Travel to Haiti (28,000 km²; population 10.49 million) in the first half of 2017 continues to require caution considering the country's numerous health, economic, and sociopolitical issues, as well as its deficiencies in transportation, utility, and housing infrastructure.
On January 12, 2010, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale devastated the country, leaving between 200,000 to 300,000 people dead. Material damage throughout the country was extreme and the country continues to struggle in the rebuilding process. This was followed six and a half years later by Hurricane Matthew, which struck the southwest of the country on October 4, 2016, and caused more massive destruction.
Visitors are advised to avoid all large gatherings and protests, which are common, disruptive, and often turn violent. Protests - sparked by various issues, including government corruption, economic crises, the high cost of living, insecurity, etc. - can begin with little warning and often include improvised roadblocks, including on major highways.
Protests are particularly common in the capital Port-au-Prince. Flashpoints for protests in Port-au-Prince include: the Saint Jean Bosco church/Bel Air neighborhood, Carrefour Péan (intersection), the Champs de Mars/presidential palace area, the Cité Soleil neighborhood, and the headquarters of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in the Pétionville suburb. Roadblocks and other protests are also common on the following roads: Avenue Pan Américaine (101), Route de Freres, and Route de Delmas.
Though common throughout the year, anti-government protests and strikes become increasingly frequent during campaign seasons. Violent unrest was reported during the long-postponed parliamentary elections that took place on August 9, 2015, as well as in the aftermath of the October 25, 2015, general elections amid numerous allegations of fraud. The second round of presidential elections, originally scheduled for December 27, 2015, were postponed multiple times until the results were finally annulled. Fresh presidential elections were set to take place on October 9, 2016, but were postponed until November 20, 2016, following Hurricane Matthew. A second round of voting held on January 29, 2017, finally resulted in the election of Jovenel Moïse as president, who took office in February. It is relatively unlikely that Moïse's election will bring stability to the country, at least in the short term, as he was the favored candidate of former president and divisive figure Michel Martelly, and is already being investigated for money laundering and suspicious loans.
In June 2017, textile workers held a number of strikes and protests in Port-au-Prince to demand better working conditions. Factory owners reportedly called for the use of violence against workers' rights activists, and have fired individuals they believe to be associated with labor unions. As of July, the companies have not been able to reach an agreement with the workers and additional protests are likely in the coming months.
Crime is rampant throughout Haiti - a major transit point for South American and Jamaican drugs heading to the United States and other markets - especially in urban areas where armed gangs operate. Some 500,000 illegal guns are believed to be in circulation in the country. Due to weak policing and judicial institutions, many crimes go unpunished. This leads to regular incidents of vigilante justice (lynchings), particularly in urban zones.
Particularly dangerous areas include Port-au-Prince, the city of Cap Haïtien, the islands of Tortue and Gonâve, and along the Dominican border. In Port-au-Prince, particularly dangerous neighborhoods include Carrefour, Cite Soleil, Martissant, and Bel Air. Even in more upscale neighborhoods, such as Pétionville, violent crime - including kidnapping - remains a major risk. Both locals and foreigners are targeted by kidnappers who choose victims that appear to be affluent.
For-ransom kidnappings occasionally occur and individuals are usually targeted based due to their perceived affluence or social or political connections. Men, women, and children are all targeted equally. While hostages are typically released relatively unharmed after the payment of a ransom, some are physically and/or sexually abused, occasionally fatally.
Armed robberies in cities, e.g. targeting people en route from Port-au-Prince's Toussaint Louverture International Airport (PAP), are not rare. Anyone planning to travel to Haiti should therefore take care to organize their arrival prior to landing in order to minimize the likelihood of being targeted. Arrange to be met at the airport by a trusted contact and carry only the minimum amount of cash and valuable objects.
Gangs sometimes track vehicles from the airport to their final destinations and attack either later that day or the next. Individuals are then often targeted immediately after withdrawing cash from ATMs. It is advisable to only use ATMs located within banks and supermarkets protected by security guards.
Individuals throughout the country are advised to adhere to the following recommendations to minimize their vulnerability:Avoid traveling on foot, especially alone and after dark. Maintain a low profile and avoid any conspicuous dress. Whenever possible, travel with a local guide. Be extremely vigilant at ATMs and when exiting banks. As criminals are often armed, never offer resistance during an attempted robbery. Obey all orders given, avoid eye contact and sudden movements, and do everything in your power to keep the situation as calm as possible. To avoid becoming an easy target, vary daily routes to reduce the predictability of your movements. When driving, keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and all valuables out of plain sight. Maintain sufficient space between you and the car ahead of you to allow for room to maneuver, keeping in mind that you are vulnerable when stuck in traffic. If you believe you may be being followed, drive to a police station or other public facility, never home. Park as close to your destination as possible when traveling by car, particularly after dark. When possible, used a chauffeured car service. Never use public transportation.
Long-term residents are advised to hire security guards to protect their homes and short-term visitors should chose hotels with sufficient security provisions. Western chains generally have more dependable security measures. Keep doors and windows locked at all times at home or in the hotel.
While there are no official laws prohibiting homosexuality, homophobia is still widespread among the Haitian population, Including within the government. Incidents of violence perpetrated against members of the LGBT community are regularly reported.
Regarding air travel, the state is unable to guarantee the safety and maintenance of aircraft. No Haitian carriers are on the list of airlines banned from flying in European Union (EU) airspace, commonly referred to as the EU blacklist. However, all are banned from flying to or from the United Kingdom or its oversea territories.
Road conditions are often dangerous due to unsafe driving habits, poorly maintained roads, and the presence of armed criminal groups. As such, is it advisable to only travel during daylight hours whenever possible and to always drive with doors locked and windows rolled up. Highways in parts of the country can be isolated, with limited access to gas stations as well as cell phone networks.
Never attempt to cross roadblocks, which are sometimes erected by criminal groups (e.g. on the RN2 highway near Petit-Goâve) or protesters. Instead, turn around and find another route.
Bridges and roads, particularly secondary and tertiary roads, are often damaged or left flooded for long periods of time following heavy rains due to poor drainage.
If traveling to the Dominican Republic by car, be aware there are only four border crossings and as such long waiting times are common. Furthermore, land access to the neighboring country is often hindered by roadblocks and border closings as tensions between the two countries run high. Caribe Tours offers a safe and comfortable bus service between Pétionville (capital region) and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The use of taxis - particularly motorcycle taxis ("moto-taxis") and unlicensed taxis ("taxis marrons") - is advised against.
Besides the significant threat of earthquakes (see above), travelers should also note that the rainy seasons last from April to June and from August to October, and hurricane season lasts from June to November. During these periods, potentially deadly floods and landslides cause significant destruction throughout the country, including in the capital. Due to poor infrastructure, cities and towns throughout Haiti are highly vulnerable to floods and emergency response efforts are often insufficient.
Some 500 people were killed during the passage of Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 hurricane that made landfall in the west of the country on October 4, 2016. The storm caused major infrastructural damages in the southwestern departments of Sud, Grand'Anse, and Nippes, and destroyed or damaged some 120,000 homes. Widespread crop destruction (risk of famine), a lack of clean drinking water, a sharp rise in consumer prices, and a devastated economy have increased sociopolitical tensions. As of July 2017, local residents are still struggling with the disastrous aftermath of the storm amid a weak recovery effort.
The general quality of hospitals and healthcare is very poor. Months-long doctor strikes have paralyzed Haiti's public hospitals and led to overcrowding in private healthcare facilities. Striking doctors are demanding increased salaries and improved conditions at hospitals, where shortages of water, beds, and clean mattresses and sheets are common. Individuals present in Haiti are advised to use private health care facilities and to be aware that there are shortages of many prescription medications in the country. All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance (covering emergency evacuation) prior to departure.
Tap water should not be considered drinkable anywhere in the country due to the risk of cholera and other water-borne illnesses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year there are on average 28.5 deaths per 100,000 residents due to the consumption of contaminated water.
Haiti continues to suffer from a tenacious cholera epidemic that has been ongoing since October 2010. The disease historically poses a particularly high risk during the yearly hurricane season (June-November) due to subsequent flooding which helps spread the cholera bacteria. The epidemic had caused some 9500 deaths out of a total of nearly 800,000 reported cases since 2010. To reduce the risk of contracting cholera and other food-and water-borne diseases (food poisoning, typhoid fever), wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating any foods that cannot be thoroughly cooked, peeled, or disinfected. Individuals who believe they may have contracted cholera should seek immediate medical attention.
Numerous mosquito-borne diseases are also present:There is a high risk of contracting the Zika virus. While the virus is usually relatively benign (and asymptomatic in 80 percent of cases), links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) have been established. The disease is also transmittable via sexual intercourse. Malaria is a nationwide and year-round risk. Cases of dengue fever are occasionally reported. Chikungunya is also present. The Mayaro virus was detected in Haiti for the first time in September 2016. However, recent tests have confirmed that the disease has been present in the country since at least January 2015. It is thus highly likely that the virus is more widespread than currently confirmed. For the moment relatively little is known about Mayaro or the current outbreak.
Cases of animal and human rabies are regularly reported (200 human deaths per year on average). The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild mammals (bites, scratches, licks). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Mobile telephones are widely used. Signal reception varies but is generally good in and around Port-au-Prince. Local SIM cards and prepaid cards are available for purchase in cities and larger towns.
Haiti has a tropical climate with temperatures relatively stable throughout the year (23°C to 32°C, cooler in mountainous regions). The rainy season lasts from May until June and hurricanes can strike between July and October. Rain is common on reliefs exposed to northeasterly winds. The months of December and January are dry.
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