Lover’s Island off Ile-la-Vache. Photography by Sebastian Lindstrom.
As an American living in Haiti, the topic of tourism as a way to boost the country’s struggling economy and image, comes up often. So it’s not surprising that NPR’s recent All Things Considered story on Haiti created a lot of attention in my world. Some found it humorously accurate, others, one-sided and misleading.
In the NPR story, Jason Beaubien mainly focuses on what Haiti would have to overcome to tap into the Caribbean tourism market. He highlights Labadee, the private Royal Caribbean hub, whose gated beach and attractions are worlds away from the poverty just outside. Overall, he paints this once-Club-Med country as dirty, dangerous and broken. Warning of elements that could “doom a family’s vacation before they even reach the hotel.”
Is he right? I think the problem here is demographics. Who says Haiti should focus on families in the first place? Is following in neighboring Dominican Republic’s resort-laden footsteps the only way to go?
In my opinion, the answer is backpackers. The same types who flood to Laos, Columbia, Ghana and beyond, searching for the next, untouched experience. These are travelers who crave culture over comfort. Stories over suntans. And who know that chaos often leads to cool.
Historic Jacmel. Photography by Josh Jakobitz.
Take Carnival, for example. In the piece, President Martelly says Haiti’s Carnival is the worst organized, but the most fun. Take it from me, he’s completely right. It’s one of the most amazing experiences, but it certainly isn’t kid-friendly with insane crowds, booty-grinding and general debauchery.
For road-less-traveled types, Haiti is incredible. Head out west to the beaches of Les Cayes. Explore historic Cap-Haitien and climb the steps of the Citadel. Take a rigorous, unmarked hike over the mountains to Jacmel, cutting through a pine forest along the way. Just don’t expect it to be easy. But then again, for true backpackers, easy is boring.
Volunteers play football with village youth. Photography by Josh Jakobitz.
Looking for an immersive experience in Haiti? Spend 6 weeks this summer understanding Haiti with Operation Groundswell (OG). OG is a non-profit that offers travel and community service experiences, which aim to create more socially and environmentally aware backpackers around the world. The 6-week summer trips include a month of service work and 2 weeks of independent travel time. The early summer trip to Haiti will focus on reforestation projects, the late summer trip focuses on education.
For quality Haitian-run tourism trip packages, check out Tour Haiti (use Google Translate).
About the Author:
Stephanie Price is a freelance copywriter who oversees fundraising and communications for English in Mind Institute, a free adult English school in Port-au-Prince. She loves Haiti and not-so-secretly hopes you will too.
Travel Channel hosts in Haiti:
Watch a recap of Tony Bourdain’s time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And follow coffee hunter, Todd Carmichael, as he searches for a rare strain of coffee in Haiti.