Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Haiti now shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. In 1697 it became French, until 1804, when the only ever successful slave rebellion took place and removed the colonists. Modern Haiti may have had its fair share of tragedy and turmoil, but it is bold, fascinating, tenacious and forward looking.
Independence Day from the French is celebrated on New Year’s Day, Ancestry Day is the day after, while Carnival is an electrifying celebration taking place in the weeks before Shrove Tuesday.
French is the official language, while Creole is spoken, as is English, in tourist areas.
The latticework and wooden shutters of capital Port-au-Prince’s ‘gingerbread’ houses are bewitching. See the art on the seafront at Jacmel, and explore UNESCO-listed fortress Citadelle Laferriére or browse the Museum of Haitian Art.
National parks, Parc Macaya and La Visite, offer some great hiking, but you’re also spoilt for choice for incredible beaches. For a laid-back feel, visit Cap Haitie at the foot of verdant green mountains with beautiful colonial buildings and some fine stretches of sand.
Buy anything from souvenirs to fruit in Port-au-Prince’s Iron Market, while for a good night out head for Pétionville, a suburb of the capital with lots of bars, restaurants and galleries. As in any city, just be wary of possible street crime – and look out for open manhole covers!
Food combines African, French and Caribbean cuisine, but you’ll also find Japanese, Lebanese and American offerings here. Specialities include fried pork (griot), grilled goat and the spicy local coleslaw.
Most accommodation is in the capital, beach hotels are found to the north, and facilities range from modest guest houses and inns to huge hotels.
Road quality can be patchy, but cars can be hired in Port-au-Prince, three kinds of taxis operate in the capital and coaches with air con run to Cap Haitien and Les Cayes in the south.
While some parts of Port-au-Prince can be dangerous, and political instability is possible, much of life just revolves around taking the usual foreign visitor precautions.