Haiti Travel Guide & Info

Haiti isn't exactly considered a go-to location for travelers, but adventurous souls willing to look past misconceptions and explore Haiti for themselves will find an island brimming with opportunity, culture, and kindness, which I wrote about here. While this isn't a comprehensive guide by any means, it should provide basic information needed for a successful trip to the Caribbean nation. 

BASIC INFO ON HAITI

Capital: Port-au-Prince

Population: 10.71 million

Languages: French & Creole, with French being to go-to of the upper-class, educated, and tourism professionals. If you really want to communicate with average Haitians, I recommend learning a few phrases in Creole. There are a couple of excellent phrasebooks, including Essential Expressions for Communicating in Haiti.

Currency: The Haitian gourde is the national currency, though most places accept U.S. dollars and credit cards. If you're planning on paying with American currency, be sure to know the exchange rate, as it shifts daily and you might find yourself subject to a blan (tourist/foreigner) tax. If you're going to exchange money, it's almost impossible to do so outside of Haiti. I had no luck finding any online exchanges, banks, or airports offering gourdes. Your best bet is to find a supermarket and use either the ATM or the currency exchange desk, though know that the ATMs sometimes experience runs and don't have money in them. They can also be dangerous at night, though this is true of anywhere in the world. 

Visas: If you're an American, you can travel to Haiti visa-free for up to 90 days. This is true of most countries, though some have special limitations, so it's always best to check before booking. 

Health and Vaccines: It's recommended that travelers to Haiti get vaccinated against Hep A and Typhoid, as well as get medicine to combat malaria. Some travelers may also want to be vaccinated against Hep B, Cholera, and Rabies. Haiti also has cases of Zika, so anyone who is pregnant or trying to become pregnant should either avoid traveling to Haiti or take extreme precaution when it comes to mosquitoes. This includes men, as Zika can be transmitted sexually. 

What To Bring: Bug spray! Lots and lots of bug spray! Other than that, tennis shoes, as you'll likely be doing a lot of walking. Haitians also take great pride in their appearance and dress, so take some appropriate clothing. You don't need a three-piece suit, but it's adviseable to avoid wearing things like basketball shorts or sweat pants. 

TRAVEL TO HAITI

Traveling from the United States to Haiti is fairly straightforward, with flights originating from all over the East Coast, the majority coming from Miami. From there, it's a quick 2-hour flight to Port-au-Prince that'll cross over the tip of Cuba and provides excellent views of pristine Caribbean waters and mountainous countrysides. It'll likely be a bit bumpy due to the mountains, so if you're a nervous flier, make a plan for dealing with that. Once you arrive at Toussaint Louverture (Port-au-Prince) Airport, just follow the crowd of people towards customs. It's a fairly straightforward and easy-going process involving two sets of agents; the first will collect the $10 U.S. you must pay to enter the country and the second will stamp your passport and provide you with a receipt. Be sure to keep the receipt, as you might be asked for it upon departure. I wasn't, but I heard from others that they were and it creates a customs issue if you don't have it. From there, you'll go through baggage check (I didn't check any bags, as I read about issues with people rifling through them) and then you're outside and will likely be greeted by throngs of people picking up others. It's no more chaotic than some American airports, just a little more archaic in its nature. I strongly advise arranging transport with a local, either through a car hire service, an airport shuttle, or whoever you're staying with. I was fortunate enough to stay with some lovely people through AirBnB, and they happily picked me up and dropped me off at the airport. 

There are also a couple of cruise lines that make stops in Haiti, but the area they stop in is practically owned by the lines themselves and not at all indicative of Haitian culture. If you're looking to experience authentic Haiti, this isn't the way to do it. 

ACCOMMODATIONS IN PORT-AU-PRINCE

While Haiti lacks a large tourism infrastructure, it is used to playing host to NGOs, aid workers, and missionaries, so you'll find a variety of hotel options in Port-au-Prince. They're almost guaranteed to be overpriced and most are American chains, so look to AirBnB (get $40 off AirBnB by using my partner code) and other similar options for a place to stay. The place I stayed was beautiful and the hosts were nothing short of amazing, introducing me to a cross-section of Haitians in the capital area and playing tour guide to me most of the time I was there. 

THINGS TO DO IN PORT-AU-PRINCE

Port-au-Prince is best discovered through exploring, another reason to find Haitians who're willing to show you around. That being said, I highly recommend buying fresh mangoes from a street vendor (again, find a Haitian who knows what they're doing/looking for in fresh mangoes) and visit the Obervatoire Bar & Restaurant for the best view of the city. The owner will likely be sitting in the back chain-smoking menthols and drinking vodka with lime in it, and she's a delight to talk to (she speaks fluent English, so don't be discouraged). 

IS HAITI SAFE TO TRAVEL TO?

While western media and others like to portray Haiti as one of the worst countries in the world, it's actually the safest in the Caribbean, with frequented places like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and others having a far higher violent crime rate. Haiti, especially Port-au-Prince, suffers from debilitating poverty that's worsened by political instability and frequent natural disasters, including the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands. Though you should always remain diligent and smart while in Haiti (as you should anywhere), there is little danger of anything bad happening to you.

ARE HAITIANS FRIENDLY?

My god, yes! Especially if you show that you're there to learn about their culture, spend money, and not try and convert them to Christianity (fun fact: Haiti is overwhelmingly Catholic). I never offered a smile and a "Bonjou," to anyone that didn't reciprocate it, often in a much grander and kinder way than my initial communication. 

ESSENTIAL READING

There's only one guidebook devoted solely to Haiti, and I found it extremely helpful and thorough. If you're looking to get a sense of Haitian culture and history, any novel by famed Haitian author Edwidge Danticat is a good place to start. 

OTHER INFORMATION

Since Haiti isn't high on the list of recommended places to travel, there isn't a wealth of quality information for people visiting. I found that the best resource was finding likeminded travelers who've written about their experiences and reaching out to them. If you're planning on traveling to the island nation(or are just curious about the country), don't hesitate to reach out to me and ask questions. I'm more than happy to help people figure out their Haitian travel plans!