earlier, in February or March.

Weather & Climate in Haiti

The climate in Haiti is tropical with some variations depending on altitude. The temperature in Port-au-Prince varies between an average low of 23°C and an average high of 31°C in January, and between 25 and 35°C in July. The rainfall pattern is variable, with heavier rainfall in some lowlands and on the northern and eastern slopes of the mountains. The dry season in Haiti lasts from November to January.

Port-au-Prince receives an average annual rainfall of 1,370 mm (53.9 inches). There are two rainy seasons, April-June and October-November. Haiti is subject to periodic droughts and floods, exacerbated by deforestation. Hurricanes are also a threat. In summary, Haiti generally has a hot and humid tropical climate.

Geography Of Haiti

Haiti is located on the western part of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles. Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean, behind Cuba and the Dominican Republic (the latter shares a 360 km border with Haiti). At its narrowest point, Haiti is about 45 nautical miles (83 km) from Cuba and consists of a horseshoe-shaped peninsula. For this reason, its coastline is disproportionately long, ranking second in the Greater Antilles at 1,771 km. Cuba has the longest.

Haiti’s terrain consists mainly of rugged mountains interspersed with small coastal plains and river valleys. The climate is tropical, with some variations depending on altitude. Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean and its highest point is Pic la Selle at 2,680 metres.

The northern region consists of the Massif du Nord and the Plaine du Nord. The Massif du Nord is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. It begins at the eastern border of Haiti, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends northwest across the northern peninsula. The lowlands of the Northern Plains lie along the northern border of the Dominican Republic, between the Northern Massif and the North Atlantic Ocean.

The central region consists of two plateaus and two mountain ranges. The central plateau extends on both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the northern massif. It runs from the southeast to the northwest. To the southwest of the Central Plateau are the Black Mountains, whose northwesternmost part merges with the Northern Massif. Its westernmost point is known as Cap Carcasse.

The southern region includes the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (the southeast) and the southern mountainous peninsula (also known as the Tiburon Peninsula). The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression that contains the country’s salt lakes, such as Trou Caïman and Haiti’s largest lake, Étang Saumatre. The Selle range – an extension of the southern mountain range of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco) – stretches from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. In this mountain range is the Pic la Selle, which is Haiti’s highest point at 2,680 metres.

The most important valley in Haiti in terms of agriculture is the Artibonite plain, which is oriented south of the Black Mountains. This region is home to the longest river in the country (and in Hispaniola), the Rivière de l’Artibonite, which rises in the western region of the Dominican Republic and flows through central Haiti into the Gulf of La Gonâve. The eastern and central region of the island is a vast plateau.

Haiti also includes several offshore islands. The island of Tortuga (Île de la Tortue) lies off the coast of northern Haiti. The district of La Gonâve is located on the island of the same name in the Gulf of Gonâve. La Gonâve island is moderately populated by rural villagers. Ile à Vache, a lush island with many beautiful sights, is located off the southwestern tip of Haiti. Cayemites and the island of Anacaona are also part of Haiti. Navasse, located 40 nautical miles (46 mi; 74 km) west of Jeremie on Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, is the subject of a territorial dispute with the United States.

Demographics Of Haiti

Haiti’s population was about 10.1 million in 2011, according to UN estimates, with half of the population under 20 years old. In 1950, the first official census showed a total population of 3.1 million. Haiti has an average of 350 people per square kilometre, with the population concentrated in urban areas, the coastal plains and the valleys.

Most modern Haitians are descendants of former African slaves, including mulattos of multiracial origin. Others are of European origin and Arab Haitians, the descendants of settlers (colonial remnants and contemporary immigration during World War I and World War II). The number of Haitians of East Asian or Indian origin is about 400+.

Millions of Haitians live abroad in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada (mainly Montreal), the Bahamas, France, the French West Indies, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil and French Guiana. There are an estimated 881,500 Haitians in the United States, 800,000 in the Dominican Republic, 300,000 in Cuba, 100,000 in Canada, 80,000 in France and up to 80,000 in the Bahamas, but there are also small Haitian communities in many other countries, including Chile, Switzerland, Japan and Australia.

In 2015, life expectancy at birth was 63 years.

Religion

According to the 2015 CIA Factbook, about 80% of Haitians identify themselves as Catholic, while Protestants make up about 16% of the population (Baptists 10%, Pentecostals 4%, Adventists 1%, others 1%). Other sources estimate that the Protestant population is larger and could account for a third of the population in 2001. Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langloisis is President of the National Conference of Bishops of the Catholic Church.

Vodou, a religion with African roots similar to those of Cuba and Brazil, originated in colonial times when slaves were forced to disguise their loa or spirits as Roman Catholic saints, part of a process called syncretism, and is still practised by some Haitians today. Given the religious syncretism between Catholicism and Vodou, it is difficult to estimate the number of Vodouists in Haiti.

Minority religions in Haiti include Islam, the Baha’i faith, Judaism and Buddhism.

Language In Haiti

The official languages of Haiti are French and Haitian Creole (Kreyòl Ayisien), a Creole language based on French, with 92% of its vocabulary derived from French and the rest mainly from African languages. Haitian Creole is the mother tongue of the masses, while French is the administrative language, although only 15% of Haitians can speak it and only about 2% speak it well.

Creole is mutually intelligible with French at the most basic level, so the competent French speaker should be able to cope in limited circumstances. Many Haitians are very grateful if you make the effort to learn a little of one of the official languages (preferably Creole) rather than using an interpreter or expecting them to speak English. Haitians working in tourist areas generally speak English well enough to hold a conversation.

Economy Of Haiti

Haiti’s GDP in purchasing power parity decreased by 8% in 2010 (from US$12.15 billion to US$11.18 billion) and GDP per capita remained unchanged at US$1,200 in PPP. Despite a functioning tourism industry, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest in the Americas. Poverty, corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of health care and education are the main causes. The economy has declined due to the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera epidemic. The 2010 United Nations Human Development Index ranks Haiti 145th out of 182 countries, with 57.3% of the population failing to meet at least three of the poverty characteristics of the HDI.

Following the disputed 2000 elections and allegations against President Aristide’s regime, US aid to the Haitian government was suspended between 2001 and 2004. After Aristide’s departure in 2004, aid was resumed and the Brazilian military led a peacekeeping operation for the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. After almost four years of recession, the economy grew by 1.5% in 2005. In September 2009, Haiti met the conditions of the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries programme to cancel its external debt.

More than 90% of the government’s budget comes from an agreement with Petrocaribe, a Venezuela-led oil alliance.

Foreign aid

Foreign aid is essential for Haiti. From 1990 to 2003, Haiti received more than $4 billion in aid, including $1.5 billion from the United States.

The largest donor is the United States, followed by Canada and the European Union. In January 2010, after the earthquake, US President Barack Obama pledged 1.15 billion US dollars in aid. European Union countries have pledged more than 400 million euros (616 million US dollars).

The neighbouring Dominican Republic has also provided significant humanitarian assistance to Haiti, including funding and building a public university, providing human capital, free health services in the border region and logistical support after the 2010 earthquake.

According to the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, as of March 2012, only 1% of humanitarian funds pledged or disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors in 2010 and 2011 had been disbursed to the Haitian government.

According to the CIA World Factbook 2013, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti caused an estimated US$7.8 billion in damage and a decline in the country’s GDP.

The UN says a total of $13.34 billion has been allocated for the crisis through 2020, although two years after the 2010 earthquake, less than half of that has actually been released, UN documents show. In 2015, the US government provided $4 billion; $3 billion has already been spent, with the rest going to longer-term projects.

Former US President Bill Clinton’s foundation has contributed $250,000 to a recycling initiative for a sister programme of “Ranmase Lajan” or “Pick Up Money”, which uses reverse vending machines.

How To Travel To Haiti

Get In - By air

International travellers arrive in Haiti in Port-au-Prince (PAP) at Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport or at Cap-Haitien International Airport in the north. Airline tickets can be purchased through numerous online ticket exchanges and agencies. Intra-Haitian flights are also available. Prices for these flights can fluctuate from time to time due to inflation, but depending on the airline, they are usually between $125 and $132 round-trip to and from Port-au-Prince, and are cheaper between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. A really cheap, reliable and popular airline is Sunrise Airways. In addition to bypassing the rather dangerous and inadequate public transport system of buses and taps, the flights offer safe passage to and from Port-au-Prince from other parts of Haiti.

Airlines such as American Airlines, Delta and Spirit fly to Port-au-Prince from the United States. Air Canada, Air France and Caribair, among others, also offer international flights to and from Port-au-Prince.

Lynx Air flies from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Cap-Haitian. MFI (Missionary Flights International) also flies from Florida to Cap-Haitian, but only registered non-Catholic Christian missionaries can fly. Other international airlines that fly to Cap-Haitian are Sky King, Turks and Caicos Air and Pine-apple Air.

Get In - On the road

From Santo Domingo, Caribe Tours offers a daily bus to Petionville (in the hills above Port-au-Prince) that leaves at 11am. A ticket costs $40 one way, $26 tax and 100 DR. Unfortunately, this bus drops you off in Petionville after dark. Therefore, arrange in advance with someone you trust to pick you up and drive you to your accommodation.

There is also a busy border crossing between the Dominican Republic and Haiti at Dajabón/Ouanaminthe. The border is only open during the day. From there you can take a local transport to Cap-Haitien.

Another, less expensive option from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince is to take a gua-gua (Dominican minibus) from Santo Domingo (leaving a few blocks north of Parque Enriquillo) for 380 pesos DR (about $10, 5 hrs) and arrive at the border town of Jimani. From there walk 4 km or take a motoconcho for 50 pesos DR to the border crossing.

The border is supposedly open from 09:00 to 18:00 (but don’t rely on these times). It is very easy to cross the border without going through any immigration procedures on either side, and although it is probably illegal, it saves a few dozen dollars in bribes and is also much faster. Apart from entering the DR, where a soldier takes a look at the passport, no one does any inspection: immigration or customs. Entering Haiti legally is quick: just fill out the green form and pay the amount requested by the officer (about 100 DR). There is no ATM at the border.

The money changers give gourdes for DR pesos and US dollars. The prices are fair. There are many local transport options between the border and Port-au-Prince. Crowded buses will take you to Croix-des-Bouquets for 50 gourdes (1.5-2 hours), from where you can reach Port-au-Prince itself in another hour (bus, 5 gourdes). The road is in variable condition and prone to flooding. Peruvian UN soldiers at the border have confirmed that the road to Port-au-Prince is safe and that there have been no attacks or kidnappings, but try to arrive in Port-au-Prince before dark.

How To Travel Around Haiti

Get Around - By car

Cars can be rented from Hertz, Avis, etc. Taxis in Haiti are usually SUVs or trucks, as most roads are long overdue for repair, in addition to the abundance of dirt roads encountered when travelling in Haiti. The price is often reasonable (e.g. 450 gourdes, or $11.53 to 39 gourdes per dollar, from Port-au-Prince to Leogane), but offers safety and comfort not found in taps or buses.

Get Around - By bus

Taps are the most economical way to travel in Haiti. Haitian taps are converted trucks or vans and are ubiquitous throughout the country. There is usually a raised wooden cabin above the truck bed, similar to an awning, while wooden benches are attached to the truck bed to serve as seats. Taps are often colourfully painted and often bear a religious slogan, such as “Jesus loves you”.

In Port-au-Prince, most rides cost 10 gourdes ($0.25). They are also very convenient because they stop everywhere along the way: All you have to do is shout “Thank you!” and the driver stops. However, they are sometimes overloaded and can be quite dangerous on mountain roads where road conditions are not ideal. First-time travellers who do not speak conversational Creole are advised not to travel by tap-tap without assistance. There are also school bus versions of tap-tap that are used for longer journeys. These are often modified school buses.

Minibuses are a more comfortable alternative for long-distance travel. These congregate at various locations around the city, organised by destination. Seats to Jacmel, for example, cost about 150 gourdes (30 Haitian dollars, $3.75), while the more comfortable front seat can cost 200 gourdes ($5).

Destinations in Haiti

Regions in Haiti

  • Central Haiti
    The centre of Haiti’s population in the heart of the country – the sprawl around the capital and the countryside in the north.
  • North Haiti
    The country’s main towns outside the capital are located here, as are the beaches at Cap-Haitien favoured by foreign tourists.
  • Southern Haiti
    The Caribbean part of the country is the least hectic region of the country, with the booming Haitian backpacker destinations of Jacmel, Port Salut and Ile à Vache.

Cities in Haiti

  • Port-au-Prince – the big capital of Haiti, crowded and chaotic.
  • Cap Haitien – the second largest city in the country, on the Atlantic coast, near beautiful beaches and interesting old forts.
  • Gonaives – this is where Jean-Jacques Dessalines signed Haiti’s independence charter on 1 January 1804, founding the world’s first black republic.
  • Jacmel – a laid-back town with a beautiful historic centre and a hard-to-refute claim to be the country’s artistic and cultural capital, albeit in ruins after the earthquake.
  • Jeremie, the westernmost and most isolated town in Haiti, is a charming and sleepy little place.
  • Les Cayes – The main port in southern Haiti and a popular starting point for Île à Vache.
  • Pétionville – an affluent and much safer suburb of Port-au-Prince where you will find most of the capital’s nightlife, restaurants, wealthy Haitians and foreigners.
  • Port-de-Paix – the most important drug smuggling town on the Haitian coast, with the possibility of crossing by ferry to Tortuga Island, an almost unknown tropical paradise – although it has been discovered over the centuries by every self-respecting famous pirate and a few rich drug lords.
  • Port-Salut – birthplace of President Aristide, where there are miles of beautiful white sand beaches.

Other destinations in Haiti

  • Citadelle Henri Christophe (also known as Citadelle Laferrière) is a fortress on a high mountain in Haiti overlooking the town of Milot, Haiti. At the foot of the mountain are the ruins of the Palais Sans Souci.
  • Labadie – a private port used by cruise ships.
  • The 27 historic remains of the Mole Saint Nicolas, to the northwest, a strategic bay at the entrance to the Canal du Vent, also called the Gibraltar of America. This place is also ideal for sports (windsurfing, kitesurfing, mountain biking, hiking, etc.).

Accommodation & Hotels in Haiti

There are many guesthouses all over Haiti. However, it is quite difficult to find them abroad. Most of these guest houses cost around $25 to $35 per night and include 2 to 3 meals per day. Sometimes these houses are connected to orphanages (e.g. Saint Joseph’s Home for Boys).

Saint Joseph Home for Boys is located in Delmas 91, near Pétionville.

The Fondwa guesthouse is located at the foot of the hill of Anbatonèl (a small village halfway between Léogâne and Jacmel).

Camping is a high-risk activity in some parts of Haiti and is not recommended.

Things To See in Haiti

Port-Au-Prince has a few landmarks, structures and statues, such as a large pair of hands holding the earth. Many of them are located near the airport. This city is the largest in Haiti and was the hardest hit by the earthquake. You will still see traces of the disaster, such as destroyed buildings, but a lot of reconstruction has taken place. If you move a little further away from the city, you will get a better impression of the devastation. People still live in the “tent city”, which stretches for about two miles and consists of small tarpaulins draped over sticks stuck into the ground. As you walk along, you may pass one of the mass graves dug after the earthquake, but you probably won’t realise it’s a grave. It is on the side of a small hill, and the grass has grown over the churned up earth. There are no markers, but you sometimes see people or flowers laid there in remembrance.

Haiti offers beautiful landscapes if you know where to find them. If you are travelling with or staying with someone who knows the area well, ask them if there are any beautiful beaches or mountainous areas nearby. St Mark’s, like other towns, has a beautiful mountain range that can be hiked. On these mountains are historical artefacts, structures and incredible views of the ocean.

Food & Drinks in Haiti

Food in Haiti

Haitian cuisine is typical of the Caribbean mix, a wonderful blend of French and African sensibilities. It resembles that of its Spanish Caribbean neighbours, but is characterised by a strong presence of spices. Roasted goat called “kabrit”, roasted pork “griot”, poultry with Creole sauce “poulet créole”, rice with wild mushrooms “du riz jonjon” are all wonderful and tasty dishes.

Along the coast, fish, lobster and shellfish are abundant. Haiti has a wonderful collection of fruits, including guava, pineapple, mango (Haiti’s most prized fruit), banana, melon, breadfruit and appetising sugar cane, which is cut and peeled on the street if needed. Restaurants in the larger towns offer safe and delicious meals, and precautions are taken with food and water to ensure safety.

However, even in establishments where water is purified, it cannot always be assumed that raw vegetables (such as lettuce and tomatoes) have been properly washed. In smaller or more modest places, be sure to eat fruits and vegetables that can be peeled or skinned, drink only bottled drinks, make sure ice comes from a clean water source, and make sure meat is properly cooked.

When bottled or boiled water is not available, a freshly opened coconut provides water and electrolytes with minimal health risk.

Drinks in Haiti

Haitian rum is famous. The “Barbancourt 5 stars” is a first-class drink. Clairin” is the local sugar cane liquor that you can buy on the street, often flavoured with different herbs, which you can see filled in the bottle. Prestige” is the most popular beer, it is of good quality and excellent taste. Don’t miss the “Papye” drink, a kind of papaya milkshake, wonderfully refreshing on a hot day. Cremas is a tasty and creamy alcoholic drink made from coconut milk.

Money & Shopping in Haiti

The Haitian gourde is the currency of Haiti. Although traders are required by law to quote prices in gourdes, almost everything is quoted in “dollars” – not US dollars, but Haitian dollars, which is equivalent to 5 gourdes. This practice is a relic of the American occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century, during which the gourde was set at 5 gourdes to the US dollar.

Haiti has become known for its lively, very informal but interesting market. Everything from strangely attractive to boring is sold here at rather low prices. Haggling is both wise and advisable, as most Haitians charge foreigners at least double the market price. There are several large retail supermarkets in the capital offering a variety of items at fixed prices. Haiti has a world of handicrafts just waiting to be sought out.

Festivals & Holidays in Haiti

The following days are public holidays in Haiti. Many Vodou holidays are also celebrated but are not considered public holidays.

The two most important holidays for Haitian Americans are Haitian Independence Day and Haitian Flag Day.

Date English name Comments
1 January New Year’s Day and Independence Day Commemorates the day in 1804 when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the country’s independence and gave it back its original name.
2 January Ancestors’ Day Remember the ancestors and other relatives who died in the struggle for freedom.
January 6 Epiphany Celebrate the visit of the Magi to the newborn Christ.
mobile Carnival
1 May Labour and Agriculture Day International holidays
18 May Flag and University Day Celebrates its education system and commemorates the creation of the flag at the Arcahaye Conference in 1803.
15 August Assumption Day Roman Catholic holidays
17 October Anniversary of the death of Dessalines In commemoration of the death of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
1 November All Saints’ Day Roman Catholic holiday; commemoration of sainthood.
2 November Day of the Souls Roman Catholic holiday; commemoration of the faithful departed.
18 November Day of the Battle of Vertières Commemorates the victory over the French at the Battle of Vertières in 1803.
5 December Discovery Day Commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus on Hispaniola in 1492.
25 December Christmas Celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Traditions & Customs in Haiti

One thing a missionary or other visitor to Haiti learns very quickly is that Haitians are a very dignified people; they have their pride, despite everything they have been through. There are a few beggars and peddlers in the cities, but they are the exception, not the rule. Don’t expect them to bend over backwards. Impoverished Haitians will always accept gifts, but they will almost always stand up straight, look you in the eye and thank you with a sincere “mesi” (thank you).

Haiti is a nation with quite conservative standards. It is advisable to dress modestly when exploring the cities of Haiti, especially for women. The intelligent visitor should look people in the eye, greet them and treat them with friendship and respect, as equals, even if their living conditions seem poor or desperate.

Try to learn some basic Haitian-Creole words.

Ask permission before taking photos of people (money is often demanded). Never walk around holding your camera in people’s faces or take photos indiscriminately. Don’t just take photos of the mountains of rubbish you see in some of the big cities (like Cap-Haitien or Port-au-Prince), or of anything Haitians are not proud of, because that is offensive. On the other hand, people have no problem with foreigners taking pictures of beautiful landscapes, cultural events or historical sites.

Take a few water bottles in your bags for the children who will be carrying your luggage, shining your shoes or tap-dancing at the airport (but beware of pickpockets).

Sometimes visitors go around Haiti handing out sweets or banknotes. While many people, especially children, will accept your offer, this practice is offensive to most people because it violates the dignity of Haitians. Take an extra bottle of water and some food to share with your driver, guide or interpreter.

Be patient, because nothing happens quickly in Haiti. Most people will find your whining amusing at best and seriously offensive at worst.

Take some photos of the area where you live, your workplace or your family to share with your friends. These are the things that will turn you from a mere tourist into a real person. In most cases, people will reciprocate and you may even make a friend.

Your feelings are real. It is normal to feel overwhelmed if you have never experienced this kind of cultural difference. If you are easily affected by signs of poverty, Haiti is not for you. Be polite but not pushy. It is normal to ask questions of the locals. Remember that you are a guest in their country. Do not expect to be treated like a king or queen (although you may get some extra privileges) just because you are a foreigner. Haitians are warm and helpful people.

The inhabitants of Gonâve Island probably have less contact with Americans than Haitians in Port-au-Prince. Children shout “blan, blan, blan” when white people walk by. The children of the salt flats will be happy to walk with you, show you how to skip stones on the water, and try very hard to communicate with you. They may try to charge you for picking up a shell on the salt flats and up to $6 for a photo with their donkey. You don’t have to pay, but out of respect you should not take the photo. They are happy if you ask them if you can take their picture.

Culture Of Haiti

Haiti has a unique cultural identity made up of a broad mix of traditional French and African customs, mixed with significant contributions from Spanish and indigenous Taino culture. The country’s customs are essentially a blend of the cultural beliefs of the various ethnic groups that have inhabited the island of Hispaniola. Haiti’s culture is reflected in painting, music and literature. Galleries and museums in the United States and France have exhibited the works of some of Haiti’s best-known artists.

Art

Haitian art is characterised above all by its paintings and sculptures, which are known for their diverse forms of artistic expression. Bright colours, naïve perspectives and mischievous humour characterise Haitian art. Common themes of Haitian art are large delicious foods, lush landscapes, market activities, jungle animals, rituals, dances and gods. Artists often paint fables. People are dressed up as animals and animals are transformed into people.

Due to a deep history and strong African ties, symbols have great significance in Haitian society. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colours of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party. Many artists group themselves into “schools” of painting, such as the Cap Haitian school, which shows representations of daily life in the city; the Jacmel school, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of this coastal city; or the Saint-Soleil school, which features abstract human forms and is strongly influenced by Vodou symbolism.

Music and dance

Haitian music combines a variety of influences from the many peoples who have settled on this Caribbean island. It reflects French, African, Spanish and other elements that inhabited the island of Hispaniola, as well as minor influences from the indigenous Taino. Music styles unique to the Haitian nation include music derived from vodou ceremonies, rara parade music, twoubadou ballads, mini-jazz rock bands, rasinmovement, hip hop kreyòl, méringue and compas. Young people attend parties in nightclubs called discos (pronounced “deece-ko”) and go to the bal. This term is the French word for ball, as in a formal dance.

The compas (konpa) (also known as compas direct in French or konpa dirèk in Creole) is a complex and changing music derived from African rhythms and European social dances, mixed with Haiti’s bourgeois culture. It is a sophisticated music whose basic rhythm is the méringue. Haiti had no recorded music until 1937, when Jazz Guignard was recorded in a non-commercial way.

Cuisine

Haitian cuisine is the result of several culinary styles of the various historical ethnic groups that populated the western part of the island of Hispaniola. Haitian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of the Latin Caribbean (the French- and Spanish-speaking countries of the West Indies), but differs in many ways from its regional counterparts. Although the cuisine is simple and unpretentious, the flavours are bold and spicy and show a primary influence of African culinary aesthetics combined with a very French sophistication with notable derivatives of indigenous Taíno and Spanish techniques. Although similar to other cooking styles in the region, it has its own uniqueness; many visitors to the island have mixed reviews of Haitian cuisine. Haitians often use chillies and other strong flavours.

The dishes are usually generously spiced. Therefore, Haitian cuisine is often moderately spicy. However, several foreign cuisines have been introduced into the country. These include Levantine cuisine, which originated from the Arab migration to Haiti. Rice and beans, in various forms, are eaten throughout the country, regardless of location, and have become a kind of national dish. They form the basis of the diet, which is very starchy and rich in carbohydrates. Rural areas that have better access to agricultural products offer a greater variety of choices.

One such dish is ground maize (mayi moulen), which resembles oatmeal and can be eaten with pea sauce (sòs pwa), a bean sauce made from one of the many types of beans such as kidney, pinto, chickpea or pigeon pea (known as gandule in some countries). Maize moulin can be eaten with fish (often red snapper) or alone, depending on personal preference. Among the many plants used in Haitian dishes are tomatoes, oregano, cabbage, avocado and peppers. A popular food is banana pesée (ban-nan’n peze), flattened slices of plantain deep-fried in cooking oil (known as tostones in Spanish-speaking Latin America). It is eaten both as a snack and as part of a meal, often accompanied by tassot and griot (fried goat and pork).

The dish Haitians traditionally eat on Independence Day (1 January) is Joumou soup. Haiti is also internationally known for its rum; Barbancourt rum is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Haiti and is highly regarded internationally.

Architecture

Monuments include the Sans Souci Palace and the Laferrière Citadel, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982. Located in the Massif du Nord, in one of Haiti’s national parks, the structures date from the early 19th century. The buildings were among the first to be constructed after Haiti’s independence from France. The Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Americas, is located in northern Haiti. It was built between 1805 and 1820 and is now considered by some Haitians to be the eighth wonder of the world.

Jacmel, a colonial town provisionally inscribed on the World Heritage List, was severely damaged by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Haiti

Stay Safe in Haiti

WARNING: In 2012, Canada advised its citizens to “exercise extreme caution” due to high crime rates and the United States warned its citizens that “the ability of local authorities to respond to emergencies is limited and non-existent in some areas” as some visitors have been assaulted, robbed, shot or killed.

Since the earthquake of 12 January 2010, many people still live on the streets, in makeshift shelters. There have been a number of protests and an increase in criminal activity. Be careful when travelling in Haiti. Overall, exercise caution and use common sense. Do not carry large amounts of cash and do not walk the dark streets late at night.

Women should not walk alone on the island. The number of people who fled to the island after the earthquake is not known, but the atmosphere on the island has changed some people. Even when women walk with other men, Haitian men can still make comments. They are not afraid to make eye contact and their looks can be unpleasant. It is best to be polite but watch out for your immediate group.

Stay Healthy in Haiti

WARNING: After the deployment of UN peacekeepers in response to the 2010 earthquake, there was a major cholera outbreak. By August 2015, after the rainy season led to a surge in cases, more than 700,000 Haitians had contracted cholera and the death toll had risen to 9,000. Cholera, which is spread through contaminated food and water, can lead to dehydration and death. Local medical care is woefully inadequate in many potentially dangerous areas.

Sanitary conditions in Haiti are poor. Tap water should be avoided. Drink bottled water only.

Health care is below the standard of developed countries, but is available in all major cities. Many small towns and villages also have health clinics. However, there can be shortages of medical equipment and a variety of medicines.

The biggest concerns for travellers to Haiti are malaria and dehydration. It is advisable to make an appointment for malaria prophylaxis at a travel clinic. Hydration needs can be met by using one of the many water purification systems, as if camping, or by buying bottled water once in Haiti (which is widely available and inexpensive by Western standards). Washing with water from places like streams or lakes is not recommended because of the risk of waterborne diseases. Vaccinations are not compulsory but are strongly recommended. Visit your doctor or a local hospital or clinic about a month before your trip to find out what types of vaccinations they recommend.

Depending on your itinerary, you may have to walk a lot. It is important to wear comfortable shoes to avoid blisters. Walking shoes and comfortable sandals are recommended.

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