Haiti up close

What is visiting Haiti like for female travellers?

Girl walking on bridge over Grande-Anse River

Photo: Franck Fontain

Travelling solo is an attractive prospect for anyone - regardless of your relationship status - looking to get a little “me” time while you’re out there discovering the world.

Vacationing alone means no compromises, more flexibility, and no one to judge you for spending your precious time in Haiti sleeping in and seeking out self-centered relaxation and bliss.

 

Still relatively undiscovered by mainstream tourists, Haiti offers a Caribbean experience decidedly off the beaten path. Sipping your morning cup of coffee, surrounded by cozy conversations in a blend of French and Kreyol, there's zero chance the place will suddenly be overrun by a busload of Texan retirees or twenty-somethings on their first trip away from home.

 

While group trips are great ways to have memorable experiences, there is something to be said for taking a new destination by storm on your own - especially as a woman. To you we say: kudos! This one’s for you.

 

You might be wondering, though - what is visiting Haiti like for female solo travellers?

Woman in Abricot

Photo: Kolektif 2 Dimansyon

What to expect

Haiti has a long, poetic past of how it views and treats women. The country’s history is incomplete without the important women who played a part in setting it free, from Taino Indians to freed black slaves. This is illustrated clearly in the way women are viewed as the poto mitan (central pillar) of Haitian households, and Haitian society. Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas, birthdays – any celebration is an occasion to celebrate mothers, and Haitians don’t miss them.

 

On an individual level, and speaking generally of course, Haitian men treat women with courtesies, compliments and - often the other side of that cultural coin - catcalling. Haitian women have learned to be a step ahead of them and curb those behaviors before they get bothersome!

 

In everyday life, you’ll notice that people are ready to do favours for each other, but especially so for women. There is always a helpful hand to get a seat aboard a kamyonèt zooming away; if someone is missing change for the ride, someone else will offer to top it off; there is always a kind, watchful eye – usually another woman, looking out for women in Haiti.

Traveller taking a water taxi in Labadee

Photo: Anton Lau

Accommodation, food, bars and bargaining

If you plan to stay at a resort or hotel, you will find your stay to be as smooth as it would be in any other similarly-starred accommodation in another country: respectful; courteous and pleasant. If you are staying at an Air BnB or with a host, there is an added layer of care and readiness to help. If your host happens to be a woman, you’re in luck! Topics concerning women aren’t taboo, and women are quite ready to answer questions about where to get what should your period decide to compensate for “island time” by showing up early. They’ll also be happy to chat about how to deal with certain gendered experiences particular to Haiti.

 

It is not uncommon at all for a woman to be offered a drink at a bar. Here, the same “Spidey sense” that serves you in your home country will serve you here. While most men just want to have a dance, it is not unusual for some of them to look for more than that. If you’re not interested, a firm and definite answer makes things clear.

 

Walking in the streets alone is definitely feasible, as long as you keep some basic things in mind. First, make sure you know exactly where you are going! Uncertainty is detectable, and in the wrong places, can make you vulnerable. Second, if you can have a friend walk with you – man or woman, it doesn’t really matter – you are more likely to deter people approaching you. Finally, all other tips for walking in the streets of any major city still apply: make sure you have enough change on you just in case, make sure your phone is charged, and keep it all in a (preferably!) small bag which is easy for you to get a hold of but difficult for others.

 

When it comes to purchasing artwork or souvenirs in artisan shops or in the streets, merchants are already used to women doing most of the buying, and therefore, most of the negotiating. While being a foreigner may not play to your advantage – because merchants automatically assume that you just have more money – this should not discourage you from bargaining for that paperweight, necklace, or painting! After some conversation, most merchants soften and are ready to reach a price point comfortable for both parties.

Relaxing in the pool at Le Plaza Hotel, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Photo: Amanacer / Emily Bauman

With common sense, caution and a little preparation, Haiti is a feasible destination for women travelling alone – easygoing, fun, exciting, and safe in summer and winter. Don’t let the odd guy who can’t tell the difference between courtesy and a catcall hide the fact that most Haitians are as warm and gentle as the island breeze.


Written by Kelly Paulemon.

 

Published July 2019


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