No country in the western hemisphere has had a go of it like Haiti. Decades of corrupt government and poor infrastructure destroyed its once-sunny reputation as a world-class vacation hotspot. Then in 2010, a massive earthquake struck and killed 230,000 people – 11% of the population living near the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Years later, along with its buildings, businesses, and lives, Haiti is piecing back together its tourist appeal, and calling for the world to return.
A trip here will likely begin in Port-au-Prince, where things may not be back to normal but progress is definitely being made. Neighbourhoods like the affluent and stable Pétionville – where Kenneth Cole just opened a new boutique to much fanfare – go a long way in dispelling misconceptions about Haiti. Much of the city is not only beautiful, but safe for wandering and enjoying the culture. First-time visitors should make their way to the famous Hotel Oloffson – an exquisite, early 20th century house originally built for the wealthy family of Haitian presidents. Stop by on a Thursday evening to hear RAM, the fantastic house band who’s long been a cultural staple in the Port-au-Prince social week for politicians and music lovers alike.
Another of Haiti’s exceptional places is the cinematically picturesque city of Jacmel, on its southern coast. It’s got a population of only 40,000, but its art and cultural community is legendary. Jacmel sits on a beautiful, coved beach, easily reminding visitors why people started flocking to Haiti in the first place. The country offers so much, it’s easy to overlook the fact that its’ coastlines of white sand and warm, turquoise waters, are stunning. If you’ve been to New Orleans, you will see a common cultural denominator history in the architecture of the two places.
Budding Haiti is expected to become one of the world’s great adventure travel destinations. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, or merely someone who loves to chill out in nature, Haiti’s got it. Bassin-Bleu is a highly secluded oasis not far out of Jacmel and reachable with a short car ride and a gentle hike. With its waterfalls and greener-than-green surroundings, this little paradise is perfect for an afternoon away from the rest of life.
For years now, even before the quake, we’ve heard about much strife out of Haiti. Stories of its culture and the optimism of its people, and with the help of volunteers (many from the Kootenay’s), there’s a strange newness to the idea of visiting Haiti, especially for those of us too young to remember when it last had its place in the sun. That time is coming again, and whether or not you’re ready to see Haiti, it is most certainly ready to see you.
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