The news often only portrays the negative side of Haiti. Although Haiti does have great needs, the spectacular sights, culture, and people are almost never heard of.
Haiti is located on the western half of the island of Hispaniola, sharing the island with the Dominican Republic. It is the second most populous country in the Caribbean and is located about 52 miles from Cuba. Haiti consists mostly of rugged mountains (the name Haiti comes from the Taino word for "land of high mountains") with small coastal plains and river valleys. The two official languages are French and Haitian Creole, although French is spoken by less than half of the population. Haitians are mainly Catholic with a minority of Protestants and many also practicing Vodou (a religion with African roots that is often synchronized with Catholicism).
When Christopher Columbus travel to where he thought was India or Asia, he had actually landed on the northern coast of Haiti on December 5, 1492. The island of Hispaniola was claimed by Spain and he created the first European settlement in the Americans, named La Navidad. The French then took over the western half of the island, named it Saint-Domingue, and developed sugarcane and coffee plantations that were worked by slaves brought from Africa. At that time, Haiti was one of the most lucrative colonies in the world. As allies to the US, the French recruited Haitian soldiers to fight with the Americans for their independence. The white plantation owners in Haiti were largely outnumbered by the slaves, and in response to the French and American revolutions, Haitian slaves started a revolution in 1791. By 1803, Haiti had become the first black republic and the first successful slave army revolution.
After gaining independence, Saint-Domingue was then divided into the North and the South until 1821. Fearful of influencing their own slaves, the US refused to recognize the new republic, as did most European nations. This had a tremendous economic impact on the country, prohibiting Haiti from continuing to benefit from the lucrative exportation it had experienced under the French. In 1825, the king of France tried to send troops back to reconquer the island. The Haitian President at that time agreed to a treaty for France to formally recognize Haiti's independence in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs to France. This, along with the country's isolation, greatly reduced Haiti's economy and prevented the country from investing in its own development and infrastructure.
Throughout the 20th century, Haiti was invaded and occupied by British, German, and US military forces. Tourism boomed in Haiti from the 1950s-1970s, but was wiped out by the unstable dictator-like governments under Presidents "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Since the Duvaliers, Haiti has experienced an unstable government including coups, restorations, and election delays.
On January 12, 2010 Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, killing hundreds of thousands and devastating the capital Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. Since then, the government has put widespread effort into re-branding Haiti's image and emphasizing tourism for developing the country's economy. Although Haiti is often visited by volunteers and aid workers, it is still too rarely seen as a true tourism destination.