From the revolutionary eras until modern times, Haiti has been a destination for American businessmen and tourists. Following the 2010 earthquake, the present government of Haiti under President Michel Martelly is developing new, modern hotels and other infrastructure to help world citizens to explore the rich culture of Haiti.
Geography and history
Located more than a thousand miles from the Gulf coast of the United States, in the far reaches of the Caribbean, Haiti combines both the exotic and the familiar. On the western third of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti lies nestled between Puerto Rico to its east and with Cuba just a few miles to its west.
One if the earliest known Haitians was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, born in Haiti from a French sea captain and ex-slave mother. He settled in America in the late 18th century. In 1779, he established the first permanent trading post on the Chicago River, therefore becoming the founder of the city of Chicago.
Only a few years later, when the slaves of Haiti rose up and fought to overthrow the rule of their French slave masters, the newly formed revolutionary government of the United States did initially support their cause (although it would not be until July 12, 1862 that the U.S. would formally recognise the nation of Haiti). When the new government of Haiti was formed under General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, some French colonists, and Creole and Black African slaves, left the island to settle in New Orleans, thereby enriching the French cultures of that city.
Post Haitian earthquake of 2010
The current President, Michel Martelly, was elected in 2011. Under his leadership Haiti has begun to develop a concerted programme of development to attract tourists to the country. In addition to the steady number of tourists who visit Haiti during brief cruise ship lay-overs, the government hopes to attract many thousands more to make Haiti their destination as tourists. Efforts are being made to build and improve infrastructure to attract greater numbers of visitors; to create partnerships with international corporations to build more and better hotels, improve transportation and help American and European visitors explore the rich heritage of Haiti.
Comfortable, modern locations for business visitors or as elegant and restful accommodations for tourists, world-class hotels are available in Port-au-Prince and the other main cities in Haiti. As part of the modernisation programme instituted by President Michel Martelly, new hotels are being built, while existing ones expanded and modernised. These hotels offer the flavour of Haiti’s culture, while providing the most up-to-date guest accommodation features to be found in any city. These include:
The Best Western Premier (bestwesternpremierhaiti.com), located in the Petion-ville section of Port-au-Prince, just opened in 2013. It offers 106 modern rooms and suites, with high-speed Internet access, individual-controlled air conditioning and cable television, as well as an outdoor pool and a spa. The Le Michel restaurant serves International cuisine in a trendy, upscale atmosphere, with room service available. For business travellers, meeting rooms include the Louverture boardroom and a ballroom with audio/video equipment and Internet access. Shopping and museums are nearby. Shuttle service to Port-au-Prince International Airport is available.
The Royal Oasis (royaloasishotel.com), operated by Occidental Hotels and Resorts, is located in an earthquake-resistant and hurricane-proof building in Petion-ville. Its 128 rooms and suites include satellite television, complimentary wi-fi Internet access and individual air conditioning. Within the hotel, the five restaurants in the hotel include a roof-top open-air venue, as well as elegant shops. For visitors who wish to have business meetings, comfortable facilities capable of accommodating up to 450 people are available.
Due to open in early 2015, the Marriott Hotel will offer 175 rooms (including 5 suites), a casual restaurant, a fitness center with a swimming pool and business meeting facilities. Marriott is entering into this venture in partnership with the telecommunications giant, Digitel.
A selection of three- and four-star hotels is available in other locations in Port-au-Prince (including the Haiti El Rancho, Pavillon des Receptions and Hotel and La Maison Hotel), Montrouis (Moulin Sur Mer, Kaliko Beach Club and Club Indigo) and Cap-Haitien (Mont Jol Hotel, Hotel Imperial and Habitation Jouissant). Karibe Hotel is impressively beautiful from the inside and out, the palm like trees in the terrace and the spa inside the hotel is famous for being the best in the country leaving the hotel needing to book clients weeks in advance. La Colline Enchantee hotel is a tranquil, eco-friendly hotel in Jacmel which relies on solar power, a serene hotel that offers harmony which is a diverse sort of luxury in itself. Cormier Plage is a hotel located in the north of Haiti approximately fifteen minutes from the centre of Cap Haiten. This hotel is ideal for those looking for a great experience filled with rich culture where they are allowed to feel closer to nature and be graciously humbled. Villa Nicole provides guests with a full service restaurant and bar with accessibility to fresh meals all day offering a Kreyol cuisine with a blend of International food.
Chateau Blond is a very small and peaceful village in the region of Ouest but the people and staff at restaurants offer sincere and compassionate hospitality to visitors. The Hotel Florita remains true to Haiti’s original charm, the hotel is very arty and is the only 19th century built house that is still in use after the 2010 earthquake. A travel agent or online hotel reservation site can provide additional details, pricing and reservations for visitors travelling to these cities.
The annual Haiti Carnival is the largest and most important public celebration held in the country. It marks the last days before the traditional Roman Catholic Christian season of Lent, that time of the religious calendar that calls for atonement and self-denial before Easter Sunday. Also celebrated in many Latin American countries, but most famously in Brazil and New Orleans, where it is called “Mardi Gras” (French for “Fat Tuesday”, that is, the last day before Ash Wednesday when the strict dietary rules come into effect), it is known in Haiti by its Creole name, Defile Kanaval. The main Haiti Carnival celebration has recently been held in a different city each year: In 2014 it was held in Gonaives, in 2013 in Cap-Haitian and in Les Cayes in 2012. Held over a period of several days, with preparations taking many weeks and even months before then, Carnival offers the people of Haiti an opportunity to display and celebrate the music, dances, art and cuisine of their nation. The street parades give people the chance to show off the elaborate costumes for which Carnival is famous.
A feature of Defile Kanaval are the gagann, the bouts of ritual combat between young men during which each attempts to put down his opponent by blows to the chest. In addition to the main Haiti Carnival celebration, each city and town holds its own local version, such as the justly famous Jacmel Carnival. Thousands of tourists from around the world come to Haiti to take part in this special time, both those who trace their families back to this country and others who simply wish to experience the unique display of Haitian culture.
Independence Day, celebrated January 1st, marks the anniversary of the day in 1804 when Jean-Jacques Dessalines pronounced the independence of the colony of Saint-Domingue from its French masters, marking the foundation of the new nation of Haiti. The revolution began in 1791, led first by former slave Toussaint Louverture and, after his capture by the French, by Dessalines, culminating in the Battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803. This day marked the establishment of only the second independent nation in the New World – after the United States of America – and the first nation founded by former slaves who rose up and overthrew their oppressors. Independence Day is celebrated in Haiti by eating soup, a defiant gesture of former slaves who had been forbidden to eat soup during their captivity; it is the only place in the world where eating soup is a revolutionary act!
Ancestry Day, observed on January 2nd , celebrates the ancestors and other departed loved ones. It is considered to be a family holiday and is marked with processions and family meals. Rara, held during Easter week, is a national festival of Haitian music. Public concerts and parades featuring Haitian and other Afro-Caribbean musical styles are held throughout the week.
Dessalines Day, October 17th , marks the day the first President of Haiti was assassinated in 1806. Although his leadership during the Haitian revolution after the capture of Toussaint Louverture led to the independence of the nation from the French, he later behaved in what many considered to be in an extreme autocratic fashion. His order to massacre most of the surviving white French colonists in the country after independence was considered to be too extreme by many. Early in the twentieth century, more than a hundred years after his assassination, however, his reputation was rehabilitated and the anniversary of his death is not marked to celebrate the good he did to help establish a free nation of former slaves.
With a complex history and culture, Haiti boasts a collection of national museums clustered near the National Palace in the Montrouis neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. Despite the demands placed upon the national budget of one of the poorer nations in the Caribbean, particularly since the great earthquake of 2010, it is inspiring that Haiti has continued to fund these museums. Their collections and curatorial efforts show the pride that Haitians place in their history and culture and their desire to share them with visitors to their country. Addresses, visiting hours and admission fees can be obtained at a hotel’s concierge desk.
The National Museum of Haiti. Artifacts and murals concerning the rich and varied history of Haiti, from the period before European discovery through the 1940s. This includes depictions of the cultures of the native Carawak and Taino tribes, through Christopher Columbus’ settlement of La Navidad (near Cap-Haiten) and the colonial period as primarily a series of sugar plantations under French rule. Independence, the period of divided rule – the north under a semi-feudal corvee system and the south as a republic – unification and the time under occupation by the United States Marine Corps from 1915 until 1934 are also on display.
The National Museum of Art. This museum’s collection primarily consists of Pre-Columbian art from across Haiti.
The Museum of Haitian Art. The art of Haiti has a long and complex history, comprising influences from the mix of African, native American and European heritages. Added to that are symbolism from the vodou religious practice, the rich regional schools of art that have arisen in Haiti over the generations and the unique vision of individual Haitian artists. The museum not only draws upon its own collection to display the range of Haitian art, but offers occasional traveling exhibitions as well.
Musée du Panthéon National Haitien (MUPANAH). Founded in 1983, this museum offers a collection of historical artifacts from the prehistory of Haiti to the present. Also included are folk arts and crafts, displaying the vibrant cultural heritage of the country.
Parc National Historique
Consisting of two sites of importance in the history of Haiti, the San-Souci Palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, both are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The palace and fortress were both built by King Henri I who, as Henri Christophe, was a general during the Haitian Revolution responsible for forces in the northern region of the country. Christophe led a coup against Jean-Jacques Dessalines, which resulted in his death, Christophe declared himself king, King Henri I, and established a break-away nation in northern Haiti.
San-Souci Palace was built from 1810 until 1813 by thousands of forced laborers (many of whom died during the project). It is located near the town of Milot in the Nord Department of Haiti on the site of what was originally a French plantation managed by Henri Christophe.
This palace was the main residence for himself, his Queen, Marie-Louise, and their two daughters. In addition he owned numerous buildings on the 20 plantations. San-Souci was particularly opulent and was meant to prove to Europeans and Americans the abilities of the black population that established Haiti after the revolution. The palace was badly damaged – all but destroyed – by an earthquake in 1842. Citadelle Laferrière is a mountaintop fortress atop the 3,000-foot Bonnet a L’Eveque, located 17 miles south of Cap-Haitien and near the town of Milot. It was built between 1805 and 1820 using a workforce of 20,000 former slaves and contained a mixed battery of 365 cannons. As a defensive fortress, it was meant to protect the northern coast of Haiti against a potential French attack. Although it withstood several earthquakes, the citadelle was never called upon for its military purpose and was eventually abandoned. Even so, it remains a symbol of Haitian nationalism and has appeared on the country’s currency and postage stamps.
Adopting the resort model found in many other Caribbean nations, Haiti announced the development of the isolated Ile-a-Vache, off the southern coast. Once called “Cow Island”, it was used by the British privateer Henry Morgan as a base in the 1660s, from where he launched raids against Spanish treasure ports such as Cartagena. Since then, the island continued as a sleepy fishing and farming backwater. Although there was a brief attempt in the 1860s to settle American ex-slaves there, it was passed over for years until 2013. It was then that the Haitian Ministry of Tourism announced plans to create a collection of resorts that would attract tourists from Europe and North America. Eventually, the 52-square-kilometer island will have 1,500 units in multiple low-density hotels convenient to the 20 pristine beaches. In addition to development of an all-weather road system and dredged harbors for visiting boats, the island will also boast an airport capable of accepting international flights.
During the past century, since at least the 1920s, the amount of the original forest covering the countryside has declined precipitously. Population pressure, resulting in expanding farmland and use of trees for cooking fuel, has reduced the amount of virgin forestland to about 2% of Haiti. Yet, there are gems of natural parks and areas where tourists can enjoy beautiful natural settings. La Visite National Park, encompassing a pine and broadleaf forest as well as natural plains, is a high-altitude (5,600 feet) preserve only 22 km southeast of Port-au-Prince. In addition to the trees and other flora endemic to Hispaniola, there are also 80 species of birds to be found within the 12 square miles of the park. At the western end of the southern peninsula of Haiti is Pic Macaya National Park, a beautiful virgin cloud forest of 150 square miles. Of the flowering plants to be found on the second-highest mountain in Haiti, 30% are unique to Hispaniola.