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Haiti; Getting to Know The Local Customs

Haiti is a Caribbean country that occupies the western third of the Caribbean island named Hispaniola. The other part of the island is occupied by the Spanish-speaking people of the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, they speak French. The name “Haiti” means “mountainous country,” When Haiti became independent in 1804, the name was adopted by the military generals, many of them former slaves, who expelled the French and took possession of the colony. In the year 2000, 95% of the population was of African descent, and the remaining 5% were mulatto and White. Some wealthy citizens think of themselves as French, but most residents identify themselves as Haitian, and there is a strong sense of nationalism.



Haiti has on its north shore the North Atlantic Ocean, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south of the island. Haiti covers 10,714 square miles (27,750 square kilometers). The neighboring islands include Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Three-quarters of the terrain is mountainous. The highest peak is Morne de Selle. The climate is mild, varying with altitude. The mountains are calcareous rather than volcanic and give way to widely varying microclimatic and soil conditions. The country often suffers from devastating earthquakes and severe hurricanes.


The population has grown steadily from 431,140 at independence in 1804, to an estimated 6.9 to 7.2 million in 2000. Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Until the 1970s, over 80% of the population resided in rural areas, and today, over 60% continue to live in provincial villages, hamlets, and homesteads scattered across the rural landscape. The capital city is Port-au-Prince. Approximately 80% of permanent migrants come from the educated middle and upper classes.


The climate is generally tropical but is semiarid where mountains in the east cut off the trade winds. Haiti lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms and also experiences occasional flooding, earthquakes, and droughts.


Though Haiti is a beautiful nation, it is poor as well. The country has a troubled, but also a revolutionary and exciting, past, but 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 often overlooked gem into a Caribbean tourist spot once again. For those with patience and an open mind, Haiti offers a rich culture that is unique among post-colonial nations.

It is extremely helpful when traveling in Haiti to have a local contact from a church, a hotel, or just by making friends with someone. When traveling to Haiti, it is very important that you bring a first aid kit. Be sure to include a lighter and flashlight in the first aid kit to help you cope with Haiti’s frequent power outages. Be sure to not drink the tap water and any drinks made with that water. Experiences like dining locally, riding on a tap-tap, or strolling through one of the insanely crowded outdoor markets are great fun and very worth doing but are much safer and easier if you have a trusted Haitian to go along as a guide and interpreter.

More travel tips can be found on our blog.