Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and among the poorest in the world. The island nation once had an extremely beautiful and exotic tropical environment, but decades of uncontrolled logging have left almost no trace of the former impenetrable vegetation. It is located in one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the world, but suffers from severe poverty. Dangerous diseases such as AIDS are spreading alarmingly among the local population. The situation in Haiti became more complicated after the strong earthquake that rocked the country in 2010.
Geographic location, boundaries and size. Haiti occupies the western parts of the island of Hispaniola, which is part of the Great Antilles. It is located in the Caribbean Sea, halfway between Florida in USA and Venezuela in South America.
The country lies approximately between 18 and 20° north latitude and between 71 and 74° west longitude. Haiti has a number of small islands near the coast.
The biggest islands are La Gonave, located in the Gulf of Gonave west of Haiti, the island of Tortuga, which lies north of the country and the smaller, but extremely beautiful Ile aVache.
Haiti shares land borders with the Dominican Republic to the east. Other neighbors are Cuba (northwest), Jamaica (West) and Turks and Caicos Islands (north). The island country covers an area of 27.750 sq. km and is the third largest country in the Caribbean.
Relief. Land relief in Haiti is mostly mountainous. From north to south there are three mountain ranges – Massif du Nord (which is part of the Cordillera Central), south of it lies the Plateau Central and the southern parts of the country respectively are occupied by Massif du Sud.
The highest point in the country is located in the southeastern part of Haiti. It is called Pic la Selle and rises about 2715 m altitude. It is located on the southernmost peninsula of Tiburon.
The coastline of Haiti is heavily indented by a number of large and small peninsulas and bays. The largest bay is Gonave, which occupies the entire west coast of Haiti, north of the Tiburon Peninsula.
Climate. Haiti falls entirely within the tropical climate zone. Daily temperatures reach 30°C in winter and 35°C in summer. Night temperatures are also high – about 22°C in winter and around 25°C summer.
Humidity is high throughout the year. There are two seasons – dry and rainy. The dry season is shorter. It begins in November and lasts until March.
The driest month is January, when rainfall is only 30 mm, while the rainiest month is May, with average rainfall up to about 200-250 mm.
At the height of the rainy season in June and July there is a short-term decrease in precipitation, until rainfall starts increasing again.
Population. Haiti’s population is around 9,000,000 people. This is the second most populous country in the Caribbean after Cuba. The majority of residents (90%) consists of migrants from Africa who were brought here against their will and forced to work the sugar plantations.
The official languages are French and Haitian Creole. The majority of the population consists of Christians. The Catholics are the most numerous part of the population and the Protestants are second.
Most of the population is concentrated in coastal plains and most sparsely populated are the mountainous areas of the country.
Economy. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Neither in North nor in South America is another country with such serious economic problems.
Unemployment is a mass phenomenon that affects more than two thirds of the country’s population. The salaries are extremely low. For example, the salary of a nurse (nurses are some of the most valuable professionals in Haiti) is usually about $ 150 per month.
Other professionals, however, rely on much lower incomes. Very few people in this country receive more than $ 750 – $ 800 per year. The majority of people live on about $ 2 per day.
What further aggravated the circumstances of the already impoverished country is the disastrous earthquake that struck the country in the late afternoon of January 12th, 2010.
The disaster of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale struck in close proximity to the capital Port-au-Prince. From the humanitarian point of view the consequences of the strong earthquake are devastating!
Millions of people were made homeless or affected otherwise. Thousands of people were killed or injured. In its destructiveness the Haitian disaster can be compared with the tsunami that swept Southeast Asia on December 26th, 2004.
Today, Haiti’s economy is facing major economic difficulties. The main part of the local population is engaged in primitive agriculture, which often can not meet even its personal needs.
The most popular crops in the country are bananas, sorghum, cassava, maize, coffee, sugarcane and cotton. These plants are highly prevalent and widely grown in tropical areas of Central America.
Nature. In the past, nature of Haiti was very beautiful. Like the neighboring Dominican Republic, Haiti was covered with thick and heavily wooded tropical forest.
Over the years, however, much of the jungle is cut. Today the forests in Haiti are almost completely destroyed, suggesting that today only about 1% of the area of the country is covered by forests.
Most of the remaining woodlands are located in mountainous areas of the southern Peninsula of Tiburon.
Tourism in Haiti
Despite massive deforestation, however, today there is still some detached corners that can make you forget you’re in one of the poorest countries in the world and will make you feel like you are in paradise.
In the northern parts of Haiti, on a small peninsula surrounded by mountains covered with tropical forest is located the small private resort Labadee.
The place is really great. The private paradise has magnificent white beaches, calm and azure waters, abundant greenery and offers a lot of luxury.
In this elite tourist destination, often come to berth luxury cruise liners, whose passengers going ashore to enjoy the tropical exoticism. On the sand itself there are a lot of chaise-lounges, but umbrellas are not needed because the tourists use the shade of coconut trees.
For lovers of water pleasures here are a wonderful water park and amazing coral reefs under the surface of Caribbean Sea. Labadee offers high level of security to its visitors.
South of the island of Haiti is located Ile aVache that is very important for the development of the Haitian tourism. It is located about 10 km south of Les Cayes.
Ile aVache offers magnificent white beaches, lonely bays with azure water and coral reefs, exotic tropical vegetation and is calm enough to provide its visitors a relaxing holiday in the beautiful Caribbean paradise.
In its longest part the island is about 15 kilometers long, and tourists are usually very few in comparison to the island‘s area, so it usually seems almost deserted especially during the hot midday hours.
Very important for tourism development in Haiti are local protected areas. In the southwestern part of the Tiburon Peninsula is one of the last remaining rainforests in the country.
It is located at a very high altitude, which in places exceeds 2000 meters. Rain forest falls within the Pic Macaya National Park. Another national park in the country is La Visite National Park.
It is also located in the southern parts, but near the capital Port-au-Prince. It is also located at high altitude – about 2,000 meters. Besides parks, Haiti offers its visitors great architectural wealth.
There are two sites – The Citadelle Laferrière and The Sans-Souci Palace that are subject of great interest by the tourists. Both architectural landmarks are world heritage sites and are under the auspices of UNESCO.
The Sans-Souci Palace is located in the northern parts of the country, not far from Labadee, which makes it very convenient to visit. The Citadelle Laferrière itself is located approximately 4 kilometers from the palace. This allows one to enjoy simultaneously a visit of the two most important attractions in Haiti.
Port-au-Prince is the capital of the country. If you want to visit this city, will be better to do that with a group and with a professional guide who knows which places are safe and which not, as most locations are considered to be dangerous.
Individual tourists are more likely to be attacked and robbed in city streets. Individual visitors are also more likely to be too shocked by the misery and poverty in Port-au-Prince.
Much of the city is rundown and neglected, and on the streets one can see huge piles of garbage. The traces of the devastating earthquake are at every turn – fallen roofs, ruined fences, destroyed walls and other types of damage.
When to travel to Haiti? The best time to visit Haiti is the height of winter – December, January and February. In this period the moisture is most affordable, the rainfall is scarce and the temperatures are lowest.
Note that high humidity combined with hot temperatures in Haiti can cause discomfort in sensitive people and is therefore preferable to avoid the hottest months.
For those who want to escape the cold and snowy winter in the north, however, Haiti will offer plenty of sunshine and warm weather.
What clothes to wear in Haiti? If you are planning to travel to Haiti is good to prepare the thinnest and airy clothes, you can find. Put in your suitcase light open shoes (slippers or sandals).
Do not forget sunscreen and sunglasses! You will also need an umbrella if you do not want to comply with the vagaries of the tropical weather.