Transport in Haiti: Tips for Traveling Around Safely

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Dodgy roads, high crime rates, natural disasters. Haiti has a smorgasbord of traveler concerns that you need to know.

St Louis Du Nord on the Atlantic Ocean with pedestrians, shops and business establishments alongside traffic on National Highway 152 Photo © Getty Images/John Seaton Callahan

Let's start with the road quality in Haiti which is generally speaking, terrible. The government has managed to clear many of the roads closed due to damage from the earthquake, but not all of them.

Some roads are closed, some roads have enormous piles of rubble on them that really don't help with traffic congestion, and other roads have enormous potholes in them. The large potholes present two main problems, the first is obviously driving into one, but the second is that drivers often pull amazingly erratic manoeuvres in the middle of heavy traffic swerving to avoid one.

Animals don't get the concept of cars and will frequently walk onto the road with little warning and often amongst traffic.

In the city you can expect smaller animals like pigs, dogs and goats, whereas outside of the city you'll also get cows and donkeys. Running into any of the above or swerving to avoid them can cause you major problems.

Driving laws

While there are driving laws in Haiti and Haitian law does require that people pass both a written and practical driving test, it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference.

Admittedly, some of the behaviour is understandable. Haitian law dictates that you should drive on the right hand side of the road, but most of the roads are unmarked and many of them have an obstruction, so drivers in Haiti tend to drive on whatever side of the road they can.

Drunk driving is fairly common, but by common read: everyone on the road is doing it! For extra fun, speed limits are rarely shown and where they are, they're ignored.

The above factors may explain the Haitian attitude towards indicating - they don't do it, or if they do it tends to be really weird.

Clicking on the left blinker may mean that they're about to turn left, turn right, stop, reverse, change lanes or just about anything. Some drivers stick their left arm out the window as an indication that they're about to do something. They're waving to say "Hey! I'm going to do something! Who knows what?" However, indicating anything is just an optional extra so you really have to pay attention.

Haitian law dictates that if a car breaks down, it's repaired right where it is, so you also have to be aware of mechanics fixing cars in the middle of the street.

With all of this going on, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Haiti suffers from severe traffic congestion within urban areas, with long traffic jams regularly occurring.

All in all, driving in Haiti is chaotic and dangerous and unless you're familiar with the local area, you're going to get lost as few roads are marked, maps are very hard to come by and if you have no knowledge of driving in Haiti, you should hire a knowledgeable driver who can be trusted.

Public transport? The short answer is don't use it. Taxis don't exist, buses are rare, and the "tap-taps" that run between urban areas have had numerous incidents of physical assault, armed robbery, stabbings, and kidnappings and are to be avoided.

Local laws

Despite the ridiculously high crime rate in Haiti, it does have it's own local laws.

The official currency is the gourde (roughly 40 gourdes to one U.S. dollar) other currencies are used in Haiti and often prices are listed in terms of the various currencies, including the Haitian dollar which while unofficial, is widely used.

The exchange rate is around five gourdes to one Haitian dollar, or eight Haitian dollars to one U.S. Dollar. Different areas of Haiti have different preferences for which currency they like to use, and you should always ask which currency the price list refers to if it isn't clearly stated. Major hotels and cruise ship ports of call will accept and prefer U.S. dollars.

Travelers who are caught in possession or suspected of trafficking drugs at any point during their stay may be arrested and incarcerated for weeks or even months before receiving a court hearing. Haitian prisons are particularly bad and it is not uncommon for people to be murdered within prison before their court appearance.

As Haiti is a major stopping point for drug trafficking into the U.S. Make sure you don't let anyone else pack your bag for you.

Health and disease

The long run of natural disasters in Haiti combined with the lack of quality infrastructure have lead to an outbreak of several serious diseases with many others being present.

There was an outbreak of cholera in the Artibonite province in 2010, with cases now been detected in Port-Au-Prince.

Rabies is also making a comeback, particularly around the Port-Au-Prince area, and if you become ill or are bitten by animal while in Haiti, seek immediate medical advice.

Haiti has the general standard diseases for under developed nations such as dengue fever, diphtheria, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, and various intestinal problems that really aren't much fun for anyone.

Take adequate preventative measures against insect borne diseases, avoid ice in drinks and only use bottled or boiled water.

There have been reports of serious health problems with the local moonshine known as Clarin. Nineteen deaths have been reported due its use and the government is trying to work out why, although the usual suspects of high methanol content and impurities are most likely the answer.

Natural hazards

Apart from the major earthquake which devastated Haiti and the risk of further earthquakes, Haiti, like all Caribbean countries, is at risk of hurricanes and severe tropical storms, with the accompanying high levels of rainfall leading to extensive flooding, mudslides, high numbers of fatalities and general destruction of infrastructure.

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  • Matignol St Lot said

    That is thrilling news above! What about fitness, registration and insurance.
    Are there binding laws for those?
    I have driver in other parts of the world such as USA, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad; with the addition of driving license without fitness, registration and insurance you can't be caught with none of them expired........ They've got to be in good order. What about Haiti my friend? How neglected this seems to be?

    Please tell us?

  • gordon said

    can i have some tips for when i go on my trip to haiti?

  • NG said

    Thank you for your comment, Cassandra. Reading this article hurt my heart. It was so harsh and obviously biased.

  • HS said

    I agree with the comments of Cassandra and NG. I was quite shocked at reading this article, while looking up information for a trip to Haiti. This article is written in a very condescending manner. It is possible to write both factually AND respectfully about security issues, and this article needs strong editing and revising to remove the almost racist overtones it presents. It is disappointing that World Nomads would publish this article as it is currently written.

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