Tropical Climate Year Round
Haiti experiences a tropical climate, with generally high temperatures and humidity throughout the year. Temperatures in Port-au-Prince usually peak between 88 and 93°F (31 and 34°C), becoming cooler and fresher with altitude. So when is the best time to visit Haiti?
The weather is at its best during the dry spell from November through to March and this is generally considered the best time to visit Haiti. Heavy rains descend between April and June, followed by a hurricane season from August to October which has slightly lighter rains.
Water temperatures are ideal for swimming year-round, hovering between 79 and 84°F (26 and 29° C), although seas are at their calmest (and most photogenic) during the dry periods.
Dry Season (November to March)
November through to March sees the driest conditions in Haiti, with the reduced humidity and temperatures perfect for sightseeing and getting out and about in the magnificent landscapes. The lack of rain means that travel plans are less likely to be disturbed due to bad road conditions, making this one of the best times to visit Haiti.
Visitors should keep in mind that the north of the country does experience some scattered rains during these months (so pack appropriate wet weather gear), although these shouldn’t put too much of a dampener on tourist activities.
Haitian Festivals During the Dry Months
The dry months are also a great time to visit in terms of festivals, with Fet Gédé Vodou marking the start of the season on November 1. Similar to the “Day of the Dead” which is celebrated across Latin America, this annual festival honors those who have passed away. It takes place at Port-au-Prince’s National Cemetery with some distinct Voodoo characteristics. People bring gifts of flowers, bottles of rum and beeswax candles to warm the bones of their ancestors and appease their spirits.
Le Festival du Rhum also takes place in November, celebrating Haiti’s most famous export with tastings, workshops and cooking demonstrations. It brings together rum experts from near and far, with the opportunity to sample varieties from across the country within a lively atmosphere.
While New Year’s Day is a celebration in itself, it also marks Haiti’s Independence Day when the country split from France in 1803 after more than 300 years of colonialism. People take to the streets to celebrate with parades and feasting, including eating a special squash soup which symbolizes freedom and equality for Haitians.
The following day, January 2, is what’s known as Ancestry Day when Haitians honor their forefathers who fought for independence. Military processions pass through the streets and official speeches are made.
In late January the annual Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival takes place, bringing some of the world’s best jazz musicians to Haiti to play alongside local stars. It features a number of free concerts and workshops held throughout the city and is a great time to visit for music lovers.
But perhaps the biggest celebration of the year is the annual Carnival in Port-au-Prince. It builds up over several weeks in the lead up to the main Mardi Gras carnival which takes place on Shrove Tuesday each year, with lavish floats, music and dancing in the streets in what is one huge party.
The cultural capital of Jacmel is particularly famed for its Carnival which takes place one week earlier than Port-au-Prince’s. The Carnival season actually starts from late January, with small events and celebrations held each Sunday in the lead up to the main parade just before Lent when the fasting period begins.
Rara music festivals are held throughout the Lent period, with processions featuring traditional Haitian instruments and songs sung in the local Creole language. They often deal with themes such as political oppression and poverty and focus on the African ancestry of Haitians.
Rainy Season (April to July)
April marks the start of the rainy season, with heavy daily downpours, particularly in the southwest of the country on the Tiburon Peninsula and in the northeast of the island. Things tend to dry out in July, before the rains hit again at the start of the Hurricane season in August, albeit slightly lighter.
Temperatures and humidity are at their highest during the rainy season, making this a less than pleasant time to be out exploring or sightseeing. Trekking trails can get incredibly muddy and you should be flexible with your travel plans in case of road closures.
May is a good time to visit Haiti, however, if you’re interested in traditional folklore, with the unusually named Krik? Krak! Festival taking place. It refers to a Haitian response during storytelling, with the reader asking the listener if they are ready by saying “Krik?”, to which they respond “Krak!”. You can attend readings and musical evenings in what is a popular family occasion for Haitians.
When the rains ease in July, the annual Carnaval des Fleurs takes place in Port-au-Prince, highlighting Haiti’s flora with three days of parades, musical concerts and dancing in the streets.
Hurricane Season (August to October)
If you’re visiting between August and October, you can expect a fair bit of rain and the highest chance of storms. This is not the best time to visit Haiti, with hurricanes sometimes causing extensive damage and bringing transport in the country to a standstill. That being said, you could get lucky with relatively mild weather and provided you have flexibility in your travel plans, this period shouldn’t be ruled out altogether.
Because of the season’s unpredictability in terms of weather, Haiti has far fewer festivals and celebrations during these months. So if you want to experience all the color and celebration, plan your trip for another time of year.
That being said, towards the end of the hurricane season there is one celebration when Haitians honor the military general who helped establish their modern day country, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines Day takes place on October 17th each year and while his leadership has been deemed brutal by some, his rule as the first person of African descent to lead a republic is still celebrated.