More About Haiti
Occupying the western part of Hispaniola Island, Haiti lies within the Caribbean’s Greater Antilles archipelago. It made international headlines following the 2010 earthquake which caused devastation across the country, but many of its most captivating 19th-century landmarks remain, not to mention idyllic Caribbean beaches and a rich culture fused with Vodou folklore. For those who opt to volunteer in Haiti, you’ll discover a fascinating country steeped in slave history, delectable cuisine and resilient people, determined to rebuild.
Top tourist destinations near Pignon
La Citadelle la Ferriere
Located at the top of Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain just to the north of Pignon, this immense fortress is an icon of Haiti and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built to prevent French invasion by Henri Christophe, a key figure in the Haitian slave rebellion (1791–1804), just after the country gained independence. More than 350 cannons were obtained from different countries bearing the crest of their 18th-century monarchs, while stockpiles of cannon balls can still be seen stacked at the base of the fortress walls.
La Citadelle la Ferriere is reached along a seven-mile trail from the town of Milot where both guides and horses can be hired for the challenging uphill trek, while vendors selling fresh coconut juice and refreshments are found en route. On a clear day, there are views all the way to the city of Cap-Haïtien and the Atlantic Ocean to the north.
Once the home of Henri Christophe, the Haitian king who led the independence war against the French, the Sans-Souci Palace lies just a few kilometers from La Citadelle la Ferriere. It was one of nine palaces built by the king and designed to show white foreigners (particularly the French and Americans) the power and capability of the black race. A tour of its crumbling remains takes you through the great halls and opulent grounds which were established at the start of the 19th century, as well as the spot where King Henri supposedly committed suicide with a silver bullet in 1820.
Just a short drive from the capital Port-au-Prince is the picturesque port town of Jacmel which is considered the handicraft capital of Haiti. Crumbling mansions and merchant houses cluster in its charming old town, while the beachfront Promenade au Bord de Mer is a bustle of activity both day and night, with freshly grilled seafood sold beneath its swaying palms. Boutique art galleries and workshops producing hand-painted wall decorations, papier-mâché masks and Vodou-esque trinkets line the way and it’s here that some of the most intoxicating Carnival celebrations take place.
Located part way between Pignon and Port-au-Prince near the town of Mirebalais, the Saut-d’Eau Waterfalls are held in high regard not only for their natural beauty but also as an important pilgrimage site for locals. It was reported that the Virgin Mary appeared on a nearby palm here more than a century ago and since that time Haitians have trekked to the falls to ask her (or the associated Vodou Lwa, Erzulie Dantor) for blessings to cure their illnesses and ailments.
Pilgrims let the cascading water wash over them as they perform both Catholic and Vodou rituals in a religious festival that coincides with the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel each July. But even if you’re not visiting during the summer, it makes for an impressive jungle hike with a refreshing waterfall swim at the end.
Haitian culture blends African traditions brought by slaves with European elements from French colonization and contributions from the indigenous Taino people and Spanish imperialists. The country is renowned for its rich folklore traditions as part of the Haitian Vodou tradition, with former dictator Papa Doc using many of its elements to guide citizens during his brutal rule.
Carnival is the biggest celebration of the year, with traditionally dressed musicians and dancers parading through the streets accompanied by elaborate floats. Haitian music includes that of Vodou ceremonies and rara parades, as well as twoubadou ballads, hip hop kreyòl and the popular modern méringue known as compas. Many styles incorporate African rhythms with both Spanish and French elements, while dancing remains an important part of Haitian life for both religious and secular celebrations.
Around 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic and 16% Protestant, with small numbers of Muslims and Hindus particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince. Many Christians also practice Vodou rituals alongside their faith, which blends Central and West African traditions with European and Native American influences.
Haitian cuisine is comparable to the creole cooking throughout the rest of the Latin-Caribbean, blending French, Spanish, West African and Taino influences. But there are a few distinctions that set it apart and make it widely appealing for visitors to the country. Bold and spicy flavors from Africa blend with a French sophistication, with chilies often served on the side, together with pikliz, a combination of pickled onions, carrots, and cabbage in a spiced vinegar sauce.
Haitians love griyo (fried pork) and tassot (a dried and spiced meat), while freshly caught fish, conch and lobster are widely available along the coast. Rice, beans, fried plantains and mais moulin cornmeal porridge serve as the staple dishes for most meals, with riz collé aux pois (rice with red kidney beans) considered the national dish. It’s often topped with red snapper, tomatoes and onions or a hearty bouillon stew made from goat or beef with potatoes and spices, while chicken in a marinade of lemon juice, sour orange, scotch bonnet pepper and garlic is also popular.
Vegetarians coming to volunteer in Haiti are also well catered for, with a plentiful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables which are transformed into delicious salads, as well as the thick vegetable stew of légume Haïtien which blends a range of vegetables with spices, garlic and tomato paste.
For dessert, Haitians love shaved ice flavored with fruit syrup which is known as fresco, as well as a soft sweet bread made using evaporated milk, sweet potato and cinnamon known as pain patate. This is all washed down with fresh fruit juices which are sold throughout the country, as well as malt beverages made from unfermented barley with molasses.
Airlines which fly to Haiti from Europe, North America and Australia
The Toussaint Louverture International Airport is the main gateway for most visitors to Haiti, located just outside of Port-au-Prince. American Airlines operates direct flights from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York-JFK, while Delta flies direct to Atlanta and JetBlue Airways connects to Fort Lauderdale and New York-JFK, as well as operating seasonal services to Boston. There are also direct flights to Montreal with Air Transat.
For those coming from Europe to volunteer in Haiti, there are direct flights from Paris-Orly with Air Caraïbes, while Air France connects with the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Sunrise Airways and InterCaribbean Airways have regular flights to destinations across the Caribbean, while Copa Airlines connects to Panama City.
For those flying from Australia, there are no direct flights and most opt to connect through the United States first.