Due to government instability, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to Haiti.
The most common phrase in Haiti might surprise you. It’s 'pa gen pwoblem,' and it translates to 'no have problem.' Haitians use it in a dizzying array of contexts: responding to thank-yous, asserting well-being, filling awkward silences. Despite Haiti’s well-documented struggles, exacerbated lately by natural disasters, proud Haitians use the phrase sincerely, conveying an uncanny ability to live in the moment and appreciate what they do have, which is quite a lot.
Tranquil beaches, tumbling waterfalls and pine-tree-capped mountains dot the varied and striking landscape, easily rivaling the natural beauty found anywhere else in the Caribbean. The world’s only successful slave rebellion happened here, and the music, art and culture that came with it make Haiti entirely unique. As those who come to assist Haiti often learn, an encounter with the soul of this fascinating, beautiful country often benefits a traveler just as much.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Haiti.
While most of Haiti’s artists are represented in the rarefied air of Pétionville’s galleries, a collective of sculptors and installation artists produces spectacular work in an unlikely setting, squeezed into the cinder-block houses among mechanics and body workshops on Grand Rue. In this Caribbean junkyard gone cyberpunk, the artists turn scrap and found objects into startling Vodou sculpture, exploring a heady mix of spirit, sex and politics, all grounded in the preoccupations of daily Haitian life.
Haitians call the Citadelle the eighth wonder of the world and, having slogged to the 900m summit of Pic Laferrière (or ridden horseback for US$15), you'll likely agree. This battleship-like fortress gives commanding views in every direction. Completed in 1820, it employed 20,000 people and held supplies to sustain the royal family and a garrison of 5000 troops for a year. With 4m-thick walls up to 40m high, the fortress was impenetrable, although its cannon were never fired in combat.
Your basic paradise, this tiny island offers white sand, a lush core of trees, and turquoise water where snorkelers encounter centuries-old cannon and anchors. Columbus is said to have given the island its alternate name – Amiga – for the female companion that would accompany him here. Indigenous artifacts have also been unearthed here. Boat taxi captains in Labadie charge around US$50 for a round-trip excursion and US$15 for cooking up a lunch of whatever the local fishermen catch that day.
Tucked into the mountains 12km northwest of Jacmel, Bassin Bleu is a series of three cobalt-blue pools linked by waterfalls that make up one of the prettiest swimming holes in Haiti. Experience Jacmel will take you to a hamlet close to the pools via moto-taxi, then a local guide will escort you down an uneven path (at one point you'll rappel down a rock face) to the gorgeous pools, where kids often jump from high rocks.
Built as a rival to Versailles in France, Henry Christophe’s palace of Sans Souci has lain abandoned since it was ruined in the 1842 earthquake. The years of neglect have left an elegantly crumbling edifice. Finished in 1813, Sans Souci was more than just a palace; it was designed to be the administrative capital of Christophe’s kingdom, housing a hospital, a school and a printing press, as well as an army barracks.
This modern, mostly subterranean history museum, set below gardens, hosts a permanent exhibition chronicling Haiti’s history, from the Taínos and slavery to independence and the modern era. Fascinating exhibits include exquisite Taíno pottery; the rusting anchor of Columbus’ flagship, the Santa María; a copy of the fearsome Code Noir that governed the running of the plantations; the silver pistol with which revolutionary leader Christophe took his own life; Emperor Faustin’s ostentatious crown; and ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s trademark black hat and cane.
Installed by ex-President Michel Martelly, this kilometer-long boardwalk along Jacmel's waterfront has become popular with locals as a spot to socialize and relax. It's magical to go for a stroll over the boardwalk's elaborate mosaic tile designs, checking out local jewelry and paintings, trying street food and saying hello to curious passers-by.
Several of Haiti’s cities have iron markets, but Port-au-Prince’s is the original and the best. Constructed in 1889, the exuberant red-metal structure looks like something out of Arabian Nights. Although the Iron Market burnt down after the earthquake, it was magnificently and speedily restored, reopening on the one-year anniversary. It’s rich in food, art and Vodou paraphernalia.
Cap's pretty main square, bordered on the southern side by the Notre-Dame cathedral on Rue 18, has a dark past. François Mackandal, leader of a pre-revolutionary guerrilla slave war, was burned at the stake here in 1758. Subsequent revolutionary Vincent Ogé was broken on the wheel here in 1791. But nowadays things seem extremely relaxed, at least during the daytime: benches clustered around a small statue of Jean-Jacques Dessalines are invariably occupied by students and other friendly chillers.