This has been one of the most controversial articles on the WorldNomads.com site and, as the original author, I have received a lot of criticism (and a fair bit of abuse) for it. I’m not going to talk about “context” or “background” or any of that defensive BS, I’m just going to publish this updated version.
At World Nomads, we listen.
For a bit of fun, and so all the early comments make sense, I’m leaving the old version at the bottom of this
Here we go.
Haiti looks stunningly beautiful, and it is now on my list of places to visit.
Tropical Caribbean beaches, lush mountains, impressive waterfalls, a history that includes being the first nation to throw off slavery and colonization, and a culture – deep, rich, unique and steeped in mystery.
For quite a while it was off my list,
Gangs roamed the broken streets of Port-au-Prince, and the only visitors were relief workers. It’s been suggested that some 10,000 aid organizations were involved in the 2010 recovery process.
But instead of fixing Haiti’s problems, the relief effort made matters worse. The UN is blamed for starting a cholera outbreak, and aid organizations botched the job of stopping it, so 500,000 more Haitians died.
The aid effort is accused of perpetrating its own kind of exploitation (including the Oxfam sex scandal), causing the country to become what this author describes as “The NGO Republic of Haiti”, operating in the interests of donors instead of Haitians.
It’s around this time that I penned the words “beyond horrific” in describing the safety situation for independent travelers who were thinking of visiting Haiti. It wasn’t the right time or place for wealthy (relative to almost everyone in Haiti) inquisitive adventurers to practice their wanderlust.
But in the last few years, a few trailblazers have been dipping a toe in the water, and they like what they see, especially when the water is the Bassin Bleu, a natural waterfall
This is not a travel guide, it’s a safety guide, so I’ll just leave these images here to speak for themselves.
I have not been, so I reached out to people who have to get an accurate picture of Haiti since 2015.
One of those was Stephen Bennet, who, with his brother, manages the Uncommon Caribbean blog and travels to Haiti regularly.
“It is most definitely possible to experience and enjoy all that this marvelous country has to offer,” he told me.
“However, Haiti is not the kind of place where anyone can just rent a car and get around on their own. For the general traveler, one of the local tour operators is a must.”
He recommended two. If you want to know who they are, read Stephen’s blog and drop him a message.
Then I got an opinion that was the polar opposite of Stephen’s.
“In short, no, it is not safe,” Burke Files told me emphatically. “I am a private investigator who has traveled to Haiti three times in the last 18 months. I hired a security person to accompany me who spoke the local version of French, and we still had problems.”
Burke wasn’t angry about this, and I enjoyed a long telephone conversation with him about not only Haiti but his intriguing job in general – Hollywood film producers take note.
If you ever find yourself in an episode of Survivor, you want Burke on your team.
He told me he takes precautions and carries very little cash when out and about, but while walking around a crowded Port-au-Prince market was aware that the few dollars he did have had just been pickpocketed.
Seconds later, another man armed with a knife demanded he
Burke told me, “I pointed to the first guy and said sure, if you can get it from that guy, you can have it.”
I guess the nature of his work, and the way he needs to travel, Burke often draws attention. But equally, he’s a savvy and careful traveler with one eye always on his safety.
So, who are these trailblazers who are rediscovering Haiti? Can they be trusted, are they experienced, are they like us – Nomads?
Yea, pretty much actually. The legendary Gary Arndt wrote about Haiti as “wanderer in residence” for G Adventures.
“While it is true the earthquake was devastating, Haitians are a proud people who don’t see themselves as objects of pity," he wrote in 2015.
“Visit Haiti for the sake of visiting Haiti, as you would any other country in the region. Haitians are a welcoming people and supporting the tourism sector is one of the best things that can happen to the economy here.”
G Adventures offers small group tours to Haiti, and it's a reputable company that does its due diligence.
Lonely Planet’s Paul Clammer also encourages escorted or guided travel to Haiti and, in August 2017, wrote, “Haiti is far less violent a country than neighboring Dominican Republic or Jamaica, both of which host vibrant tourist industries.
We'd advise keeping away from political demonstrations (as you would in many countries), but instead, heed the number of adventure and package-tour operators now returning to the country. Haiti is a country more than ready to welcome tourists looking for the next travel frontier.”
And the last word from Stephen at Uncommon Caribbean, just so you get the message that “escorted” or “guided” travel is the safest option:
“Haiti still has a lot of problems, as recent events have shown. But, traveling there is not unlike traveling to other poor countries/destinations with established escorted tour programs.”
According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and one of the most poverty-stricken in the developing world.
The devastating earthquake in 2010 resulted in the deaths of 150,000 people. Life expectancy is low, a quarter of the population has access to safe drinking water, less than half the population is literate and the majority of Haitians live in extreme poverty.
There is a high level of crime in Haiti. Some areas are worse than others, but there is a very real danger of violent crime everywhere in Haiti, and this includes assault, armed robbery, murder, kidnapping, and rape. The exception is Labadee, an area leased by a cruise ship company.
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.
Serious violent crime can and does happen all the time. To make matters even worse, after the earthquake around five thousand prisoners, most of them violent offenders, escaped from prison and remain at large.
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 tends to deter criminals.
While it is true that the rate of kidnapping has declined since it reached a peak in 2006, it's still high.
People have been kidnapped while traveling, at work, off the street, and at home. A number of those people had taken security precautions.
The motivation for kidnapping in Haiti tends to be financial, and kidnappers don't discriminate based on age, gender, or nationality, or race and often target children.
Many kidnap victims who are returned, 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. it is not uncommon for victims of robberies or home invasions to be seriously injuring or murdered.
Don't think that simply giving a criminal what they want will enable you to escape without harm.
Criminals have been known to watch travelers arriving at the airport, follow them and then attack. Be highly vigilant when withdrawing money; always use an ATM or bank inside a hotel.
Do not use public transport including "tap-taps", where violent crime often occurs. Public transport has been the location of numerous stabbings, robberies
There are some safe hotels and markets in Port-au-Prince and in other locations in Haiti. However, it's best not to walk around Port-au-Prince alone, especially at night. Avoid the high-crime areas of Carrefour, Martissant, Cite Soleil, the Delmas road area, and Petionville.
Certain roads should also be avoided. 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 been the locations of numerous incidents of violent crime including murder, robbery
Crime rates often increase during the holiday season of Christmas and Carnival, when large numbers of people are on the streets and many are drunk, high and carrying weapons.
Random stabbings take place 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". These often start off as quite a fun experience with people dancing and singing in the street, but they often escalate to an orgy of violence and destruction.
It is very difficult to tell as an outsider whether or not the Rah-rah is affiliated with a political movement or a drug gang. As rival drug gangs and political groups are prone to open shoot-outs on the street, this can be a major problem.
Travelers have been killed when stopping to listen and participate in one of these events.
The major cause of the high crime rate is political instability. The cohesive government that once existed was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake.
As a result of this, chaos reigns and protests and demonstrations occur with some regularity, sometimes turning violent with little to no warning.
If you see a large crowd gathered, remain calm and leave the area quickly, avoiding confrontations along the way. 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, but the best advice is to leave the area.
Make very sure you have adequate security arrangements while in Haiti. If you're staying in a private residence, make sure there is a trustworthy full-time security guard, do not use public transport, and if possible travel with an armed escort.
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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