The story of Haiti is one of perseverance against overwhelming odds. Though it is the only nation in which a slave rebellion led to eventual freedom, natural disasters and crushing debt have plagued the island nation for years. Through all their challenges, however, the Haitians have managed to retain their unique culture. The country has focused their efforts in recent years on building up tourism, making Haiti a choice destination for those wanting a unique Caribbean experience. The national languages are French and Haitian Creole and not everyone speaks English — plan to study up or hire a translator!

01Hike to La Citadelle La Ferrière

Citadelle La Ferrière Haiti Caribbean

The trail starts in the small town of Milot, where local guides are available for hire, and winds for seven arduous miles up the Bonnet a L'Eveque mountain. It ends at one of the largest stone fortresses in the Americas; La Citadelle La Ferrière was built by successful rebels to defend against French retaliation. Visitors are welcome to explore soaring stone walls, which once held up to 400 cannons, and take selfies against the breathtaking backdrops.

02Visit the Art Town of Jacmel

tourism Jacmel haiti tropicalpixsingapore / Getty Images

One of the island's premier jewels and the center of tourism revitalization, Jacmel is a town full of artists and craftspeople. The beautiful colonial buildings have survived many earthquakes, and exist now as a type of time capsule for preserving older architectural styles. Book a stay at the historic Hotel Florita or just plan a day trip to visit the studios, galleries, and workshops across the city. In January and February, celebrate Carnival with the locals!

03Make a Pilgrimage to Saut-d'Eau Waterfalls

Saut-d'Eau Waterfalls voodoo haiti PrestonGoff / Getty Images

The Voodoo practitioners of Haiti have long held the twin waterfalls of Saut-d'Eau in reverence, and hundreds of pilgrims make the trip each year to pray to the Virgin Mary and Ezilie Dantor for help and healing. Every July, a three-day festival at the falls honors the two sacred women. Even if you're not a believer, the path to Saut-d'Eau is a gorgeous and memorable hike. Remember that this is holy ground, and step accordingly.

04Swim in Bassin Bleu

Bassin Bleu pools haiti

Natural dissolved minerals give the waters of this secluded cove a stunning turquoise hue. Though the air is usually warm, the water is almost always cool. You'll definitely want to hire a guide to help you find this network of three pools linked by waterfall and surrounded by lush vegetation. No one knows how deep the pools are, and legends say that water nymphs will capture any diver attempting to find out.

05Stroll Down Grand Rue Musee d'Art

Grand Rue Musee d'Art Port-au-Prince Haiti

Sandwiched between a car repair shop and junkyard, the works featured in this open-air art plaza definitely reflect their origins. Statues and devotional art made from abandoned car parts and other found media crowd together, some of them incorporating actual human bones! There are no guides or tours, but the artists contributing to the Grand Rue Musee d'Art are frequently on-site and happy to answer questions about their work.

06Climb Pic la Selle

Pic la Selle summit haiti

One of the highest peaks in the Caribbean, and the highest on the island, Pic la Selle stretches almost nine thousand feet into the sky. Reaching the summit is not for the inexperienced mountain climber, but even novice hikers can enjoy a roughly ninety-minute hike to a waterfall partway up the mountain. And for those not wanting to walk all the way, horses and guides are available for hire.

07Relax at Gelee Beach

Gelee Beach haiti caribbean MichelleWal / Visual Hunt

Gelee Beach is the prime example of a Caribbean beach: white sand stretches for miles in either direction, while clear blue water welcomes divers and swimmers. Stretch out and work on your tan or enjoy some fresh-caught seafood from eateries along the shore. Every summer, the beach hosts an international jazz festival, with smaller merengue festivals happening in between.

08Pick Up Some Wearable Art at Marche en Fer

Marche en Fer marketplace haiti

Damaged in the 2010 earthquake, and more recently by fire, the distinct iron arch of this marketplace has since been restored. Vendors of all types sell their wares against colorful backdrops. Pick up some fresh fruit or jerk chicken as a snack while you peruse the works on offer by local artisans. Most sellers don't speak English, so bring a translator who knows how to haggle!

09See the Orchids at Pic Macaya National Park

Pic Macaya National Park orchids haiti

One of the few remaining cloud forests on the island, this national park is a sanctuary for native amphibians, birds, and orchids. Pic Macaya boasts over one hundred varieties of this mysterious flower and three hundred other flowering plant species. The area is protected so don't pick anything, but take as many pictures and selfies as you like.

10Learn About Ecology at Wynne Farm

Wynne Farm sustainability haiti Robert_Ford / Getty Images

This privately-owned farm has dedicated itself to educating the public about the need for conservation and teaching sustainable farming techniques. Open daily, you can take a tour and learn about composting, beekeeping, and other organic farming practices. Children are encouraged to befriend the rabbits and goats, while adults can take capoeira or yoga classes. Volunteers are always welcome to spend a few days helping out on the farm. Room and board is ten dollars a day, but free for trained construction professionals!

11Visit the Jubilee Voodoo Monument

Anse a Foleur, Haiti voodoo tropicalpixsingapore / Getty Images

According to legend, Catholic missionaries built a giant stone cross on a hill east of Port au Paix, dedicating the land to Jesus. Some time later, lightning struck the cross, causing the top part to break off and tumble down the hillside. The locals praised this as a sign their own gods had reclaimed the land, and the site is now revered by Voodoo practitioners and visited by pilgrims. Reachable by a moderate hike, treat this site as you would any other church.

12Explore the Ruins of Sans-Souci

Sans-Souci Haiti Caribbean Claudiad / Getty Images

Built in the French Baroque style following the revolution, Sans-Souci was once known as the Versailles of Haiti and the Caribbean. Tragedy marred the castle with the suicide of King Henri, and an earthquake in 1842 irreparably damaged the building. Crumbling walls and fallen roofs have left the building open to the elements. Bring a guide if you wish to visit; the surrounding area is vulnerable to instability.

13Spelunk in Grotte Marie Jeanne

Grotte Marie Jeanne caves Haiti Aljndr / Getty Images

Three caves stretch across a network over two miles long, near the small town of Port-a-Piment. One cave is open to the sun, letting in lots of natural light. Another is pitch black, illuminated only by whatever you and your fellow spelunkers have brought. You'll definitely want to hire a guide for this trip, as there's no way into the caves without one.