Tips for Travel To and Through Haiti

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Getting There

There are three obvious ways to get to Haiti, by cruise, by air, and by bus from the Dominican Republic. More and more tourists are coming to Haiti via cruise, and I am not 100% supportive of this mode of travel, due to the behavior of many cruise companies. If this is the only way that you can visit Haiti, any support and good experiences are better than none, but just be aware that most, if not all of the money you spend will stay with the foreign company that owns the line.

First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016
First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

Since I was living in the Dominican Republic for the summer, I opted for the bus route from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince because it was very affordable (only $70.00 USD round trip when I went in the summer of 2016 with Capital Coach Line). The ride from one city to the other took about 7-8 hours, and there were trips that left either 2-3 times a day. The buses are also not what comes to most people’s mind when I tell them that I did this; they are standard public touring bases, with AC, nice seats, and even movies that play. While you are riding in relative luxury, however, this can be a stressful way to travel, because getting through the border is no walk in the park, especially if your Spanish or Haitian Creole isn’t all that good. If you do travel this way, expect to be stopped on both sides. From Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, you will get out on the DR side without your luggage and get your passport examined, and on the Haiti side they may or may not examine your baggage and they will need to stamp your passport. From Port-au-Prince you will need to get your bag and passport checked on both sides. It is likely that the bus company will collect your passport from you before you leave, so you will get it back during this time.

The being said do NOT give your passport to ANYONE except the bus company employees or the officials behind the passport windows. There are people that will insist on seeing your passport on the way up to the windows, and they may even flash forms at you to confuse you into thinking that you don’t have what you need. But if your bus line didn’t give it to you, you don’t need it, and if you do, let the official at the window tell you. You never want to let anyone get a hold of your documents. You will also have people try to take your bags from you. For the most part, they are not trying to steal from you, and just want to make money by carrying things for you, but I would suggest not allowing them to take anything from you. I just sternly told people no and kept my bag close, and that worked well enough. If you struggle with anxiety, I might suggest another route into Haiti, but I can say from experience that this is do-able, and I think that the bus-line that I went with knew what they were doing.

Getting Around in Haiti

The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016
The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Before I left for Haiti, I saw a lot of discussions about renting cars on Tripadvisor. While I love roadtrips and really enjoy driving in other countries, I would NOT suggest getting your own car. There are very few clear street signs or lights in Haiti, and the roads can be in sub-par condition. There was even one instance in which I thought there might have been people trying to build a roadblock on the highway, and we had a day where we got two flat tires in a row. The driver that we had on our tour, as well as the taxi driver that I had in Port-au-Prince, knew how to deal with all of these things in a safe and confident manner. Furthermore, you are supporting legitimate business in Haiti by hiring a driver, so it is good for your own sanity and good for the hard working people of this little country.

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016
Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

Besides driving, we also took a plane from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien, so while I don’t have experience with Port-au-Prince’s major airport, I can say a few things about flying here. First of all, if you fly into the country, expect to have people trying to grab your bags from you at the airport. Again, it is likely that they are just trying to get some money for carrying your things, but be wary. I would highly suggest flying in-country especially if you want to see the north and south of Haiti. The smaller airports aren’t stressful at all, and seeing the country from the air is really lovely. Just know that you don’t have assigned seats on in-country flights, even though your ticket will have a number. Just sit where-ever you can find space.

Quick Note About Haitian Currency

I had a hell of a time trying to get Haitian gourdes. My bank wouldn’t order any for me ahead of time, and the Miami airport had none available for exchange when I was there (not sure if they had just run out or what). People do take USD is many places in Haiti, but it is overall easier to use the national currency. I would highly suggest that you do try the above two options just to see if they will work for you, but they may not. So, travel to Haiti will small USD bills, that you can trade at the airport in Haiti (some larger hotels might also be able to help you, but don’t count on it if possible), or for use while traveling. 1s, 5s, and 10s are preferable because if you have to use your USD you will want to tip people, and buy snacks and drinks and this will be nearly impossible with big bills. I was also warned by a friend’s family from Haiti to avoid trying to get money from the bank. As a foreigner, it will be obvious what you are doing and it might make you a target.

Check out Tour Haiti and Port-au-Prince Taxi and Tours for resources for travel to Haiti.

Also, since I am in the middle of writing about Haiti, here are two links for some great organizations that you can donate to if you would like to help the Haitian people.

100k Jobs in Haiti

Konbit Mizik

Have any other tips on traveling to Haiti? Or questions about my experience? Comment below!

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