Haiti: It's Cheap, But Is It Safe?

by  Alex Schechter | Oct 2, 2013
Haiti / Marina113/iStock

In June, low-cost carrier JetBlue announced they would be launching daily nonstop service to Port-au-Prince from New York (from $211) and Fort Lauderdale (from $163). For the Caribbean, those are reasonable fares indeed.

The only problem? No one's going there.

On a preliminary hotel search for Port-au-Prince in early December, Hotels.com couldn't even come up with a single result. Expedia.com wasn't much better, with only eight hotels, starting at $89. The Haitian government has been vocal about expanding the country's tourism sector, with vague plans to double the hotel room count from 3,200. However, with articles like this one spreading the bad news about the lack of running water, unpaved roads, and rampant street crime, travelers can't be blamed for remaining doubtful. (Multiple TripAdvisor reviewers point to street crime as a concern in the supposedly "upscale" neighborhood of Petionville.)

As most travelers researching a trip to Haiti, we ended up with more questions than we started with. Here, we attempt to answer some of them.

How can US travelers best prepare for a trip to Haiti?

Obviously, Haiti doesn't yet have the kind of infrastructure needed to make it as tourist-friendly as neighboring countries like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. A trip to Haiti can be as challenging as it is engaging, so it's helpful to read up a little before going. Sites like Haiti.org and the Ministry of Tourism can provide useful information on current events, travel tips, and itineraries; though the best possible resource would be to contact a native tour guide prior to booking your trip.

What are the most popular areas in Haiti for US travelers right now?

The four areas of the country that are of most interest to visitors (in terms of sights, hotels, restaurants) are Port-au-Prince, Jacmel in the southeast, Cap-Haitien in the north, and Les Cayes, along with Ile-à-Vache and Port-Salut, in the southwest. Several new hotels, spanning a range of sizes, budgets, and styles, have either recently popped up or are in the final stages of development, including OasisBest Western Premier, and El Rancho Hotel, all in Petionville; Habitation Jouissant in Cap-Haitien; and La Colline Enchantée near Jacmel.

Is it safe to walk around Petitionville late at night?

Because of the concentration of restaurants and clubs in Petionville, petty thefts tend to target foreigners in this area – motorcyclists, for example, have been known to snatch womens' handbags as they're coming out of a night club. In addition to the crime, scarce street lights and uneven pavements make walking hazardous around Port-au-Prince and Petionville at night, especially if you're alone. Walking those neighborhoods during the day is much safer, though a guide is useful for navigating the streets.

Is Haiti's reputation as a dangerous place unfounded?

Compared to nearby tourist spots like the Dominican Republic, yes, safety is a definite concern for tourism in Haiti. Cruise passengers who disembark in the fenced in area of Labadie get very little sense of the "real" Haiti, though for many who just want a taste of the country's pristine beaches and lush forested landscape, that suffices. JetBlue's new route announcement  may come as a surprise to many who still view Haiti as off-limits; however, the government has actively committed to re-establishing the tourism infrastructure with more money, bigger hotels, and a newly-deployed "tourism police" cadet force, so there is hope that conditions will improve (albeit very gradually). For those planning a trip to Port-au-Prince in the next year, getting around is not impossible: it simple requires good planning, a knowledgeable guide, and the kind of street smarts you would want in any major metropolis anywhere else in the world.

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