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Nestled alongside the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola, Haiti has a favourable location in the heart of the Caribbean, promising a fine getaway. Promising, but not necessarily delivering. While the wealthy suburb of Petionville presents a palette of fine dining, luxurious hotels and modern shopping centres, neighbouring slum areas reveal the disturbing inequality of Haitian society. For visitors, this means that extra caution must be taken. It is recommended that slum areas such as these are not ventured into.
Looking beyond the social injustice of Haiti there is much to offer as a travel destination. For many travellers the standard Caribbean attractions of stunning beaches and great diving may be enough of a draw. On the other hand Haiti is home to amazing culture such as voodoo, being the first slave revolt state and the Citadel. Haiti is one of those countries that travellers need to think and consider before going and for more information read a lot about the country, the people, safety and health. Although, if you want a true adventure dust off your French and learn some Creole in order to have a great time in Haiti.
The island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti occupies the western third, is one of many Caribbean islands inhabited at the time of European arrival by the Taíno Indians, speakers of an Arawakan language. The Taíno name for the entire island was Kiskeya. In the Taíno societies of the Caribbean Islands, the largest unit of political organization was led by a cacique; hence the term 'caciquedom'. Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the island of Hispaniola was divided among five or six long-established caciquedoms.
Christopher Columbus landed at Môle Saint-Nicolas on 5 December 1492, and claimed the island for Spain. Nineteen days later, his ship the Santa María ran aground near the present site of Cap-Haïtien; Columbus was forced to leave behind 39 men, founding the settlement of La Navidad. Following the destruction of La Navidad by the local indigenous people, Columbus moved to the eastern side of the island and established La Isabela.
French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in 1625. They survived by pirating Spanish ships and hunting wild cattle. Although the Spanish destroyed the buccaneers' settlements several times, on each occasion they returned. The first official settlement on Tortuga was established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV.
In 1664, the newly established French West India Company took control over the colony, which it named Saint-Domingue, and France formally claimed control of the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. In 1670 they established the first permanent French settlement on the mainland of Hispaniola, Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien).
The outbreak of revolution in France in the summer of 1789 had a powerful effect on the colony. On August 22, 1791, slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a revolt that began the Haitian Revolution. In 1792 the French government sent three commissioners with troops to try to reestablish control. They began to build an alliance with the free people of color who wanted more civil rights. In 1793, France and Great Britain went to war, and British troops invaded Saint-Domingue. The execution of Louis XVI heightened tensions in the colony. To build an alliance with the gens de couleur and slaves, the French commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel abolished slavery in the colony.
The United States occupied the island from 1915 to 1934 and from 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier family reigned as dictators, with a personality cult and major corruption. In March 1987, a new Constitution was overwhelmingly approved by Haiti's population. General elections in November were aborted hours after dozens of inhabitants were shot in the capital by soldiers and the Tonton Macoute, and scores more were massacred around the country.
In December 1990, the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President in the Haitian general election, winning by more than two thirds of the vote. Aristide was re-elected in 2000. His second term was marked by accusations of corruption. In 2004 a paramilitary coup ousted Aristide a second time. Aristide was removed by U.S. Marines from his home in what he described as a "kidnapping", and was then briefly held by the government of the Central African Republic. Aristide obtained his release and went into exile in South Africa.
On January 12, 2010 Haiti was struck by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the country's most severe earthquake in over 200 years. The epicenter of the quake was just off the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The capital city was devastated and tens of thousands of people were killed.
Haiti occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic takes up the eastern two-thirds. Haiti has two main peninsulas, one in the north and one in the south. Between the peninsulas is the Ile de la Gonâve. On the south and west it borders the Caribbean Sea, while it borders to the Atlantic Ocean in the north. From the most northwestern point it is about 90 kilometres to Cuba, from which it is seperated by the Windward Passage. Haiti also controls 4 big islands: Ile de la Gonâve, Ile de la Tortue, Grande Cayemite, and Ile à Vache.
The northern part of Haiti consists of the Massif du Nord (Northern Massif) and the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The Massif du Nord is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic. It begins at Haiti's eastern border, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends to the northwest through the northern peninsula. The lowlands of the Plaine du Nord lie along the northern border with the Dominican Republic, between the Massif du Nord and the North Atlantic Ocean. The central region consists of two plains and two sets of mountain ranges. The Plateau Central (Central Plateau) extends along both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the Massif du Nord. It runs from the southeast to the northwest. To the southwest of the Plateau Central are the Montagnes Noires, whose most northwestern part merges with the Massif du Nord. Its westernmost point is known as Cap Carcasse.
The southern region consists of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (the southeast) and the mountainous southern peninsula (also known as the Tiburon Peninsula). The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression that harbors the country's saline lakes, such as Trou Caïman and Haiti's largest lake, Lac Azuéi. The Chaîne de la Selle mountain range – an extension of the southern mountain chain of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco) – extends from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. This mountain range harbors Pic la Selle, the highest point in Haiti at 2,680 metres.
Haiti is made up of 10 departments.
Port-au-Prince is the capital, cultural center and largest city in the country. It has been the major city of Haiti for several centuries and features many great aspects of that tradition. It is home to the national museum, national palace and several wonderful parks. Sadly most of city was destroyed in an earthquake on January 12th and it will be long time before it will be restored.
Cap-Haïtien is a nice city located on the northern coast. It has been the traditional rival of Port-au-Prince and was the first capital after independence. It is the jumping point to several nice beaches and to Haiti's proudest achievement the Citadel. Cap-Haïtien also has an international airport allowing and alternative entry point instead of Port-au-Prince.
Jacmel is the center of the Haitian art community and a wonderful beach town. It is a great place to go and relax. This is also one of the best places to get plugged into the Haitian art world. It also has great seafood and a pleasant atmosphere.
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The National History Park is the only sight in Haiti that is on the Unesco World Heritage List. The Haitian monuments date back to the early 19th century, when Haiti proclaimed its independence. The Palace of Sans Souci, the buildings at Ramiers and, in particular, the Citadel Laferrière serve as mixed symbols of liberty and the beginning of oppressive and corrupt governments. At the same time they were the first monuments to be constructed by the black slaves after gaining their freedom. The park is located near Cap Haitien and offers great views as well.
The Bassins Bleu Falls are three deep blue pools, connected by spectacular waterfalls. Because of the special minerals in the water these waterfalls have a very special colour. Legend has it that that there are water nymphs living in the caves near the waterfalls, who enjoy the sun on the rock in Palm Lake. But they disappear whenever they hear people's footsteps.
Étang Saumâtre is the main place to visit if you are interested in seeing the local flora and fauna. It is Haiti's largest saltwater lake and supports over 100 species of waterfowl, flamingos and American crocodiles. It offers a fantastic natural feature with great colours and dotted by brush and cacti. The western part of the lake is a bit salty, while the eastern part is actually freshwater!
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Club Indigo is the most high end resort in all of Haiti. Located on Highway 1 about an hour and half north of Port-au-Prince, in Montrouis, this resort is stunning. It was originally built as a Club Med in the 1950s and had many famous guests from that era. It was reopened after being closed for 20 years with expanded rooms and services. The crystal clear warm water is great for swimming and the resort has very good prices for its quality with excellent food.
Due to the blending of Catholic and Voodoo traditions Haiti has several vibrant holidays. Ranging form independence day celebrations to one of the most intense carnivals in the Caribbean.
Haiti is a tropical destinations, with warm or hot weather and high humidity. Daytime temperatures hoover around 30 °C or more throughout the year while most nights are well above 20 °C still. The north has slightly more variation regarding temperatures, mainly a bit colder during wintermonths of November to April and warmer from May to October. The wet season lasts from May to November, with hurricanes being a real threat from August to November. The north is also somewhat wetter than the south. Because of the heat Haiti tends to start early in the morning, and as a traveller it is best to follow along with the locals starting your day at 5:30am and ending it early.
Toussaint Louverture International Airport (PAP) near Port-au-Prince serves a number of international destinations. Air D'Ayiti operates several flights in the Caribbean and to Miami. Other airlines have flights to New York, Montreal, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Curacao and Air France flies to Cayenne in French Guiana. The airport was heavily damaged during the airport but still in use. Remember when checking into flights there are different entrances for the different airlines. There are baggage men that can help you but you don't have to use them. They can be a bit aggressive when trying to help you and demanding a tip.
Getting from the airport to the city can be quite an experience. After exiting the airport travellers enter a mass of people screaming and shouting. It is best to arrange transport before hand. Most hotels offer free, or affordable, transport to and from the airport. If this is an option use it.
There are no train connections with neighbouring Dominican Republic.
You can use the same border crossings as mentioned below, but driving in Haiti really is not recommended. It's much worse than in the Dominican Republic.
There are three border crossing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The two best places are the crossing between Ouanaminthe and Dajabón in the north which is convenient when traveling from Santiago to Cap-Haïtien, and the Malpasse/Jimaní crossing more to the south which is on the route from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince. A thrid crossing in the centre, between Beladere and Elías Piña, is difficult when using buses.
Terra-Bus has direct daily departures between Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince in large comfortable, air-conditioned buses. It costs around US$60 for a ticket. You can also travel in smaller buses for less than half this price, but it's much less comfortable and can take twice as long. Most buses leave during the late morning, arriving late afternoon.
Currently there are no international boat services to and from Haiti.
Tortugair has domestic flights in Haiti. Destinations include Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Cap Haitien, Les Cayes and Port-de-Paix. Caribintair flies between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien, Hinche and Jérémie.
There is no train system in Haiti. The system was shut down several decades ago and because of poverty every part of it has been torn up and sold for scrap a log time ago.
It's not recommended for travellers to rent cars, but if you insist there are agencies at the airport. An international driver's license is required. Outside Port-au-Prince, petrol might be scarce. Roads are in a bad condition and so are most private cars on the road.
Another option is hiring a private car with a driving/translator/guide. This option is costly, about US$200 a day depending on the cost of fuel, but is much safer and convenient then bus travel. Most guesthouses, such as Matthew 25 below, can arrange short term and long term transport with a driver/translator/guide. This option can be affordable if shared among several travellers.
Another company that offers drivers and cars for roughly the same price is Tour Haiti. The father son duo that runs this company have excellent information on Haiti and can arrange any kind trip you want. They have arranged trips for famous celebrities, journalists and doctors. The website may be in French, although they speak excellent english and respond to emails quickly.
Buses are generally old American school buses and most buses originate and terminate in Port-au-Prince or Cap-Haitien. Buses are slow but cheap. Other destinations include Les Cayes, Jacmel, Jérémie, Hinche and Port-de-Paix and bus travel is not scheduled - they leave when full.
Traveling by bus, or tap-tap, is generally not very comfortable and time consuming. No city has a central bus station and buses leave from random areas. There will also be no English speakers to explain which bus goes where and when it will be there. Also buses have been known to stop at random towns before reaching their final destination because the driver has decided to stop. Even for native Creole speakers figuring out the bus system is time consuming and complex. If you have plenty of time to travel local transport is ok, but if your on a tight schedule or need to be somewhere at a certain time this is not best option.
Another issue with bus, or tap-tap, travel is safety. These buses are ancient and are barely held together. Bus accidents are common and fatalities almost always happen. According to doctors who do aid work regularly in Haiti bus accidents are the worst cases. Broken bones and brian damage is another common injury because of bus accidents.
Smaller station wagons travel between Port-au-Prince and Pétionville and a few other towns.
Several of the islands of the coast of Haiti are served by regular ferries, among which those from the capital Port-au-Prince. Cargo ships operate on the route between Jérémie, Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince and sometimes are able to take passengers on board. There are also regular ferries to the larger islands that belong to Haiti.
Most people can now enter Haiti with just a valid passport for stays up to 90 days. People from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama and China, however, are required to apply for a visa, although the process is very simple.
See also: Money Matters
The Goude (HTG), or Gourde in French, is the main currency in the country. It tends to hover around 39 Goude to the US Dollar. In general for larger purchases, such as hotels or paying drivers, people tend to use US Dollars while for everyday items such as street food or water it is best to use Goudes.
Goude banknotes come in denominations of 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1,000. The highest four are very difficult to use in everyday transactions and should only be used for large purchases. In general try to stock up on the smaller bills because they are much more useful. The bills tend to be very used so be careful not to rip it
Goude coins come in 1 and 5 and are useful to have for small purchases.
Many prices will be listed in "dollars." This does not mean US Dollars it means Haitian Dollar which is not an official currency. It actually means 5 Goudes. So if someone tells you it costs US$3 they mean it costs 15 Goudes. If a price is in US Dollars it will say "USD" next to it.
At present there are only ATM's that accept foreign cards in Port-au-Prince. Many business do accept standard checks but most people want cash.
Haiti is not a cheap country. Corruption and isolation makes many things cost a lot more in Haiti then they should. Examples are a simple notebook in a shop can cost up to US$10. Here is a list of the cost of some general items:
Haiti has an unemployment rate ranging from 70% to 80%. This means finding a job is very difficult in general. That being said if you have foreign aid money or your own resources starting an enterprise in Haiti is quite possible. If you plan to go this route it is best to line up with Haitian Churches or missions. These groups tend to have the knowledge and resources to make projects or business enterprises successful. Trying to go on your own is very difficult, even things as simple as finding land can be difficult because multiple farmers may claim the rights to it.
Studying in Haiti is quite difficult at the present time. Many of the major schools in Port-au-Prince were destroyed or heavily damaged in the January 2010 earthquake. Also most major study abroad programs view Haiti as too dangerous to send programs there. However the University of Massachusetts in Boston does offer a summer program in Haiti that incorporates local Haitian students and provides a great education opportunity for anyone interested in Haiti.
The country technically has two official languages. The original official language is French, starting in 1804, while Creole has only been made an official language recently in 1961. Creole was reinforced as an official language in 1987 when it was added to the constitution. Although knowing French is useful, especially among the upper class or in government buildings, Creole is spoken by 80% of the population of Haiti and in everyday interactions it is much more useful to use. Haitian are very proud of Creole and love to teach it to travellers so take the time and learn some basic phrases when you arrive in Haiti.
For the average Haitian the love for rice and beans is extreme. This is usually served with a little bit of pork, lamb or fish with some sauce. Along the coast it is possible to get excellent seafood and when in season the different fruits can be spectacular. Pasta is also very popular but served with very little sauce, with that sauce fried into it. Remember that Haitians love to give large portions so be prepared to eat a lot.
Accommodation is an interesting issue in Haiti. In most of the country there are really two options, very high end or extremely low end. The problem is that the low end can be dangerous and unsanitary. There are some medium range options available in Port-au-Prince though.
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When traveling in Haiti there are plenty of choices when it comes to drinks. If you want beer, rum, super sweet fruit juices or just a nice cup of coffee Haiti has plenty of choices.
Water is usually sold in little plastic bags for 10 Gourde. It is best when buying one of these bags is to do what the locals do. That is take the bag up to your mouth and use your K-9 teeth to rip a little tear in the corner. Another option for Haiti is to sterilize your own water. The best choices for sterilization of water is iodine tablets or a steripen. A steripen can be bought at most outdoor stores and it uses UV light to sterilize the water. It is more effective then iodine and has none of the gross iodine taste.
All over Haiti it is possible to buy fruit juices, instant drinks and sodas in shops or from vendors on the street. These store bought treats make western soda's seem like they have no sugar in them at all. These drinks are extremely sweet and can be a bit of a shock for a new comer to the country. Remember that watering them down is an option. However because most people sweat so much while in Haiti those extra sugars can feel really good.
Haitian's love coffee. In addition Haitian's love good coffee. It is possible to get very good local coffee all over the country for a reasonable cost. Starbucks is considering importing Haitian coffee to its shops in the USA. So for coffee fans this is truly a paradise.
Although a recent addition to Haiti, Beer has become very popular, especially the national brand of Prestige Beer. They also brew locally a very good version of Guinness and another malt beverage Malte. Prestige Beer was founded in 1978 and is family owned. The brewery makes 15,00 to 20,000 cases a day and recycles everything. The brewery has extremely high quality control and gives health insurance to all of its 1,200 to 1,500 employees. It also plans to start offering a pension plan to employees and install more green machinery.
Like most of the Caribbean Haiti is a rum culture. The main national brand is Barboncourt, which can be bought in most places. This brand is considered very good by national standards. Many locals like to take Barboncourt and mix it with coffee and cream to make a Bailey's like drink that is very good. It is possible to tour the Barboncourt distillery by appointment.
See also: Travel Health
Health in Haiti is not good. Many doctors comments that they would never try and send a patient to one of the best hospitals in the capital. That being said there are some interesting health projects going in Haiti, especially with Partners in Health. In general it is best to avoid most hospitals or health clinics in Haiti.
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Haiti. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Haiti) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Haiti. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies, tuberculosis and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
As a traveller Haiti is one country that you want to make sure you have had all your shots and bring your malaria pills. Malaria and typhoid are common killers in Haiti and do not avoid foreigners. Smaller issues like travellers diarrhea are also quite common. It is best to travel with pills to sterilize the water or a Steripen. Many places do not have a regular access to clean drinking water.
In 2010, after being struck by an earthquake and heavy rains and hurricanes, another disaster happend in Haiti, when at least 2,000 people were killed by cholera. Be sure to wash your hands and stay away from possible contaminated food and drinks or other sources.
See also: Travel Safety
Although prior to the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti wasn't the safest country to travel in, the situation has been deteriorating since then and it's expected to take months, if not longer, to establish a stable situation again. In general in most major cities the areas are perfectly safe during the day light hours. That said after dark most respectable Haitians don't even go out and the streets of the cities can seem quite dangerous. On top of that, the recent 2010 presidential elections have caused more tensions in the country, and combined with the health problems (cholera, see below), more and more Haitians are unsatisfied with the current conditions in the country. Be aware of sudden outbreaks of violence and riots, especially in the capital.
The internet is slowly growing across the country and cyber cafes can be found around Port-au-Prince and other major cities. That said it is often very slow, although cheap. Remember that power outages are common and in the countryside finding a computer, let alone internet, is quite difficult.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Mobile phones have exploded across the country and are very easy to obtain. The two main companies are Voila and Digicel. They have comparable prices although Digicel has better coverage in the countryside. A SIM card costs about 150 Goude and it includes 50 Goudes in minutes. It is easy to buy more replacement cards across the country as there seems to be a Voila or Digicel vender everywhere.
Another odd phenomena in Haiti is that locals will like to ask for you phone number in your home country. It is best not to give them this phone number and give them an email address or an actual address unless you plan to stay in contact with that person. Haitians will actually call your phone in your home country regularly. Besides from this being annoying it also a waste of their limited money to be calling an international number.
The mail system in Haiti is unpredictable and unreliable. It is best to avoid it, even for post cards. Most Haitians, if wanting to send something internationally, wait till they have a friend that is going to the Dominican Republic or the United States and have them post it there.
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I live there part time as an aid worker. please ask any ? im sure i can Answer them
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