Category Archives: Haiti tourism

Luxury holiday cruise ships still dock in northern Haiti? Wow.

I wanted to share this tale of what, at first sight, looks like remarkable bad taste on the part of Royal Caribbean, reported in the UK’s Guardian newspaper – but which, on further reflection, may be the right thing to do.

Sixty miles from Haiti’s devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jet ski rides, parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.

The 4,370-berth Independence of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International, disembarked at the heavily guarded resort of Labadee on the north coast on Friday; a second cruise ship, the 3,100-passenger Navigator of the Seas is due to dock..

I touched on the curious issue of Labadie – renamed Labadee TM – in this (pre-quake) post about the Haiti few Haitians will ever see.

It’s a difficult one. Even at the best of times, the thought that western tourists are living it up in a walled-off Xanadu while Haitians struggle in abject poverty is uncomfortable – although not unusual in the developing world.

Labadee, in better times

On the other hand, tourism is likely to play a crucial role in Haiti’s long-term future, as a source of investment and income, and right now the island can use every dollar it can get. Only a few weeks ago, the world’s largest cruise ship – Oasis of the Seas – started its maiden voyage there; seen as an important display of confidence in Haiti’s tourism potential, and pointing to a possibly brighter future. Perhaps one should stomach the sickening contrast; it is better the ships dock than abandon one of Haiti’s few viable industries.

Still. Ugh. Right now? The whole affair feels deeply distasteful.

Further reports from Fox News, The Guardian’s comment page, New York Daily News.

PS. I found these youtube videos about Labadee, uploaded by kidkut1 on Jan 14:

The ‘Haiti’ few Haitians will ever see

I was struck by this description of Royal Caribbean’s private Haitian port – or should that be “private port on the north coast of Hispaniola”.

Labadee® is Labadie, incidentally, near Cap Haitien. But it seems a tour company can rename somewhere and then trademark it without too much trouble these days.

On the north coast of Hispaniola, surrounded by beautiful mountain slopes and exotic foliage, sits Labadee®, Royal Caribbean’s private paradise. This exclusive destination offers pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and spectacular water activities. We even have an amazing new Aqua Park for kids. Regardless of where you go, you’ll find yourself embraced by the beautiful landscape. Labadee’s native charm, along with its natural beauty, make this a destination not to be missed, and only Royal Caribbean can take you there.

The One Thing You Don’t Want to Miss

It’s impossible to choose just one thing that’s special about Labadee®. The sandy beach and coral reefs provide a perfect place to relax and have fun. Whether you’re interested in kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing or you just want to lie on the beach and relax, you won’t want to miss Labadee®.

Other Fun Things to Do

Paddle along the gorgeous coastline of Labadee® on a relaxing kayaking tour. Your guide will lead you through beautiful coral reefs, where you’ll witness an abundance of exotic marine life. You’ll also pass various fishing villages that have been unchanged for decades.
Ahoy, mateys! Become a pirate for a day at Labadee® Luc’s Splash Bash. Get drenched by ground geysers and water archways, battle other buccaneers with water cannons aboard the pirate ship, or explore the treasure map trail.
Soak up the sun while you float on the waves on a beach mat.
Enjoy the fun-filled floating Aqua Park as you bounce on trampolines and climb and slide on inflatables.

Sporting Adventures

Grab a bird’s-eye view as you soar 400 feet above the beautiful peninsula of Labadee on a thrilling parasailing ride.
Paddle through the enchanting Bay of Labadee® on a kayaking tour. Absorb the breathtaking surroundings and learn a bit about the Haitian culture.
Take an exhilarating ride aboard a waverunner down the scenic coast of Labadee®. See your ship from a perspective rarely enjoyed by other guests.
Go shopping for beautiful handmade local artwork, woodwork and crafts. You’ll want to bring cash so you can take home a beautiful memento of this private paradise.

Get a Taste of Local Flavor

LabadeeOur special “Labaduzee” is waiting for you – our signature frozen drink that is out of this world. Order yours from a shady hammock to capture the true spirit of Labadee®.

I plan to ask a few Haitians what they think of the Labaduzee, that “true spirit”, “taste of local flavor”.

Bah… I should not be so cynical. I am sure this walled off private tourist mecca provides some employment and can help build confidence here. A catalyst. And who can blame tourists from wanting a bit of hassle-free pampering.

Given that, why does it feel so weird?

I leave you with a note written by “lefonceur26” below the youtube speed boat video, written 9 months ago. “Lol it’s hard to know how others are enjoying my country while I can’t…I’m so pissed right now”.

FYI this piece from Conde Nast Traveler, on, is worth a look.

Club UNdigo

Oh joy – online again after a three day drought. May not sound bad, but for an addict it is challenging. I have internet dreams. Mercy comes in the form of the wifi at the Petionville Club.

Back to last weekend. Finally, we scored the requisite papers to travel en famille in Anna’s big UN car, so it was off to Club Indigo.

Club Indigo at dusk

Club Indigo was Haiti’s club Med back in the Duvalier days – described by an old Reuters piece as an ‘experimental playground’ from where holiday adventurers would seek voodoo-fuelled fantasies, Haitian art and other hedonistic pursuits. (Haiti was a famed spot for sex tourism, in multiple forms). It closed around the time the Aids epidemic emerged, and due to the political instability with the end of the regime; reopened again briefly in the 90s, then closed again. A discussion on tripadvisor (that most reputable of sources) had this to say:

“Club Med had problems marketing the location due to political instability but it was doing very well according to Club Med. One day a group of Europeans were going back to the airport and were blocked on the road by peasants who were protesting against the government. That did not help a struggling Club Med, especially in Haiti. So it finally shut down.”

It was refurbished by one of Haiti’s richest families – Mevs (pronounced Meuse) – in 2006 or so, and is a relaxing if unremarkable seaside resort, food all inclusive, small rooms, giant swimming pool and great beachside sunsets. A Xanadu for international aid workers, a two hour drive north from Port-au-Prince. I dub it Club UNdigo after one look at the white Nissan’s littering the car-park.

Dorian is thrilled to be allowed in the same vehicle as his mother. “Hey – we’re going to the beach tomorrow…” “The beach?” “Yes.” “With Benson?” “No. Guess what car we are going in?” “I don’t know.” “Guess.” “The UN car?” “Yes.” “Are you joking?” “No!” “Mummy got the piece of paper?” “Yes!” “For Alandra and me?” “Yes” “And daddy?” “Yes” “And mummy?” “Yes” “Yippee–aye!” Cute. Things are looking up.

Dorian roars on the beach at Club Indigo

What strikes me about Club Indigo is that while it makes for a very pleasant break for us, it is nothing special compared to what Haiti’s competitors offer: in a more dangerous locale, with fewer facilities.

For a country hoping to reinvigorate its tourist trade – beyond the occasional returning Haitian emigre, or aid worker – this poses a challenge. The food is tasty, but not spectacular. There is little in the way of marine life to see here, I am told. So what to do?

Over dinner I ask a friend about voodoo tourism. It strikes me that pretty much everyone I spoke to in the US or UK knew only two or three things about Haiti (that is, assuming they did not get it confused with Tahiti). a. Poverty. b. Papa Doc. c. Voodoo.

Surely, I reason, voodoo is a unique selling point here, and something that could be exploited for an increasingly demanding tourist market. One travel site has a traveller gushing: “The Shows every night were incredible. One evening we had a Folklore Show that showed us all the dances and songs that the Haitians love. Another night there was a Voodoo Show. It was magical. On the way back to my room I almost stepped on a snake. They had used snakes in the Voodoo show and I believe there are no coincidences in life so I decided that snake was telling me never walk alone at night!”

I also figure that getting involved could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I learn that the current government is not too keen on the idea. Haiti is a Catholic country, and it wants luxury tourism – so goes the mantra. Voodoo is inappropriate. Yeah right. As the old phrase goes, Haiti is 80% Catholic, 100% voodoo. What a shame to resist your country’s greatest allure to foreigners.

Soft lighting at Club Indigo

I consider the Masai in Kenya and their genius in giving tourists what they want. They dance jauntily with their stiff high jumps and flowing red robes. They tell tales of lion hunting (despite, one suspects, never having hunted one). They even gave a gift of several cows to the US after 9/11 – a perfect reminder of their allure to potential visitors. It’s a great package, and highly memorable for travellers.

But for the moment there is no voodoo extravaganza in sight at the Club Indigo. Instead we briefly watch a Brazilian capoeira group banging its drums by the water-polo pool. Nice enough, but also a common sight these days in the west.

We purchase little tickets to pay for the occasional drink, and sport orange bracelets – no doubt a hangover from the Club Med era – which entitles us to the buffet. Two nights of calm, and electricity. Easy ride home, only a brief stop at the UN roadblock where a charming Latino MP checks we have permits for our children. It’s all perfect for us; but I suspect not so enticing for the thrill-seeker who might be considering Haiti as the next frontier destination, in a quest for impressive tales in relative security.

This said, I am fully aware that I still know next to nothing about my new home – and there may be a resurgent voodoo tourism scene bubbling underneath. The famed Hotel Oloffsen – as featured in Graham Greene’s the Comedians – continues to host the voodoo rock band RAM every Thursday, and I am keen to visit. It’s downtown, however, which raises some questions about whether Anna will be allowed there. UN rules.

Meanwhile, the political situation develops. Aristide has decried the electoral commission’s failure to recognize his party as a coup d’etat. Empty rhetoric? We’ll see. Students have been demonstrating for a couple of days over the arrest of their colleagues and the UN radio crackles out occasional warnings. As of writing, another deadline has passed, and a UN Human Rights rapporteur has inexplicably said the electoral decision was kosher. Lots of anti-UN muttering.

The UN leadership is in a thorny bind: if it lets the government decision stand, it loses legitimacy. If it contests it too vigorously, it alienates the government it is trying to support.

Tricky days.