Located in the heart of the Caribbean is Haiti, a small island nation that once suffered under French colonialism before becoming the first ever republic to be led by people of African descent, following the Haitian Revolution in 1804. During the period of French colonialism, slavery was a common practice and Haiti was producing nearly 60% of all coffee in the world, making this small island nation the world’s largest producer of coffee at the time. More recently, the country suffered another great blow when it was decimated by an disastrous earthquake in 2010 that claimed the lives of over 200,000 Haitians and displaced 1.5 million more.
Whilst the history of this country may be dark, it has not stopped the culture of the Haitian people to develop into one that is full of celebrations, song, dance and costumes, often placing the importance of family and ancestry above all else. The people of Haiti know how to celebrate an occasion like no other country in the world, so lets take a deeper look into the festivals of this Caribbean wonderland.
Fet Gede (Festival of the Ancestors)
The Vodou festival of Fet Gede, also known as the Festival of the Ancestors, is the Vodou religion equivalent to the Mexican Day of the Dead and Mardi Gras combined. The people of Haiti converge to the capital to dress up, take to the streets and dance in a procession towards the main cemetery to pay tribute to the Gede (spirits of the Vodou religion). Rituals and festivities take place throughout the month of November; however the biggest celebrations are at the start of the month on All Saints & All Soul’s Day (1st & 2nd of November, respectively). As the crowd makes their way through the city towards the graveyard, they carry photographs or images of their ancestors to honour them, or bring special offerings such as their favourite alcohol or coffee.
Carnival in Haiti
The festival of Carnival, is similar to Carnival in other Caribbean nations or the annual celebration held in Rio De Janeiro, however with a Haitian twist. The streets are filled with imaginative costumes that are often politically motivated or are satirist of current events, whilst the sound of Rara can be heard across the city. Parades of colourful floats take over the streets as they blast music out to the erratic dancing of the crowd, whilst rum-fueled parties often end in the early hours of the morning. This festival is held over several weeks leading up to lent, with celebrations kicking off at the start of February. The biggest Carnival celebration is held in the capital, Port-au-Prince, whilst smaller celebrations take place in towns all across the country.
The Rara Festival is a Haitian music festival featuring the traditional Haitian style & Afro-Caribbean music, commonly known as Rara, held every year during lent. Whilst the festival is aligned with the Catholic calendar, its roots are a clear combination of both Catholicism and the Vodou religion. The Rara Festival takes place in villages and towns all across Haiti, before the celebrations make their way towards the major cities. The festival is full of group singing and dancing, using percussion instruments and homemade bamboo style trumpets called a Vaksen. As the celebrations culminate in the cities, bands of up to 1000 people gather in the streets to perform whilst thousands more dance to the sounds of the Rara. This festival is all about finding strength and unifying the Haitian people.
Another important date in the Haitian calendar is Dessalines Day, a public holiday for the Haitian people to remember the death of their founding father, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who fought for and won Haiti’s independence in 1804. Dessalines was born into slavery and worked on a plantation during the earlier stages of his life, before joining the slave revolt in 1791 that would eventually lead to the revolution. Dessalines played a pivotal role as a military general in leading the Haitian people to their independence in 1804, becoming the first black republic in the world and one of the first country’s in the world to abolish slavery completely. Today in Haiti, people commemorate the life of Dessalines and the independence of Haiti by taking to the streets for parades, often dressing up in his honour. Dessalines Day occurs on October 17th annually and is celebrated in major towns across Haiti, including Port-au-Prince.
Looking to explore Haiti? Check out our range of small group tours!
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.