Is Haiti about to make a travel comeback? In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake this impoverished island nation focused squarely on recovery efforts after tens of thousands died and millions were displaced. Four years on and a sense of optimism has returned. Non-essential travel warnings from the US and UK governments have been lifted and visitor numbers are up. The Haitian government has been hard at work nurturing tourism developments on the south coast while improving accessibility in the north, where a new international airport now stands. Damage from the earthquake may still be visible and its legacy endures but Haiti is on the road to recovery and, for intrepid travellers, it’s back on the map.
With a modicum of stability, Haiti could yet become the Caribbean’s alternative travel destination par excellence: it has palm-fringed beaches to rival any of its neighbors. But lazing on the sand with a rum punch isn’t really the point of Haiti (although you can do that, too). The richness of the country lies in its history and culture. The slave revolution left behind a wealth of historic sites, including the Citadelle la Ferrière – a fortress that easily holds its own against anything similar in the Americas. Haiti’s history has meant that it’s kept closer to its African roots than any other Caribbean nation, a legacy that’s ever present in its vibrant art and music scenes.
Haiti isn’t the easiest country to travel in. You frequently need to keep an ear out for the news, and it can be more expensive than you’d expect. However, once you’re there, travel is not only possible, but also incredibly rewarding. It’s an addictive country to visit: once in Haiti, there’s something about the people, the history, and even the air, that can get in your blood and draw you back time and again.
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Sheltered by a beautiful 3km-wide bay, the old coffee port of Jacmel is one of the most friendly and tranquil towns in Haiti. Little more than a couple of hours drive south from Port-au-Prince, it’s a popular weekend destination for city dwellers, and hosts one of the country’s best Carnivals every Lent.
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If you’re interested in how Haiti came to be as it is today, head for the north coast. It all happened here, from Columbus’ first landfall on Hispaniola to the key events of the Haitian slave revolution, and there are still many monuments left to mark out this path of history. Everything starts at Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second city.
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Haiti’s south is all about taking it easy. Pulling out of Port-au-Prince on Rte National 2, the urban hustle is soon replaced by a much more relaxed air and rightly so – you’re heading toward the Caribbean Sea. Of the towns strung along the coast, Jacmel is the gem. It’s an old coffee port full of pretty buildings, with a chilled yet friendly welcome.