Updated: Mar 7, 2020
It is absolutely no secret that after finding out, almost a year ago today, that I have Haitian heritage that I have been on this journey to really understand and embrace this rich culture of mine (read the story here). I have been hungry to understand the history of Haiti, the strength of the people, the food and the traditions. There have been times where I have really struggled with being a poser or doing too much in my effort to seek understanding, but one day my sweet cousin Suzette (the one who brought me into this understanding by contacting me on Ancestry) reminded me that it is by birthright I am Haitian and I get to claim my heritage in the same way anyone else does. I don't have to shrink because this information is new to me and I can be curious, excited and passionate about it.
If you follow me anywhere online, you can see that I have jumped all the way in. As I have come to understand different things about Haiti and it's people, I have been able to make sense of who I am in a different way, and it has been so freeing and honestly life-shifting. Finding out that I am Haitian has put answers to things that I have always wondered like why I love beans so much, or why I always need to go somewhere warm and with palm trees on vacation, why tradition, legacy, family and justice is so foundational to who I am and why I never ever give up - my people are some of the strongest and most resilient in the world and its an honor to be one of them.
The one thing that has been missing in all of my research and excitement about Haiti has been the opportunity to visit it. If you are attuned to international affairs, you are likely aware that Haiti isn't near the top of anyone's travel list and America doesn't make it any easier for someone to happen upon it in their travel planning. The picture our media paints of Haiti is the most desperate, volatile types of situations that could exist in a modern city, and although SOME of what you have come to know and see about Haiti and the situation on the island is true, there is SO much more we don't know. There is so much more I didn't know. My spirit needed to be in Haiti. It was the one thing I wanted most after finding out who I was and it seemed every door to go had been closed up until a few weeks ago.
Is It Safe To Travel To Haiti?
Visiting any third world country requires a lot of thoughtful consideration and careful planning. I knew that getting there on my own was going to be next to impossible because I didn't know what I needed and the language barrier would make it tough, so when my cousin jokingly mentioned me joining her as her family headed back to Haiti for their annual visit, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity, and with little to no lead up, I purchased my ticket.
Buying my ticket was the first of many hurtles in my attempt to get to the country. Many airlines have pulled out of flying directly to Haiti and so the travel time to and from the island is anywhere from 16-24 hours one way with stops in many cities ( I stopped in Miami on my way there and Miami and Dallas on the way back) and a whole lot of patience, all of which I was up for because my feet NEEDED to touch the ground, so I was willing to endure whatever it took to get there. Additionally, a few days before travel things got hot in the country with lots of protest, road block and political unrest and I was advised to cancel my flight and not to go. I wrestled with my decision, whether to go or not, and after so many tears, I was really stuck. I didn't have peace to cancel, but I had even less to go. My sister and few confident friends reminded me of my goal and I borrowed their faith and stuck with my decision to visit my homeland, despite the advice of others and the media's depiction of the situation there, AND I AM SO GLAD I WENT.
Updated to add that on 3/4/2020: The United States issued a Level 4 Travel Warning to Haiti which means it is not safe to travel there. My sources on the ground say the situation in Port-Au-Prince is not safe for anyone. Please use wisdom when booking travel to this country. When things calm down, I will come back and update this post. Please pray for Haiti. Sonje Ayiti.
(Note: This wrestling, though, wouldn't have been an option had I not insured my trip after purchase. I was able to get an insurance plan that allowed me to "cancel for any reason" as long as I cancelled within 48 hours of departure and I could get back up to 70% of my ticket cost and that was a worthwhile investment. To learn more about the advantages of travel insurance, check out my blog post on travel insurance here.
Although I have so much to say and share about how this trip to Haiti has shaped me, I will save my personal story for another blog post. This post, however, will be about travel to the country and all the reasons why you should, the "how to" and a few tips & tricks.
In trying to plan my own trip to Haiti, I found it challenging to figure out what to expect, whether it was safe, what to bring and where to stay. Haiti is one of those places where you really need to know someone on the ground to get the true picture of what's going on there and you need lots of word-of-mouth recommendations to figure out just how to navigate the country. It isn't as easy as going to other places, but you guys once you are there, it is SO worth it. Haiti is untouched, rich with culture and has so much to offer the world and I want to be a part of telling her story, the one you never get a chance to hear or see.
In fairness, my trip to Haiti was pretty low key. I stayed out of Port-Au-Prince (for safety reasons) most of my trip and really saw a small fraction of the country (and often only through a car window), but the parts I did see, I fell in love with and I am anxious to get back and to share Ayiti with everyone I know and love. Because of this, I have teamed up with a few friends to bring you this post and to share some advice and recommendations. Where my friends have contributed, I will properly credit them, and hopefully this blog post will become a friend to you as you thoughtfully plan your own trip to the "land of high mountains."
8 REASONS TO TRAVEL TO HAITI
the Island is absolutely pristine. Because of the lack of tourism in the country, its a hidden gem and it hasn't been "abused" (although if you know anything about history of Haiti, you know it's land and resources have been taken advantage of by bigger nations from the beginning) like other tropical destinations. The beach I was at was untouched and so gorgeous. There was very little waste and it was so clean. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen and as I read accounts from other travelers they share the same thoughts.
It is affordable. Haiti is a country that is pretty affordable to be in. Lodging ranges from $50-$150 USD per night and for a Caribbean destination that is a deal that cannot be beat. You also know that your dollar is helping the local economy by boosting jobs and tourism, so it's and investment you can feel good about making.
Your visit supports tourism and keeps people in jobs.
The people are kind. Haitians are so very hospitable and want to take good care of you. From the moment I landed in Port-Au-Prince to the moment I returned to the airport, I felt protected, tended to and cared for. It is important to Haitians that you have a great experience in the country and they will often go above and beyond to guarantee that.
The food is incredible. One of the most memorable parts of my visit was the way I was fed. The Haitian cuisine is full of flavor and fresh food to fill your belly. I found myself daily looking forward to every meal and rarely had a dish that I didn't go back for seconds and sometimes even thirds.
Art and culture is so rich. There is so much pride in the history of the country. You see it everywhere you look. Art is valued and culture is at the epicenter. As a creative myself, I found myself so inspired by the language, by the people, by my surroundings, the colors and the smells and I imagine that you would feel the same too. I brought back two original paintings that were between $20-$35 USD and I feel so honored to have the work of a Haitian artist hanging in my home.
It's in the Caribbean so its warm all year long. If you are a fan of warm destinations, Haiti is it. The entire week I was there (February 16th - 20th, 2020) it was in the mid 90's. I love summer and the sun on my skin and Haiti can dish it up almost at all times. Best times to travel to Haiti is December though May. Hurricane season starts in June and last until November.
It's my homeland. My ancestors and family live(d) in Haiti and fought hard for that country. It's such a beautiful place and although I have only been once, I look forward to so many future trips there and all the ways I can make a small mark on the country and my hope is that you WILL also go and visit.
GETTING TO HAITI
In preparing for your trip to Haiti, there are two ways to touch down in the country. You can fly into Port-Au-Prince, which gives you access to the mid-second and Southern parts of the country or you can fly into Cap-Haitian, which is positioned in the North.
Once in the country, there are local options to fly to smaller domestic airports in country or you can travel by boat, bus and/or car to destinations that intrigue you.
My flight from Seattle to Port-Au-Prince was $650 RT and was purchased a week before I departed.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU LAND IN HAITI
When you arrive to the airport, you can expect to be greeted with music. When I landed, joyful music filled the corridor and it felt festive and I felt fully welcomed listening to a live band play drums and other percussions while stepping off of the plane.
You are immediately whisked into a small line for customs, where you will need to have $10 USD prepared to pay to enter the country. Once you move through customs, you head down to baggage claim where you are greeted by folks to find your luggage. It is super important to save your luggage tag that you receive from the airline when you check in because this is the tag that is checked to confirm that your bags are indeed yours. It is important to note that everyone will want to assist and help you - and it will feel like people are being overwhelmingly nice, and they are, but they are also hoping to earn a tip, so if you don't have money to tip/pay for their service, do not accept the help. After baggage claim, you head into another line to exit the baggage claim area. A man will check your papers, ask why you are in Haiti and what you plan to do and move you out into the general area of the airport.
Haitians are not allowed to enter the airport to receive you, so you will not see drivers or translators until you fully exit the airport. If you hire a driver, a translator or a body guard, make sure that you know who they are, what they look like and that they have a sign that clearly communicates they are there for you, and go straight to them.
Before you exit the airport, you will have the opportunity to purchase a SIM card for your phone. I generally do that when I travel to other countries because the rate is always cheaper it seems, but because my stay was so short, I opted to go with the international plan my cell provider offered of $10 a day for data/voice calling and it was more than perfect for my needs.
One of the things I loved most about the airport, was that there was BEAUTIFUL art all over the airport. I was intimidated traveling alone, so I didn't stop to take photos, but I regret that and wish I would have because the art and the stories on the wall were so beautiful!
When you are returning back to the airport allow ample amount of time to travel to the airport and to get through the airport. It is a small airport but the line are long and sometimes the journey to the airport can take as long as getting through the airport, so make sure to make plans for that. You also will go through security twice, leaving the country, the normal security process and then again at the gate before you board your flight.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HAITI
Haiti is a tropical island. I went in February and the whole week I was there, the temperature was mid 90s. I love the heat so I welcomed that climate. I spent most of my days at the beach, so bathing suits and sundresses were the garments of choice but anything that you would wear to any other tropical location is perfect for Haiti, except dialed down. The goal in Haiti is to blend in and not to stand out, so the flaunting that American's tend to do with their name brand and expensive accessories, really isn't suited for Haiti. Keep it simple.
Leave your jewelry at home and try to limit your items of value to what you can keep on your body in a fanny pack. All things should be able to fit inside and travel with you everywhere you go.
Other items that I loved having with me were: small travel camera (not my big body professional camera), an external charger (the chargers match what we use in the western hemisphere), bug spray, Nuun Hydration Tablets (clean water isn's always in abundance in every location, so its important to make it count), my own little snacks and money to tip those who are helping and serving you and if you are a person who likes to unwind to a movie or a television show, remember to pre-load those onto your phone, because television isn't a common thing in every location, basically, bring your own entertainment.
WHERE TO STAY IN HAITI
Because I was lucky enough to stay with family, I didn't have to look for accommodations, but i didn't feel it was fair to create a blog about visiting Haiti and not give you resources for lodging so I reached out to a few friends who live on the island to add their advise to my research. My friends Melissa and Anne Marjorie live and Haiti and are on the ground. The whole time I was in the country, they checked in on me, prayed for me and made sure I knew they were available if I needed anything. I was so thankful for their attentiveness toward me, the power of social media ya'll, below are their suggestions:
Port-Au-Prince and surrounding areas
If you are wanting to stay in or near the city of Port-Au Prince here are a few places to consider on your tip to Haiti:
Karibuni Guest House a very pretty place at a good price. They offer breakfast and dinner and they are really close to the airport, which is a plus.
Royal Decameron Indigo Beach is an all inclusive beach resort, family friendly with all of the things we have come to expect from a beach resort. I personally have this hotel high on my list to spend holiday in Haiti at. It is a "go to" that is popular with tourist and locals alike, especially if you are looking for a solid beach day.
Eucalyptus Guesthouse just five minutes away from the airport, the guest house has a pool, a gym, free breakfast & dinner, free wifi, and transportation to and from the airport.
Côte-des-Arcadins is about an hour out from Port-Au-Prince and is where I spent the majority of my time in Haiti. Most of the pictures I took from my trip are from this strip.
Kaliko Beach Club and Resort is another more traditional (American style) beach resort and spa with all of the amenities that Americans are used to receiving. It is a luxury hotel located just 55 minutes from the airport, with Creole architecture, over-sized bungalow suites where you can escape to be pampered in luxury style.
Île à Vache is an island located in the south of Haiti and it is crazy stunning. Most people go there by taking a boat from Les Cayes (Aux Cayes).
There is a hotel on the island called Hotel Port Morgan. Port Morgan is the first hotel on the island and sits on a little hill right next to the beach. Every room has a sea view and the rooms are cabana style with an authentic feel and are well maintained. My friend, Anne Marjorie, (who provided this information) stayed there in 2018 and loved it. She said it was built village style and there are 2-3 family houses on site as well and a pool and a hot tub.
It is calm, perfect for a honeymoon or those looking to relax and unplug. Breakfast buffet is included in your stay. There isn't much for entertainment, so you will have to bring it with you.
Hotel Port Morgan can be booked for approximately $70 USD per day and is a 4-star hotel. Although, I couldn't find an official website, you can book this hotel on all of the major booking sites and they provide airport transport for their guests.
Hôtel Le Mont Joli is in Cap-Haitian and is well known for its history. It was built in 1954 and well-positioned in the city for those who would like to walk around and take public transportation.
Satama Hotel is another option in Cap-Haitian for anyone looking for a nice hotel in the North.
Views of the ocean, a pool, specialty cocktails, high speed internet, breakfast buffet and a view of Cap-Haitian, makes this an ideal location for a holiday.
WHAT TO DO IN HAITI
Although I didn't get a chance to fully explore and take in all the different cities had to offer, I follow a few folks on Instagram who recently visited different parts of Haiti and had an incredible time. My friend Sabra, was in Cap-Haitian the end of the year and worked with Eagle Adventure and Tours. She loved them and raved about them and I cannot wait to book them for my own trip when I head to the North next time.
Another amazing influencer that I follow online @whatdettedoes, was in Port-Au-Prince earlier this year before the unrest and watching her stories really got me excited about my own adventures in Haiti. She hired Mennenmla Tours to take her around and her reviews are incredible. If you are going to be in Port-Au-Prince and need tour guides, be sure to check them out.
Another person to follow is the Haitian Nomad. He calls himself the "unofficial ambassador" of Haiti and a few minutes on his feed, there's no question why. He often hosts his own trips to the island and would be a really great person to sit on for your own visit to the island of Hispaniola.
Be sure to check out the highlights of their personal trips to Haiti, which can be found on their instagram feeds linked above and get another perspective on the sweet island of Haiti.
One of the things I did while in Haiti, was spend time on the roof top at night looking up into the sky. Above is a capture from my iPhone. Every white dot you are seeing is a star, both large and small. You guys, I had no idea there were SO many stars in the sky and this is only what my iPhone could pick up using night mode. There were literally SO many stars I could hardly even grasp it. I saw big stars and little stars and galaxies. There is so little pollution in the air and it is SO dark at night, that I could fully take it in. I saw more shooting stars then I could count and the night sky just went on and on and on. I couldn't even begin express how gorgeous it was. That night on the roof turned out to be one of my favorites memories from my vacation. So, don't forget to look up!
WHAT YOU MUST EAT IN HAITI
Some of my favorite things I had while in Haiti are beans and rice, maize, banann peze (fried plantain), mango, dlo kokoye (coconut water) , fish straight out of the Caribbean, pikliz (pickled vegetables), chicken with Haitian marinade, Soup Joumou and basically everything I ate in addition to that. I am convinced I have never tasted a real mango until I went to Haiti. I also tried Soursop, coconut meat and drink coconut water by what felt like the gallons... straight out of the coconut.
I didn't get to try griot this visit and am looking forward to having many more traditional meals on my next trip.
If you are looking to make a list of "must try" foods. I have linked a list of foods you MUST try when visiting the country. If you are Haitian and reading this blog, be sure to add your opinions in the comments.
TIPS & SAFETY TRICKS - THINGS TO DO AND CONSIDER BEFORE VISITING HAITI
Haiti, as I mentioned above isn't the easiest place to visit, but if you do decide to attempt a vacation or service trip there, it will be more than worth the effort. I am still so full from my trip and daily reflect on my time there, daydreaming about when I can get back. Here are a few things that helped me that you should know before visiting:
If you are to go to Haiti, be prepared for the unpredictability. Things change daily in Haiti and you have to be willing to pivot at a moments notice, be flexible and be easy going. If you are not able to do that, Haiti is not the place for you, at least not right now.
You don't have to exchange money. US currency works fine there - get a good mixture of bills $1 - $20 so that you can tip and access whole bills easily and discreetly.
Parts of Haiti are still pretty primitive and don't always have running or warm water. My showers, although they weren't cold, were not the hot showers I am used to taking at home. Some places don't always have access to the things we have become use to at home, like AC (although Washington state doesn't have AC ever) or even electricity depending on where you are, so be mindful of that and manage your expectations and ask questions those important questions before booking lodging and activities.
Learning basic Creole phrases and words. The rumor is that you can go to Haiti speaking French, and although that is true, French is the language of the educated and not everyone has had access to learning it. If you want to connect with everyone in Haiti, Creole is the most spoken language. Learning phrases like "good morning/good afternoon" "thank you" "hello, how are you?" and the things we all need to know: like good and drink, how to get to the bathroom, etc are important and key phrases so that you can navigate and get answers that lead you to resolving your basic needs.
Register your trip with the local embassy and sign up for updates through S.T.E.P. (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) here. The entire time I was in Haiti, I received updates about what was happening in the country via email so I was always aware of my surroundings and what was taking place around me.
U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince Tabarre 41 Route de Tabarre Port-au-Prince, Haiti Phone: 011-509-2229-8000
For more info from the US Embassy office in PAP, visit here
As mentioned above, hire a driver and a translator. To get started, ask your hotel/ lodging for recommendations.
Don't go out at night, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time (common sense) unless you are clear on where you are going and have a solid plan.
If the country is hot (in political unrest) find out where it is happening and vacation in cities, towns away from it. In Haiti the unrest generally occurs in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince and other parts of the country remain pretty calm.
Do not trust the American news cycle, and ask on the ground to confirm that U.S. Travel warnings are actual real warnings. America isn't always the best or most honest source of news coverage or information from countries it has little to gain from, keep that in mind as you read stories about Haiti and consider that what you are reading might not be the whole picture.
Educate yourself on the issues, what's happening and why and be mindful of how you speak about it to others.
Don't take pictures of Haitians without asking first. Exploitation is not okay.
Smile. Haitians love a smile and will return one back
Honor those who serve or tend to you by tipping them. This is how they make a wage and support their families and your tip goes a long way in helping them do that.
Purchase phone service before you go through your cell phone provider and turn your location on for family to track you.
Thank you to my beautiful cousin, Monika and her husband Oliver, for hosting me on my first trip to Haiti.
I had the most incredible time in Haiti. I am anxious to get back and to see and experience the things I didn't get a chance to on my last trip. If you are looking for a place to discover, you should definitely consider putting Haiti on your list. There is so much to take in and it is a memory I won't soon forget.
Si se Bondye ki voye ou , lap peye frè ou yo
Where God guides, He provides.
with strength, courage and wisdom,