Haiti occupies the mountainous western end of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the thriving Dominican Republic. Its location, tropical climate and pristine beaches shaded by lush vegetation once made it a potential tourism hot spot just 25 years ago, but the country lies in the shadow of a dark, ominous cloud, compared with its luminous Caribbean neighbors.

Once France’s wealthiest colony, decades of poverty, violence, dictatorships, instability and depleted natural resources have all but destroyed this prospect. It’s now the poorest and most densely populated destination in the Western Hemisphere and drug trafficking and corruption impedes the country’s rehabilitation. In addition, the nation was hard hit by recent devastating tropical storms, leaving thousands homeless. It’s unfortunate that travelers will miss out on engaging with the welcoming Haitian people.

Haiti travel offers a unique culture which shines in its religion, music and cuisine. Haiti saw the only successful slave revolution in colonial history and so it has wholly embraced its African roots. This has evolved into a complex and fascinating culture, with the practice of voodoo at its core, accented by a marriage of French and Creole cuisine and language and such music as kampa and zouk.

Catholicism may be the official religion here, but voodoo gives the island its exotic appeal. The capital Port au Prince is a natural harbor and bustling city, whose Iron Market is busy with bargainers. Cap Haitien in the north is where explorers ran aground in 1492; the wreck of the Santa Maria lies nearby. A short distance from here is the Citadelle, a fortress in the tropical mountains and the ruins of Sans Souci Palace, based on Versailles. Another site is Jacmel, with its Victorian gingerbread houses, voodoo temples and Carnival parade.