The Caribbean island of Haiti has started opening up to travelers again after a devastating earthquake in 2010. Much of the island was left in ruin, and for a country that is one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere, the consequences of the earthquake are still reverberating to this day.
Now, travelers are wanting to experience Haiti, from lounging on its stunning, tropical beaches through to exploring its lush mountains, splashing around in the impressive waterfalls, and mingling with the welcoming locals. Crime rates are, however, high, and opinion is divided on whether it’s safe to travel to the island. So is Haiti safe for travelers? Here’s our opinion and some top travel tips:
Crime rates are high in Haiti, ranging from petty theft, armed robbery, kidnap, rape, and murder. As with many Caribbean nations, due to high unemployment, lack of development, poor infrastructure, and drug gangs, violence and crime come hand-in-hand.
In recent years, there has been some controversy between the U.S and Haitian governments, with both issuing opposing views about the safety of the island as a tourist destination. For many, Haiti is a wonderful destination. Crime happens everywhere — there are certainly some parts of the U.S where you would need to take all the same sorts of precautions — and Haiti is a worthy holiday destination. Some estimates suggest Haiti has a significantly lower crime rate than other Caribbean nations such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, for others, Haiti is dangerous, and in some parts, lawless. Tourists have had bad experiences, particularly with armed robbery and petty theft
If you’ve got the itch to see Haiti, it’s a do-able vacation, but you’ll have to have your head screwed on, just as you would in other cities in the Caribbean, and the world generally.
While Haiti is known for its high crime rate, some simple precautions can help you have a smoother trip. Here are our top tips for how to stay safe in Haiti:
-Take a small amount of money out with you, and leave the rest in your hotel safe. Spread out items of value in money belts, under-clothing pouches, and your bag — so all your valuables are not in one place
– If you are a woman, wear modest clothing to avoid unwanted attention
-Leave expensive watches and jewelry at home
-Take care when leaving the airport, criminals have been known to watch travelers arriving and follow them
-Don’t buy drugs! If you do, you are asking for trouble
-Try to withdraw money from inside a bank or hotel, instead of at a street cashpoint
-Common sense goes a long way, don’t walk around at night
-As with anywhere that has a high crime rate, be realistic. As a foreigner, you’re likely to attract attention and the chance of something happening could be higher — you have to be realistic and prepared that you might be robbed
-If you are robbed, give everything you have immediately and cooperate with the criminals. It’s not worth risking your life over a phone, camera or wallet
Where to Stay
There is a selection of good and generally safe hotels in the island’s capital of Port-Au-Prince, alongside other hotels across Haiti. If you are traveling on a package tour, most likely the tour will take you to a series of safe hotels across the country.
Other than the main stopping point of Port-Au-Prince, the top places to visit in Haiti are the colonial port towns of Jacmel and the Cap Haitien, which are known for their beautiful French-colonial architecture and proximity to the sea.
Stick with a Group
You can’t expect to hire a car and explore Haiti on your own. Travel with official tour operators in a group or with a personal escort is recommended. They can help you get the most out of your trip and avoid ‘no-go’ areas — they are locals and experts after all. There are several companies offering package tours, so be sure to do your research.
If you are planning on traveling to Haiti, consider hiring a translator or guide that can speak the island’s French dialect. You can also learn some phrases before you travel, it’s much more polite than turning up and expecting locals to understand your home language. Check out these essential French phrases for travel to prepare.
Make sure you’re up-to-date with vaccinations, especially for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Cholera. Get your jabs at least one month before your planned time of travel.
As with most destinations in the Caribbean, there’s a risk of malaria in some parts of the island, take antimalarials with you and sleep using a mosquito net.