The word "Haiti" is nearly always followed by the word "voodoo"—largely because voodoo makes such a good metaphor for the country as far as travelers are concerned: Like voodoo, Haiti can seem strange and dangerous on first glance. Once you spend a bit more time with it, however, it emerges as distinctive and vibrant, something you will long remember even if you never become completely comfortable with it.

Which isn't to say that the danger and discomfort aren't real. Anyone thinking about visiting Haiti should understand that it's a land whose wounds from civil strife and the January 2010 earthquake are still very fresh. The Haitian economy is in shambles, poverty and crime are pervasive and its democratic traditions are weak.

Yet beneath the grime and corruption, Haiti can be a charming place. Music, art and the poetic Creole language enrich this otherwise poor nation. Add to that the mysteries of voodoo—an undefined belief system that merges traditional African religion and Catholicism in magic, ceremony and performance art—and you have a culture so rich it validates all the trouble it takes to experience it.

Beyond the quake zone largely centered around Port-au-Prince, visitors will find a tropical atmosphere, open-air markets, some nice beaches and coral reefs, and a beautifully rugged landscape. Be aware that it's a place of frequent delays, poor roads, beggars and power outages—even at luxury hotels. If you move around the country at all, you will encounter evidence of the cruel destitution that afflicts the majority of Haitians.

The majority of Haiti’s tourists are now arriving on Royal Caribbean ships at Labadee, the company's private beach on the northeast coast. As the ships approach, passengers see something they may not have seen anywhere else on their Caribbean cruise: miles and miles of beautiful, undeveloped coastline. No high-rise condos, no commercial ports, nothing but lush, green vegetation and sandy beaches with dramatic mountains in the background.

Haiti has enormous untapped reserves. Its beaches, one-of-a-kind historical sites and a dynamic culture add considerable dimension to a region dotted by islands that often struggle to differentiate themselves.

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