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Don't Be Fooled in Haiti: Unlikely Tourist Sites for Unlikely Tourists

Where: Haiti
April 22, 2011 at 12:02 PM | by | ()

The National Palace, collapsed and abandoned after the quake

In the wake of Japan's tragic events, the world has been quick to forget Haiti's 7.0 earthquake, which ruled the headlines through 2010. As the country continues to rebuild, the tourists slowly trickle back. Jaunted special correspondent Soo Ah M. Lee recently returned from a medical volunteering mission in Port-au-Prince, and will share her Haiti travel stories and voluntourism tips all this week. This is her story:

As I've said in this series before, I traveled around Haiti in a small group, and this is how most foreigners will also experience it. Occasionally, between volunteering, we'd drive to experience some leisure. Since the earthquake, Haiti hasn't exactly been a tourist destination but when I finally opened up my eyes a bit, I saw that it can be a hidden gem.

Here are few conventional and non-conventional places to visit in and around Port-au-Prince, places that I didn't truly discover until I experienced them myself:

Conventional Tourist Spot No. 1: View of Port-au-Prince from the Mountain Tops

Haiti is very mountainous, and Port-au-Prince has mountain borders to the north and south. Fortunately, I was able to go up to both mountains and had a great view of the city from there. The best viewing spots on the north are not developed, so we simply pulled over and stepped out of the car for quick photos.

The mountain border to the south was already developed into a tourist trap, complete with locals selling souvenirs. This area is where the affluent live, so you'll also spy mansions on either side off the road. The view, when you finally reach it, is completely mesmerizing.

Conventional Tourist Spot No. 2: Beaches

Although I mentioned earlier this week that public beaches were dirty and that even the private beaches had garbage in the water, the beach was still a worthwhile diversion. The water was what is called "bathtub warm," and it was so clear. I just wished that I had snorkeling gear because I spent a good chunk of time looking at coral, and for sea urchins or shells in the shallow water.

Regular scenes from downtown

Non-Conventional Tourist Spot No. 1: Downtown

Downtown Port-au-Prince was one of the places that was hit the hardest by the 7.0 earthquake. There's no redevelopment to be seen, but the gravitas of the country's situation hits when you're in the midst of the aftermath of the earthquake a year later, and the local population is going about their business around the rubble. Every day there were people crowding the main streets, selling goods and setting up markets. Even though buildings lean and look on the verge of collapsing, Haitians continue to conduct business on the first floors.

A hog swims in the garbage-filled river along a slum

Non-Conventional Tourist Spot No. 2: Cité Soleil and Canaan

Most visitors won't put the slums at the top of their list; however, on my trip, I found these places to be a “must visit” sites. These places were mostly educational for me, because when the world focused on Haiti after the earthquake it focused on these Tent Cities. I went from seeing them on TV to seeing them in person, really understanding that these were a new phenomenon. It's better to learn, in person, what sort of aid the people really need.

I was a fool to not think that Haiti had places to visit. With just a little bit of an awakening, Port-au-Prince has a certain charm of its own. For me, this trip was an educational adventure rather than a tourist getaway. Thank you so much for reading my impressions this week, and I hope you enjoyed the series.

Read the whole series from the beginning:
Part 1: The Con Men of Port-au-Prince Airport
Part 2: Life as a Voluntourist
Part 3: Tap-Tap Trucks, Translators & Tropical Beaches
Part 4: How to Be Charitable

[Photos: Soo Ah M. Lee]

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