HAITI TRAVEL GUIDE
Haiti is a Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east. Though it’s still recovering from a 2010 earthquake, many of Haiti's landmarks dating to the early 19th century remain intact.
Haiti is a country with a revolutionary, exciting past and its future still remains uncertain. Though Haiti has faced hard times during the past decades, Haiti's tourism industry which bustled in the 60s to the 80s is returning. Resorts and investments are transforming this misunderstood gem into a Caribbean tourist spot once again. With a modicum of stability, Haiti could yet become the Caribbean’s alternative travel destination par excellence: it has palm-fringed beaches to rival any of its neighbours. But lazing on the sand with a rum punch isn’t really the point of Haiti (although that's entirely possible). The richness of the country lies in its history and culture. The slave revolution left behind a wealth of historic sites, including the Citadelle la Ferrière – a fortress that easily holds its own against anything similar in the Americas. Haiti’s history has meant that it’s kept closer to its African roots than any other Caribbean nation, a legacy that’s ever present in its vibrant art and music scenes.
HAITI QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Port-au-Prince (Haitian Creole: Pòtoprens)
- Currency: Gourde (HTG) (US dollars widely accepted)
- Area: 27,750 km²
- Population: 11,12 million (2018)
- Language: French, Creole (Kreyol Ayisyen)
- Religion:Roman Catholic 80%, Protestant 16%, but much of the population also practices Vodou
- Electricity: 110/60Hz (USA Plug)
In practice, most Haitians refer to the Haitian dollar (H$) when quoting costs. The gourde used to be tied to the US dollar at a rate of one to five, with the result that five gourdes is universally known as one Haitian dollar. It’s a system seemingly designed to perplex short-term visitors. When buying something, always check what people mean when quoting the price, eg whether a hundred is in gourdes or dollars (in which case it’s 500 gourdes). To make things even more confusing, prices for expensive goods (or tourist souvenirs) are sometimes listed in US dollars. The way to minimize headaches is to choose one system, either the Haitian dollar or the gourde, and stick with that. If you choose to work in Haitian dollars, you must divide prices in gourdes by five; if you choose to think in gourdes, you must multiply all Haitian dollar prices by five. You’ll eventually be able to make price comparisons to your home currency, which is nearly impossible if you keep slipping between the two systems.
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HAITI PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 January, Independence Day
- 2 January, Ancestors’ Day
- 14 April, Pan-American Day
- 18 May, Flag and University Day
- 15 August, Assumption
- 17 October, Anniversary of the Death of Jean Jacques Dessalines
- 24 October, United Nations Day
- 18 November, Vertières Battle Day
- 5 December, Discovery Day
Also, Carnival, Good Friday, Ascension Day, and Corpus Christi.
FESTIVALS IN HAITI
- Carnival Port-au-Prince - (three days before Ash Wednesday) The highpoint is the huge parade of floats, music and carnival queens that winds its way downtown through an immense crush of people, before climaxing at Champs de Mars.
- Carnival Jacmel - (culminates one week before Shrove Tuesday) The streets suddenly swell and everywhere you look are strange figures in fantastical papier-mâché masks – the signature image of Jacmel Carnival. Mixed in with the procession are celebrants dressed as Arawaks and colonists, and horned figures covered in molasses and soot, who tease revellers with their sticky grab
- Fet Gédé - Nationwide Vodou festival marking All Saints’ Day – a festival for the dead – held in cemeteries everywhere.
- Saut d’Eau - (early July) Haiti’s biggest Vodou pilgrimage, with thousands of adherents bathing in the pools of a sacred waterfall.
- Souvenance - Held near Gonaïves after Good Friday – a huge Vodou festival, its ceremonies originating from the camps of runaway slaves.
BEST TIME TO VISIT HAITI
Located in the Caribbean’s Great Antilles, Haiti has a hot and humid tropical climate. Daily temperatures typically range between 19°C and 28°C in the winter and 23°C to 33°C during the summer months. Northern and windward slopes in the mountainous regions receive up to three times more precipitation than the leeward side. The Plaine du Gonaïves and the eastern part of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac are the driest regions in the country. The wet season is long, particularly in the northern and southern regions of the island, with two pronounced peaks occurring between March and November.
- HIGH SEASON (NOV–MAR) - Hot and dry; added attractions are Carnival in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel (Feb), and the countrywide Fet Gédé Vodou festival. The north is frequently rainy.
- SHOULDER (APR–JUN) - Rain in the south.
- LOW SEASON (AUG–OCT) - Hurricane season, but travel is perfectly feasible if there are no storms. Often heavy daily rainfall with high humidity.
HAITI WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Located in the Caribbean’s Great Antilles, Haiti has a hot and humid tropical climate. Daily temperatures typically range between 19°C and 28°C in the winter and 23°C to 33°C during the summer months. Northern and windward slopes in the mountainous regions receive up to three times more precipitation than the leeward side. Annual precipitation in the mountains averages 1,200 mm, while the annual precipitation in the lowlands is as low as 550 mm. The Plaine du Gonaïves and the eastern part of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac are the driest regions in the country. The wet season is long, particularly in the northern and southern regions of the island, with two pronounced peaks occurring between March and November.
HAITI TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN HAITI
HIKING & CYCLING IN HAITI
While outdoor activities in Haiti can be enjoyed all year round, the best time is during the dry season from November to April. It can get very muddy during the rainy season, in particularly May, September and October.
BEACH OPTIONS IN HAITI
The best time to visit the stunning beaches of Haiti is during the dry season from November to March. April and May can still be pleasant, but you're best off avoiding the hurricane season from June to October.
SURFING IN HAITI
Haiti has some good surf from November to March, which is also the dry season. Note that from June to October it is hurricane season so it is really not advisable to be on the water.
KITESURF IN HAITI
You can expect nine months of good kitesurfing conditions in Haiti. The best period is from December to April as the winds are really consistent. July to September can be pretty good too. While October and November may have good wind, it's the hurricane season so you need to carefully monitor the weather. The only months with very few kitable days are May and June.
For more details on kite surfing in Haiti expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN HAITI
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
HAITI TRAVEL COSTS
- LESS THAN US$50 - Hotel room: US$40, cheap street food and markets for self-catering, public transportation.
- MIDRANGE US$100 - Room in midrange hotel: US$70, lunch and dinner in decent restaurants, internal flights: around US$85.
- TOP END OVER US$120 - Room in a top-end hotel: from US$90, meal at a top restaurant: US$30, 4WD rental will around US$150 a day.
You can eat on any budget in Haiti; spending just a few gourdes on filling fritay (fried street food), eaten on the hoof, or dining in the posh restaurants of Pétionville, where a main course might set you back US$20. The most typical experience is eating in a bar-resto (a bar-restaurant, less formal than a proper restaurant), with a plateful of fried pork or chicken with plantains, salad and a beer, all for around US$4. Vegetables aren’t high on the agenda, but there’s plenty of fresh fruit. Excellent seafood abounds along the coast.
HAITI TRAVEL TIPS
GETTING AROUND PORT-AU-PRINCE
- TO/FROM THE AIRPORT - It takes around 30 to 45 minutes to reach the airport from the city centre, depending on the time of day. Airport taxis are run by the Association des Chauffeurs Guides d’Haïti. Fares should be between US$20 and US$40. You can take a taptap to or from the airport (HTG10); they wait outside the terminal and drop passengers off at the corner of Blvd Toussaint Louverture and Rte de Delmas.
- MOTO-TAXI - Useful for weaving through traffic jams. They cost around HTG30 to HTG40 for short trips, haggle for longer distances.
- TAPTAP - Port-au-Prince’s taptaps run along set routes and are a very cheap and convenient way of getting around. The usual fare is HTG10 per trip. Routes are painted on the side of the cab doors. All stop on request. Shouting ‘Merci chauffeur!’ or banging on the side of the vehicle will stop the driver. Particularly useful routes include Lalue to Pétionville, Rte de Delmas to Pétionville and Canapé Vert to Pétionville. Routes running north-south include Aéroport to Nazon, and Saline to Martissant (along Grand Rue).
- TAXI - Collective taxis running set routes are called publiques, recognizable from the red ribbon hanging from the front mirror. Hail as you would a taptap. Fares are set at HTG25. If you get into an empty publique and the driver removes the red ribbon, he’s treating you as a private fare and will charge accordingly – up to US$20 if you’re going a long way. State clearly if you want to ride collectif and share the ride with others. Publiques don’t tend to travel between Port-au-Prince and Pétionville, so hiring is often the best option.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF HAITI
SUGGESTED TRAVEL ITINERARIES FOR HAITI
One Week In the North
From Port-au-Prince, catch an internal flight up to Cap-Haïtien. Take a full day to make a tour out to the Citadelle and the ruined palace of Sans Souci – spend the night at the cultural center in Milot. Back in Cap-Haïtien, explore the architecture of the old city and walk along the coast to the cliff-bound remains of Fort Picolet. The following day, take a vehicle and boat-taxi to Labadie, possibly stopping en-route at Cormier Plage – for the Atlantic coast scenery and beaches. If you’re after some real adventure, drive overland to Port-de-Paix and arrange a boat trip to Île de la Tortue, Haiti’s pirate island. On the way back to Port-au-Prince, pause in Cabarete to stock up on tablet (local peanut brittle).
10 Days In the South
Take a short flight (or a long drive) from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie, in the far southwest. Explore the town, and beaches west such as Anse d’Azur. Head south on the new road over the Massif de la Hotte mountains, and break for the night in Les Cayes. You’ve done the hard traveling now, so enjoy your pick of Haiti’s best beaches. It’s a short boat trip out to the gorgeous Île-à-Vache, or an equally short drive to Port Salut. Either way, all your Caribbean clichés of white sand, palm trees and grilled fish on the beach will be easily fulfilled. When you’re done, turn east. The Port-au-Prince highway splits near Léogâne, so let it take you to Jacmel. Check out the town’s historic quarter, and fill up on souvenirs with the handicrafts the town is famed for. And with that, you’re ready to return to the capital.
Highlights of Port-au-Prince & Surrounds
- Discover the mind-bending recycled artworks of the Grand Rue artists.
- Dance to Vodou rock ’n’ roots music until the small hours at a RAM concert.
- Shop for metal artwork at Croix des Bouquets.
- Laze on the sand at the beaches of Côte des Arcadins.
- Stretch your legs and enjoy the views while hiking in Parc National la Visite.
A true city of the developing world, just an hour by air from Miami, Port-au-Prince is preceded by a reputation for impoverished chaos, even before the 2010 earthquake literally shook it to its foundations. The infrastructure is compromised, the gulf between rich and poor remains as wide as ever, and the quake’s rubble and tent camps are acquiring a terrible sense of permanence.
And yet, the city remains one of the most vibrant and exciting in the Caribbean. Like a bottle of local klerin rum, Port-au-Prince takes all the raw energy of Haiti and distils it into one buzzing shot, and witnessing the self-sufficiency and spirit of its people might be the most life-affirming experience you will have on your travels.
More location information and points of interest are available in the above map
Haiti’s south is about taking it easy. Pulling out of Port-au-Prince, the urban hustle is soon replaced by a much more relaxed air as you head towards the Caribbean Sea. Of the southern coastal towns Jacmel is the gem. It’s an old port full of pretty buildings, with a friendly welcome. Some hit the handicrafts shops to load up on local art, while others time their visit for the famous Carnival. Further west, things get pretty sleepy. The town of Les Cayes is an embarkation point for the gorgeous beaches of Île-à-Vache, while there are more palm-fringed sandy delights for all budgets in nearby Port Salut. The southern ‘claw’ is bisected by the Massif de la Hotte, home to Haiti’s last remaining cloud forest. After a spectacular mountain crossing, the road terminates at Jérémie, the sometime City of Poets.
Highlights of Southern Hailti
- Explore the architecture of old Jacmel.
- Have your mind blown by the street theatre of Jacmel Carnival.
- Dive into the cool waters of Bassins Bleu waterfall.
- Get away from everything by heading to Île-à-Vache.
- Laze on miles of sandy beaches at Port Salut.
- Find the city at the end of the road in Jérémie.
- Cut an adventurous trail into remote Parc National Macaya.
From Port-au-Prince, Rte National 2 runs the length of Haiti’s southern ‘claw’ to Les Cayes. After crawling through Carrefour, the road winds through a succession of medium-sized towns along the coast: Léogâne, which is known for its distilleries and stone sculptors; Petit-Goâve, famous for its sweet dous macoss (a type of peanut brittle); and the port of Miragoâne, its streets brimming over with imported (and often smuggled) goods, and home to a large cathedral. This region was the hardest hit by the 2010 earthquake, whose epicentre was just outside Léogâne. Around 80% of the buildings in that town were damaged or destroyed, with great loss of life. Petit-Goâve was almost as badly hit.
The coastal road used to be popular for weekend beach visits from the capital before traffic made the resorts of Côte des Arcadins a more attractive prospect. From Miragoâne the road cuts inlands and heads across the mountains westward to Les Cayes.
Buses and taptaps ply the highway all day between Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes.
f you’re interested in how Haiti came to be as it is today, head north. From Columbus’ first landfall on Hispaniola to the key events of the slave revolution, it all happened here. Base yourself at Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second city. Once one of the richest colonial ports in the world, it’s the ideal base to visit the magnificent Citadelle la Ferrière, a true castle perched high on a mountain, with the ruined palace of Sans Souci sitting below, looking like something from a tropical Hollywood adventure movie. There are plenty of smaller forts along the coast, while Île de la Tortue evokes memories of the golden age of piracy. The crashing Atlantic waves give the north some spectacular coastline and great beaches. Cormier Plage and Labadie are a stone’s throw from Cap-Haïtien and are ideal places to unwind.
Highlights of Northern Haiti
- Relive Haitian history at the Citadelle and ruins of Sans Souci.
- Let the waves lap at your feet at Plage Labadie.
- Explore the backstreets of Haiti’s second city, Cap-Haïtien.
- Join the pilgrimage to the Souvenance Vodou festival.
- Feel the Vodou rhythms of the Soukri Vodou festival.
- Look for pirates at Île de la Tortue.
- Find the remains of France’s colonial history at Fort Liberté.
WHAT TO EAT IN HAITI
There’s a wide range of restaurants in Port-au-Prince. The default menu is Creole, with a smattering of French and American dishes. If you’re downtown, you should also consider the hotel restaurants – many restaurants close on Sundays and lots of places only open in daytime hours during the week (lunch is the big meal of the day). For a wider range of eating options, head up the hill to Pétionville – the post-quake influx of foreigners has actually led to a mini boom of new places opening up.
Top Food Tips
- A bottle of Barbanourt Five Star rum always impresses as a present for friends.
- Haiti’s ‘Madam Francis’ mango is one of the sweetest and juiciest.
- Add some chili heat with Ti-Malice sauce.
LGBTQ IN HAITI
Haiti isn’t as homophobic as some other places in the Caribbean, including macho Spanish Dominican Republic. There are no dedicated gay venues, however; these were clamped down on in the 1980s following negative publicity about HIV and AIDS in Haiti. While you may commonly see friends of the same sex holding hands and being openly affectionate with each other, any tourists doing this will attract attention. Same-sex couples sharing a room should have no problem, although some discretion, especially in the more religious establishments, is advisable.
WHERE TO STAY IN HAITI
Most levels of accommodation are available in Haiti, from top-end hotels and beach resorts to complete fleapits. Port-au-Prince naturally has the widest choice, along with Cap-Haïtien and Jacmel. You should be able to find the right accommodation for you, although there is often a shortage of midrange beds.
Port-au-Prince has a number of small private guesthouses that cater primarily to visiting church groups, volunteers and aid workers. They offer a homey alternative to hotels, with a modest price tag attached. Standard rates are around US$40, including breakfast and dinner, eaten together to give a sociable atmosphere. Bathroom facilities are invariably shared. These places often have a strong Christian ethic attached, and may operate night curfews.
In comparison to the Dominican Republic, hotel rooms in Haiti can feel expensive, particularly in the midrange bracket where you’re not even always guaranteed hot water. At the budget end, hotels can be dreary and many hotels cater to prostitutes and their clients, so you may be asked if you want to pay for a ‘moment’ rather than the whole night. As a result, some hotels aren’t particularly female friendly, although the turnover of guests means that their rooms are cleaned more regularly and efficiently than others. At the other end of the market, wi-fi access is becoming standard. Expect good fixtures and a decent electricity supply. Most hotels of all ranges have attached restaurants or bars. Mosquito nets are rare. Room rates don’t change according to season, although at peak times – Jacmel during Carnival, for example – prices go up with demand.
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