There’s more to Haiti than Port-au-Prince
Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, welcomes most travellers. And, even though it is the largest and most important city in Haiti, there is much more to the country than the capital. Its streets have the crowds and congestion many large cities tend to, but beyond its borders, say with a trip north to Cap-Haïtien, you get to leave the bustle behind as you check out the historic Citadel and the ruins of the palace of Sans Souci. And a visit south, near Jacmel, gives you the chance to explore the arts community as well as the famous Bassin-Bleu waterfall. You can also find white-sand beaches in the south, which you’ll often have all to yourself.
So while Port-au-Prince is an important part of Haiti, it doesn’t represent the whole country. Extend your reach to other areas and you won’t be disappointed.
Crossing the border by land? Give yourself time
Haiti borders only one other country: the Dominican Republic. In the big scheme of things, the amount of traffic going over the border isn’t actually that much. Nonetheless, if you do choose to enter or exit Haiti by land, give yourself about two hours to cross (especially if you are traveling by bus). Also note that there is a US$60 exit fee, which has to be paid in cash. If travelling by bus, you can arrange to pay this ahead of time. US dollars or Haitian gourdes are both accepted.)
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A word about cruise ships
If your cruise ship stops in Haiti, you likely won’t experience what I call, the “real Haiti.” Most of the cruise companies have private, gated compounds with beach access. What they don’t offer however, is immersion in the vibrancy of the country or a proximity to its beautiful, local culture. If you’re visiting on a ship, consider taking a day tour and getting outside of the compound.
Go with the flow
Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. A history of slavery, embargo, corruption, foreign occupations, and natural disasters have left the country in difficult economic straights.
Before you go, expect there to be blackouts, traffic jams and other inconveniences. Hot water and electricity should work in western-style hotels, but once you get beyond the grounds, be prepared for delays. Getting upset or complaining about the conditions will not help matters. Go with the flow and take these things into consideration when planning your days.
Haiti is not defined by tragedy
Unfortunately, most of the news we hear out of Haiti comes when something bad happens. The most recent earthquake in 2010 is a prime example. After my visit, most questions people asked me were centred around the earthquake and usually because they knew did not really know much more about what this country has to offer.
While it is true the earthquake was devastating, Haitians are a proud people who don’t see themselves as objects of pity. During my trip, I didn’t really see any other tourists. All the foreigners we met were working for NGOs or church groups. Many believe the only way to experience Haiti is to perform humanitarian work, but there really is so much more on offer here.
And so, visit Haiti for the sake of visiting Haiti, as you would any other country in the region. Haitians are a welcoming people and supporting the tourism sector is one of the best things that can happen to the economy here. Go and visit, and then spread the word.