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Despite the one-sided media image, it’s not all doom and gloom in Haiti. Historically known as the “pearl of the Caribbean,” this mountainous country shares the island of Hispaniola, (the second largest in the region) with the Dominican Republic, which sits to its east. From its acclaimed artisans, rich culture and proud history as the world’s first black republic, there’s lots to love about Haiti, well beyond its pristine Caribbean beaches.

RELATED: 7 reasons your next cruise needs to stop in Labadee, Haiti

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A multi-dimensional art scene

Art is literally everywhere in Haiti. Colorful paintings cover buildings, buses and walls. Sidewalks are lined with original artworks displayed by skilled artists waiting to make a deal. You can wander a few blocks in Port Au Prince and view almost as much art as you’d see in a museum gallery. If you prefer more conventional art displays, visit Expressions Art Gallery,  Galerie Marassa and Galerie d’ art Nader, to browse works by famous and emerging Haitian artists. For an all-encompassing  Haitian art experience, check out Marriott Port au Prince Hotel. The property’s stunning art collection was curated by noted Haitian artist Philippe Dodard and features pieces from 22 local artists, including a hand-wrought iron wall depicting an underwater mermaid scene—a nod to the hotel’s restaurant, La Sirene.

Flickr CC: Rosalee Yagihara

A party like no other with mizik rasin roots music

Jamaica has reggae, Trinidad has soca and Haiti has the hypnotic rhythms of mizik rasin, or roots music. A contagious blend of rock, reggae and funk mixed with traditional vodou rhythms, this politically charged music is best heard live. You can catch bands like the Grammy-nominated Boukman Eksperyans playing mizik rasin in the U.S. but there’s nothing like grooving to these swirling sounds in Haiti, and nothing better than hearing the famed RAM band at the landmark Hotel Oloffson.  Every Thursday night, this 19th-century gingerbread mansion throbs with excitement and dancing, chanting crowds. Led by founder and Hotel Oloffson proprietor Richard Morse, RAM is a 14-piece ensembles that blasts out sounds rooted in Haitian history and life.

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UNESCO World Heritage Site La Citadelle La Ferriere

The power of the slave revolution that won independence from colonial France is best felt at the jaw-dropping mountain top fortress of La Citadelle La Ferriere. The largest fortress in the Americas, La Citadelle was constructed by Haitian revolutionary and later king, Henri Christophe, with walls 130 feet high and 10 feet thick. With soaring views of the rolling, green landscape, the fort served as a lookout in case the French ever returned to try and re-capture the country.  Located about 3 miles northeast of La Citadelle, the ruins of King Henri Christophe’s Sans Souci Palace unfolds amid lush scenery. Dubbed the “Versailles of the Caribbean,” the palace boasted a baroque double staircase, gardens, an amphitheater, a hospital and 15 Italian marble statues still scattered around the grounds.

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Musee du Pantheon National Haitien (MUPANAH)

Tucked beneath a sculpture garden and modeled after the shape of  the traditional homes of Haiti’s original Taino inhabitants, the MUPANAH is an underground museum that’s a must do for anyone traveling to the island. Besides displaying Haitian art and artifacts, including elaborate robes and crowns from Haiti’s kings, the anchor from Christopher Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria, which landed in Haiti in 1492, and the top hat and gold-handled cane carried by notorious dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier,  the museum houses the tombs of the nations founding fathers.

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Kreyol cuisine

A tasty and complex blend of African, Taino and French flavors, Haitian, or kreyol, cuisine plays a significant role in Haitian culture. No social or important event is complete without a platter of lambi (grilled conch) or delicately seasoned griyo (fried pork) with a side of pikliz (pickled veggies) or regional specialties like kalalou djon djon (okra and black mushroom stew). You can sample Haitian delicacies everywhere, from street vendors, beach shacks or fine dining spots. Popular restaurants include Quartier Latin, which also hosts live music, L’observatoire,which offers stunning hillside views and Presse Cafe (all within or close to Port-au-Prince), which supplies a lunch buffet with live music. If you want a more immersive foodie experience, head to the annual Haiti Food and Spirits Festival, Gout et Saveurs Lakay, in September.

 

Tagged: Caribbean

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Rosalind is a writer/author/blogger/teacher based in Chicago. She covers travel, lifestyle and arts topics and her credits include Salon, Hemispheres, Miami Herald, Woman's Day, Brides, Midwest Living, Go Magazine, Bravo Jet Set and The Rough Guide to Women Travel. Follow her hyphenated adventures with her blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @FarsightedGirl.
Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

@farsightedgirl

Journalist, author & blogger of #travel, culture, #music & fashion.#binder Lover of passion fruit. Climber of volcanoes. Teacher of #journalism. SATW Member
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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
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