Haiti up close
Is it really safe to travel to Haiti?
Boats at Ile-a-Vache, Haiti
Photo: Verdy Verna
One of America’s closest neighbours, Haiti has long been a source of fascination. American celebrities turned Haiti into one of the popular Caribbean holiday destinations in the 1960s and 70s, but this changed as Haiti suffered increasingly inept rule in the 70s and 80s. Decades of poverty, political instability and plain bad luck followed.
Is it safe to travel to Haiti?
Finally, after a decade of relatively peaceful democratic government, a tourism bounce-back has begun, and a new generation of tourists are discovering what makes Haiti so special. Haiti is becoming a sought-after experience for adventure-driven travelers, the culturally curious, and Millennials who’ve visited the Caribbean already and are seeking something different.
Since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has been on the road to reconstruction. For several years, national icons lay in rubble and whole city squares cordoned off for repair, but the Caribbean nation is now recovering well. With tourism vital for continued prosperity, keeping visitors safe and satisfied is a priority for locals and government policy reflects this.
In fact, the 2019 Global Peace Index ranks Haiti at #87 out of the 163 countries on the list. According to the list, Haiti is more peaceful than many popular tourist destinations like Morocco, Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico, India and - interestingly - USA (#128).
Americans, Canadians and most Europeans can visit Haiti without a visa at all, making it a great alternative to Cuba. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranks Haiti very well when it comes to openness and value-for-money. Over the last ten years, tourism has doubled.
If you’re considering travel to Haiti, you probably still have some questions, so here are a few answers to help you before a first-time visit to the Caribbean island nation:
The current generation has grown up with images of Haiti suffering the effects of the 2010 earthquake, but the last decade has actually seen less political unrest, inequality and crime. Haiti remains poor, but it’s perfectly safe for visitors to walk around the cities on foot or travel across the country to see the many cultural icons and natural wonders, either alone or with a local guide.
As in any large city in the US, people visiting should take sensible precautions when in Port au Prince or Haiti’s other cities. But there’s no significant security threat, and it’s easy to find the parts of town safe for travellers to wander. It’s very common to see foreigners walking around unaccompanied in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
While political unrest can be a cause for worry, it should be noted that most of these events affect very specific politically active groups, not individual people going about their daily life, and certainly not foreigners.
Boat painter in Dame Marie
Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen
How to stay safe
Traffic in Haiti is fairly unregulated, so it serves to look both ways, twice, before crossing any street. As in any big city in the world, pickpockets are out there, so make sure that you keep your belongings close and out of your pockets – preferably in a small bag or pouch you can carry in your hand, or across your chest.
Current travel advisories: The US consulate currently has a Level 3 travel advisory for Haiti (issued 11 June 2019), and recommends that travellers stay safe by changing currency in advance (so you can avoid banks and ATMs), avoiding demonstrations, not attempting to go through roadblocks, and booking official, professional transport from the airport to your accommodation.
School girls, Corail
Photo: Franck Fontain
How to stay healthy
From a medical point of view, Haiti is generally safe as long as you're reasonably careful about what you eat and drink. Although tap water is considered generally safe for locals and long-term expats to drink, visitors who are in Haiti for only a short while are advised to avoid the risk of short-term stomach upsets by drinking bottled water. It’s cheap in the cities and not always available in small towns and on the road, so stock up before you venture out.
For more on what to eat, check out our guide to the delicious and distinctive street food of Haiti.
Get vaccinated before you go: Diphtheria, Hepatitis A and Tetanus shots are all recommended, but depending on your level of risk your doctor may recommend a few more.
Woman in Abricot
Photo: Kolektif 2 Dimansyon
Should you hire a local guide?
Yes. Your journey to all sights worth seeing - whether cultural icons like the World Heritage listed Citadelle, or natural wonders like Bassin Zim, or adventure destinations like Pic La Selle - will be improved if you go with a guide. Guides will ensure your safety, help you find the best routes, keep hawkers and hustlers at a distance and explain the local significance of the sights.
Even if you’re planning to stay in the city, it’s well worth a guided tour at the start to help you get your bearings and put you in a better position to enjoy the rest of your stay solo, without worrying about the local dos and don’ts.
Keep in mind that the two common languages in Haiti are Creole and French - if you don’t speak French, a tour guide is even more invaluable for helping you find your way around.
Is there internet?
Yes. Wifi is widely available in accommodation and restaurants.
Are there hotels up to an American standard?
One of the best things about Haiti as a travel destination is that it’s relatively free of juggernaut five-star resorts that dominate the landscape in other more well-trodden Caribbean destinations. In Haiti, you can ditch the noisy crowds and find much more down-to-earth experiences of beachside paradise.
That’s not to say you can't find luxury - there are several resorts and mid-size hotels dotted around the cities and exclusive beachfront destinations along the coast. Within the cities, there’s a good selection of boutique hotels to suit your budget and style.
Airbnb is gaining popularity too, with dozens of offerings across Haiti’s major cities from art-filled family homes to free-standing villas where you can sip rum sours in your own infinity pool.
What are the travel restrictions for visiting Haiti?
Americans, Canadians and most Europeans can visit Haiti without a visa at all, as long as you plan to stay for less than three months.
Upon your arrival to the island, you’ll be required to pay a USD $10 tourist fee, before you get in line to go through Customs.
The list of countries of which Haiti requires a Visa is very short: Syria, Libya, Iran, Vietnam, Yemen, and Chechnya. If you are visiting from the Dominican Republic, Panama, or Columbia, just make sure that you have a valid US, Canadian, or Schengen visa in your passport.
Haiti allows foreigners to stay for up to three months, after which they need to regularize their status. If you are planning to stay in Haiti for a long stretch of time, make sure that you keep this in mind and book your travel arrangements accordingly.
People relaxing, Pestel
Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen
Why visit Haiti?
Haiti is home to stunning beaches, unique Creole language and cuisine, a proud heritage of hard-won freedom and independence, and inspiring historical attractions.
Haiti is also home to the Caribbean’s premiere art scene, with an abundance of galleries and artist-owned initiatives showcasing distinctive Haitian styles. You’ll find thriving artist colonies in Grand Rue, Jacmel and Noailles.
Haiti’s most iconic historic site, the Citadelle fortress outside Cap Haïtien, houses the world’s biggest collection of 19th-century cannons and artillery. The island’s compelling past is expertly displayed at some of the Caribbean’s best museums, including the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon on Champ-des-Mars.
The culturally curious can catch the Thursday-night Vodou rock show in downtown Port-au-Prince, or witness the whirlwind of costumes, music and performance during one of the many annual festivals.
Throughout a history of amazing achievements and heartbreaking disasters, the people of Haiti have demonstrated incredible resilience, creativity and determination.
Don’t miss your chance to soak up some of this spirit and sample what this unique culture has to offer. Visit Haiti.
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