Haiti travel guide
Haiti is a country guaranteed to shock and awe. Tragedy-scarred but tenacious, this small Caribbean nation has great beauty and great need. Boasting verdant mountains, white sandy beaches and plenty of African spontaneity, Haiti might be financially poor, but it is rich in natural beauty, culturally affluent.
Sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has all the hallmarks of a classic Caribbean destination. And so it was, in the 1960s and 70s, when the wealthy flocked here to relax in the tropical climate, tread upon powdery beaches and explore vertiginous mountain ranges.
However, decades of political instability and a series of natural disasters devastated Haiti’s tourist industry, and saw the country go from the travel sections of newspapers straight to the front pages.
But, slowly, holidaymakers are returning. Led by the luxury end of the market, new hotels are opening all the time in Port au Prince, which is a sign of how the tide is finally turning. As well as new hotels, numerous tourism development projects are also underway.
Haiti’s unique selling proposition as a Caribbean destination is its history and culture. It has a vibrant arts scene, irresistible fusion cuisine and many talented musicians, who pack out bars and clubs with their unique brand of African, European and Caribbean beats.
However, travelling around Haiti is not always easy. The country’s infrastructure has not recovered from decades of instability and the devastating earthquake of 2010.
Political uncertainty endures, too; the United Nations’ Stabilization Force for Haiti – known by its French acronym MINUSTAH – is still here ten years after it was sent in to restore political order.
In the short term, then, the best option for those travelling to Haiti is to use the services of a known tour operator. This might not feel particularly adventurous, but it will take the hassle out of visiting a nation that is still finding its feet after years in the wilderness.
27,750 sq km (10,714 sq miles).
10,848,175 (UN estimate 2016).
360.2 per sq km.
President Jovenel Moïse since February 2017.
Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant since March 2017.
110 volts AC, 60Hz. North American-style plugs with two flat pins (with or without round grounding pin) are used; you may need an adaptor if your device has a third pin however.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The general security situation is unpredictable and crime levels increased in 2016. There have been violent muggings, including fatalities in areas popular with foreign residents, including Petionville. You should seek advice from local contacts or established organisations and make arrangements for your safety and security throughout your stay in Haiti. You should avoid travelling alone or travelling around on foot unless absolutely necessary. Travelling with others, especially those with reliable local knowledge can help to make sure any necessary support is available in an emergency.
Avoid displaying expensive items of jewellery or carrying large sums of money. Don’t leave valuables in vehicles and always travel with car doors locked and windows up. Park close to any venues you visit and where possible avoid leaving a venue alone. Avoid travelling at night. Extra care should be taken when visiting downtown Port au Prince.
There is a threat of kidnapping in Port-au-Prince (particularly in Petionville). Kidnappers target those who are perceived to be wealthy, and both Haitians and foreign nationals have been victims of kidnapping. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms for the release of hostages increases the risk of further hostage taking.
Avoid using banks or withdrawing money at cash points unless absolutely necessary and don’t carry large sums of money. Always be aware of your surroundings and who might be watching you. Gangs, often on motorbikes, target people making cash withdrawals or leaving banks, particularly travelling by foot. If necessary, make withdrawals from cash machines in supermarkets with security guards.
Security guards are recommended at residential properties.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the Carrefour, Cite Soleil, Martissany and Bel Air neighbourhoods of Port au Prince. If you visit low income or slum areas you may attract unwanted attention from people who assume you can help them. Avoid entering slum areas on foot if possible. If you do, take sensible precautions and go with someone who has local knowledge and can speak Kreyol.
Be vigilant when travelling around and take the following precautions:
- always travel with a knowledgeable and reliable guide
- avoid all public transport and only use rented cars with a local driver from a reliable agency (Avis, Budget, etc)
- make sure you have all the supplies you might need for your stay; fuel, food and water shortages are likely
- be aware that the security situation in Haiti can change at short notice
Take extra care on the road between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There have been incidents of armed robberies of foreign nationals in 2016 on the Dominican side of the border by criminals dressed as police officers. If you cross the border by land, be prepared for long queues at the 4 crossing points. Make sure you have all the correct vehicle documentation. Long stretches of the route are isolated, and without mobile phone reception. Aim to complete your entire journey during daylight.
Most main routes in and between towns and cities are in good or reasonable condition, but there are exceptions – especially in remote rural areas where some roads can only be travelled in 4×4 vehicles and with great care.
Route Nationale 1, which heads north from Port au Prince, has recently been subject to daily, and sometimes violent, demonstrations. You should use an alternative route if possible.
Drainage is poor and flooding is common after rainfall. Roads are often unlit and it is not uncommon after dark to encounter cars, trucks or motorcycles driving without lights. You should drive cautiously at all times. Research your journey carefully before you set out and have back up options if needed. A UK driving licence is only valid for 3 months in Haiti. For longer stays, you should get an International Driving Permit.
A luxury bus service operated by Caribe Tours normally runs daily between Santo Domingo and Petionville (not Port au Prince) and vice versa. It is comfortable and the journey takes about 6 hours.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
In 2012 an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Haiti was well below the global average. In light of the significant safety concerns identified by ICAO in respect of Haiti’s ability to provide oversight of its airlines, no Haitian airline is permitted to operate commercial services to/from the UK or its overseas territories. British Embassy staff have been advised not to use Haitian registered airlines.
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
Jovenel Moise was inaugurated as president of Haiti on 7 February following elections in November 2016.
The political situation in Haiti is unpredictable.
You should avoid political rallies, demonstrations and crowds.
The security situation in Haiti is volatile. A UN stabilisation force (MINUSTAH) has been deployed in Haiti since 2004.
Demonstrations may occur with little warning and can turn violent. You should avoid all demonstrations. While most common in Port au Prince, other main cities, and border crossings, they can occur anywhere – most recently on Route Nationale 1 at Archaie.
Demonstrations may often be accompanied by improvised road blocks. Curfews and new security regulations can be announced at short notice. You should avoid all demonstrations, monitor local news and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Demonstrations and protest marches often take place in Port-au-Prince and other cities, especially Cap Haitien, Les Cayes and Jeremie, most recently around food and aid distribution and the elections.
Mobile telephones are widely used and roaming is available for some service providers (Digicel, Natcom). Signal reception varies but is generally acceptable around Port-au-Prince. You can buy local SIM cards and prepaid cards in the main towns.