Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

Come to Haiti and discover the Caribbean’s best kept secret. Most people know Haiti from images of a poor, earthquake-ravaged country. They might recall pictures of political violence, deforestation and sad stories of a broken country.

But Haiti is so much more than that.

Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

A private residence at Cote des Arcadins © Phillippe Diederich

In the last few years the country has made great strides to move forward and rebuild, and make it a paradise for tourism. And while all eyes are on Cuba as its relations with the U.S. are finally thawing, Haiti remains a place waiting to be discovered by tourists.

Haiti has a fascinating history: the first independent black republic, the first successful slave revolt, and the second independent country in the western hemisphere after the U.S.

Unfortunately, Haiti got a bum wrap from the start. After it declared independence in 1804 it was shunned by all other countries. And from the late 1950’s until 1986 the country was destroyed by the dictatorship of the Duvaliers. This was followed by a decade of political turmoil which included a U.S. military occupation in the fall of 1994.

Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

Hotel in Port Salut © Lorraine C. Ladish

But now Haiti’s future’s looking bright—especially for tourists who want a real Caribbean experience and not a gated resort package.

Haiti is the real deal.

The first thing you need to know is that the crime rate in Haiti is extremely low, especially when you compare the numbers with some of its more popular neighbors.

Haitians are incredibly friendly. I know this sounds like a line, but it’s true. All over the country a traveler will find only smiles from the people. Haiti feels like a small town.

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Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

Jumping into the ocean at Port Salut © Phillippe Diederich

While Port-au-Prince is the country’s capital and its biggest city, some of the best places to visit are outside Port-au-Prince. But the city is still a destination worth spending time in. When you consider the food, the music and the art that Port-au-Prince offers, you could spend a week just digging into its impressive culture. For hotels in the city you might stay at the famous Oloffson Hotel, or if you’d like something more luxurious check out the new Marriott or the Karibe Hotel. On the top floor of the Karibe you will find Asu, a hip club/lounge. It is the place in Port-au-Prince right now. But to try some of the best dishes in the country, try Azul,  Brasserie Quartier Latin, Papaye or Cafe 36.

Haiti is an art lover’s paradise. There are galleries and boutiques and museums. But just outside Port-au-Prince in Croix-des-Bouquets you can go to a town where just about everyone is an artisan working with metal. What began as crafts using old 50-gallon drums has become almost an industry. As you drive into the town you can hear the din of the people banging on hammers and chisels on metal.

Just north of the city is Cote des Arcadins, a nice beach area where there was once a Club Med and has now be converted to Club Indigo. Many wealthy Haitians have beach homes around the area, but there are a number of places open to the public. Get the feel of the Caribbean as you chill on the beach and watch fishermen come up on their dugout canoes with their daily catch of fish, lobster or conch and offer to cook it for you right there.

Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

Dan’s Creek Hotel in Port Salut © Lorraine C. Ladish

There are a number of beautiful beaches: Ile Lavache, Jacmel and Port Salut in the south and east. If you go, you will not find gated all inclusive monster hotels. No, here you will find charming mom and pop style hotels that are full of character and charm. Check out Dan’s Creek Hotel or Abaka Bay Resort.

In the north you will find Labadee (an island that is leased by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines where they drop off passengers to enjoy fun in the sand) But also Cap Haitien and the famous Citadel, a huge fort built by King Henri Christophe in the early 1800s. In the interior of the country you can witness peasant life like it has existed for centuries. You can cool off in the mountains or at one of the natural waterfalls that dot the countryside.

Discovering the breathtaking beauty of Haiti

Private residence in the mountains of Furcy © Lorraine C. Ladish

Haiti is a people place. It’s about going out and dancing on Thursday nights at the Oloffson Hotel or one of the many other venues that have live bands rocking in their own style of Haitian music. You might check out a vodou ceremony, catch a soccer game, gamble at a casino, go shopping at the old Iron Market.

But the truly great thing about Haiti is the friendliness of its people. Haiti offers the visitor an experience like no other in the Caribbean. It is unique and personal.  

Phillippe Diederich

Phillippe Diederich is a bilingual author and photographer born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His photography has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, U.S. News and World Report and other national publications. Phillippe's novels Sofrito and Playing for the Devil's Fire are both published by Cinco Puntos Press. He is the recipient of a PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship and the Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty!