The level of crime in Haiti should be regarded as "beyond horrific" as one traveler put it. There are no "safe" areas (with the exception of Labadee an area leased by a cruise ship company - see our Is Labadee Safe? article). Some areas are worse than others, but there is a very real danger of violent crime everywhere in Haiti, and this includes but is not limited to assault, armed robbery, murder, kidnapping, rape and any combination of the above.
Do not let the presence of the UN Stabilisation Force MINUSTAH or the Haitian National Police (PNH) lull you into a false sense of security. Both groups tend to be highly visible and heavily armed with assault rifles and pump action shotguns, but they have other things on their mind than policing.
If you plan to shop while in Haiti, choose the stores which are frequented by UN police in Port au Prince. The presence of these heavily armed patrols tend to deter criminals.
Serious violent crime can and does happen all the time. To make matters even worse, after the earthquake some five thousand prisoners, most of them violent offenders, escaped from prison and remain at large.
While it is true that the rate of kidnapping has declined since it reached a peak in 2006, it's still "incredibly high".
People have been kidnapped while travelling, at work, off the street, and at home. A number of those people had security precautions, but they were not secure enough.
The motivation for kidnapping in Haiti tends to be financial, and kidnappers show no discrimination based on age, gender, or nationality, or race and they do frequently target children.
To make matters more horrific, many kidnap victims who are returned (many are not) report being beaten, tortured, and sexually abused.
Kidnapping risks in Haiti are not the same as in South America for example, and measures that are adequate elsewhere have been proven inadequate for Haiti.
Haitian criminals tend to operate in groups of two to four and more often than not are highly confrontational and violent. Seriously injuring or killing their victims during robberies or home invasions is not an uncommon tactic for Haitians, as they believe that it lessens their target's opportunity to resist.
Don't think that simply giving a criminal what they want will enable you to escape without harm, they often hurt people just because they can.
Criminals have been known to watch travellers arriving at the airport, following them and then attacking them brutally. Be highly vigilant with this in the same way you would when withdrawing money from a bank, as criminals use the same strategy. Even locals are targets for these criminals and tend avoid banks. If you do need to use an ATM or bank, make sure it's inside a hotel or you have precautions in place i.e not being seen going into the bank.
Do not use public transportation including "tap-taps", unless you really have a pressing need to find out what being stabbed feels like. Public transport has been the site of numerous stabbings, robberies and kidnappings.
Difficult because it's the capital, but there are some safe hotels and markets in Port au Prince and in other locations in Haiti. It's best not to walk around Port au Prince alone especially at night, however if you do, under no circumstances visit the insanely high crime level slum areas Carrefour, Martissant, Cite Soleil, the Delmas road area, and Petionville.
Certain road areas should also be ruled out. The urban route Nationale #1, airport road (Boulevard Toussaint L'Ouverture) and the connecting roads to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1 have seen numerous incidents of violent crime including murder, robbery and carjacking (unless you're travelling in one of those nifty armoured cars and happen to be carrying an assault rifle yourself. Even then, you might have problems).
Things get worse during holiday season. Christmas, and especially Carnival see a rise in almost every aspect of crime with large numbers of people are on the streets and many are drunk, high, carrying weapons and often all three at once.
During Carnival season, random stabbings become a very real risk. This is crime where the motive is to stab, not to steal, with many people injured without being robbed.
The traffic snarls to a stop, large group violence occurs at the drop of a hat and there is little sense to any of it. Street musicians roam around and start up impromptu gatherings called "Rah-rahs" this often start off as quite a fun experience with people dancing and singing in the street, but they often end in an orgy of violence and destruction for no apparent reason.
It is very difficult to tell as an outsider whether or not the Rah-rah that has just formed is affiliated with a political movement, or a drug gang. As rival drug gangs and political groups are prone to having open shoot-outs on the street, this can be a major problem.
Travellers have been killed simply due to stopping to listen and participate in one of these events.
Of course the major cause of this crime is the political instability. What cohesive government existed was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake.
As a result of this, chaos reigns and protests and demonstrations occur with some regularity, and they turn violent with little to no warning.
If you see a large crowd gathered, remain as calm as you possibly can and leave the area as quickly, doing your best to avoid any confrontations on the way out. The same rule applies in general if you see large crowds or roadblocks. While you may be tempted to wander over to see what is happening, the best advice is to leave your curiosity alone and just leave.
While Haiti has a reputation of troubles and crime, rest assure it is not the most dangerous place in the Caribbean.
Make very sure you have adequate security arrangements suitable to Haiti. If you're staying in a private residence, make sure there is a full time security guard who can be trusted. Do not use public transport. Better yet, use an armed escort.
And unless you are an experienced traveler to Haiti, hiring a car is not recommended as driving in Haiti has its own set of rules.
Be very careful at all times with your valuables and take the same safety precautions as you would in other places. Don't flash your cash or that shiny new camera. Dress down and leave the bling at home.
Chat with locals about where to go and where not to go.
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