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
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.
Obviously, as in any country, conditions change over time. Always check your government travel advisory website to be aware of the current situation at your intended destination.
Do you have a recent experience in Haiti to share? Let us know in the comments below.
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