Haiti, located on the western half of Hispaniola Island, is a country with deep historical roots. On the other half of the island is the Dominican Republic, a country that’s become one of the premier tourist destinations in the Caribbean.
But while this lesser-traveled tropical destination is rich in culture and history, is Haiti safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Haiti Safe to Visit in 2023?
No. Haiti is not a safe destination for travelers. The country often has political turmoil and is currently suffering from serious gang violence, particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Although their murder rate is comparable to other Caribbean countries, it’s not the only problem travelers may face in Haiti. Kidnapping and extortion are other crimes on the rise in Haiti.
Gangs operating in Haiti look for ways to gain money, which includes kidnapping. Although kidnapping mostly occurs among locals, it can impact travelers.
In 2021, a Haitian gang kidnapped 17 Christian missionaries, but thankfully they were able to escape. Assault, robbery, and other crimes are also common in Haiti. Aside from crime, Haiti can also be unsafe because of its location.
Haiti rests on the convergence of two tectonic plates, causing it to experience deadly earthquakes every few years. Earthquakes can happen unexpectedly, so you can never plan around these events.
Haiti also sits in the direct path of hurricanes. From June 1st until November 30th, Haiti is at risk of potentially deadly hurricanes. Although this problem isn’t unique to Haiti, it’s another reason Haiti’s unsafe for travelers.
Crime in Haiti
Crime in Haiti is a daily problem. One of the most common crimes is robbery. Haiti has a lot of guns, making armed robbery not uncommon. Let’s go through the most common crimes in the country and how to avoid them.
Statistics are hard to come by because Haiti is impoverished and without a strong central government. But in 2020, the country recorded more than 960 murders in less than a year.
That means the country had a murder rate of at least 8.3 people per 100,000. Murders most often occur due to gang violence. Gangs in Haiti have massive supplies of guns and ammunition, mostly illegally imported from the United States.
There isn’t a hard and fast rule you can apply to avoid murder in Haiti. Instead, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t visit bad neighborhoods, and don’t go anywhere at night, especially alone.
Robbery is one of the most common, severe crimes in Haiti. It’s sometimes performed in conjunction with kidnapping to extort as much money from the victim as possible.
Robbery mainly impacts locals, but travelers must be aware of the dangers as well. Armed robbery can occur at any time. It often occurs in broad daylight. One person may drive a motorbike while the passenger threatens the victim with a firearm.
People stuck in traffic are also common victims of armed robbery. Never wear expensive clothing or jewelry when out in public. Also, avoid using your cell phone in public if you can.
Cell phones are a way for gang members to identify potential victims. Always plan out your trip before leaving your accommodation. That way, you can avoid dangerous or congested areas that gangs often target.
Kidnapping has become a more prevalent problem in Haiti over the past few years, making it a prime concern for locals and tourists. In the first half of 2022, they had over 220 kidnappings, an increase of over 50% from the previous year.
Gangs use kidnapping as a revenue source. They extort money from their victims or their victims’ families. Foreign nationals are prime targets because the gangs can ask for much larger sums of money, including in the millions.
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, gangs have become more powerful due to a lack of centralized authority. It has led to a dramatic increase in kidnappings.
Avoiding kidnapping is about being aware of your surroundings. Never go anywhere alone and never go to a bad neighborhood, even in a group. Tell someone you trust where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Haiti is particularly dangerous for female travelers due to the high occurrence of sexual violence, including rape. Although sexual violence primarily happens to residents, it can happen to female tourists, too.
Women are often kidnapped and taken to other parts of the area where criminals sexually assault them. The Haitian police generally don’t take sexual violence seriously.
There’s a significant stigma for Haitian women about coming forward due to poor historical reception from the police.
The best way for women to avoid sexual violence in Haiti is to not travel to the country. If you must travel to the country, always go out in public with a man. Never wear revealing or expensive clothing.
The drug trade fuels much of the violence in Haiti. Drugs are one of the main revenue sources for gangs who engage in other criminal endeavors. Haiti is a transport point for many drugs that enter the United States, including cocaine.
The best way to avoid any negative repercussions from the drug trade is to not engage with it.
Don’t buy drugs when you’re in Haiti and don’t socialize with people who do. If you follow those tips, you’ll avoid almost all interactions with potentially dangerous drug gangs.
Petty crimes, such as pickpocketing and fraud, are common throughout Haiti. There’s no way to avoid petty crime totally, but you can help yourself avoid the worst effects. Always keep your money in a money belt securely fastened to your waist.
Never wear jewelry or expensive clothes in public. Never pull out large sums of money. Avoid using your cell phone when walking on the streets. And most of all, avoid bad neighborhoods.
Avoiding Bad Areas
The most dangerous part of Haiti is the capital, Port-au-Prince. It’s where the majority of gangs operate. But some areas of Port-au-Prince are worse than others. Let’s go through some neighborhoods you should avoid if you travel to Haiti.
Carrefour is a neighborhood located directly southwest of Port-au-Prince. Carrefour is an area that mainly houses poor workers who travel to Port-au-Prince for work. Because Carrefour is a poor area, it attracts higher levels of crime.
Petty crime is the biggest concern, but armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder are also common. Luckily, if you’re in Port-au-Prince, you won’t randomly stumble into the area.
It’s nearly a 40-minute drive from downtown Port-au-Prince. There’s no good reason for a tourist to visit Carrefour. To avoid the area, tell your taxi drivers to avoid it.
Located on the border of Port-au-Prince and Carrefour is the neighborhood of Martissant. Because of its location close to the capital and to the poor area of Carrefour, gangs have taken up residence in the neighborhood.
The area is a common scene for clashes between rival gangs or between gangs and government forces. Gangs who operate in the neighborhood use robbery, kidnapping, and murder. It even has a nickname — “Carrefour de la Mort,” or crossroads of death.
Just like Carrefour, there’s nothing that would interest a tourist in Martissant. It lies 25 minutes south of downtown Port-au-Prince, far enough away from any sights that you should avoid it.
Cite Soleil is one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. Unlike the previous two neighborhoods, Cite Soleil is located within a quick walk of downtown.
Cite Soleil is one of the most dangerous areas in the western hemisphere. For weeks in the summer of 2022, gangs took over this neighborhood. In one week, there were nearly 100 killings and countless robberies, riots, and violence.
Although crime is high in the area, Haitian police refuse to patrol in fear for their safety. When you’re traveling, ask your taxi driver or guide to avoid the neighborhood. If you’re near downtown, don’t walk too far north because that’s the direction of Cite Soleil.
The Delmas Road Area
Located 3 miles east of downtown Port-au-Prince is the Delmas Road Area, sometimes just known as Delmas. The area is dangerous because it’s home to one of Haiti’s major gangs, the G9 Family and Allies.
Avoiding the area isn’t too difficult because it’s 20 minutes east of downtown by car. Delmas has a lot of industrial areas, meaning it’s not a tourist destination. Telling your taxi driver or guide to avoid the area should be enough.
Petionville is located in the eastern part of Port-au-Prince. It’s just east of the Delmas Road Area. Compared to other areas on this list, it’s generally better off. Many foreign diplomats and wealthy citizens reside in the area.
The wealthy area has pushed poorer citizens to the border of the area where shanty towns are common. Criminals operate out of the shanty town and target wealthier citizens or foreign nationals. Kidnapping and ransom occur in this area.
Just like Delmas, avoiding this area is easy because it’s far enough away from downtown that you won’t stumble into the area. But some nice restaurants, hotels, and other attractions are in Petionville, so you may want to visit.
If you’re in Petionville, you can avoid bad interactions by following the instructions of the hotel staff. Always travel to and from attractions in a vehicle with a driver you trust. Also, instruct your driver to avoid driving through shanty towns.
Things to Consider
According to the United States State Department, you should consider some of these things if you plan on visiting Haiti:
- Arrange hotel and transport: By arranging your hotel and transport from the airport ahead of time, you’ll save time and be much safer. Some criminals wait at airports to pick up foreigners who become their next victims.
- Avoid demonstrations: Due to political instability, demonstrations are common in Haiti. But some criminals set up roadblocks to catch their victims. Don’t try to drive through roadblocks. Instead, try to find an alternative route.
- Do not provide personal information to unauthorized individuals: If someone approaches you and asks you for your information, make sure they work for a government agency before you give them your info. Most government workers will wear a uniform. Be wary of anyone who approaches you without a uniform.
- If you’ve been followed: If you’ve been followed in a car, immediately drive to the nearest police station. Criminals may follow your taxi from the airport, so you must know where the closest police station is at all times, including when you first arrive.
- Travel by vehicle: Limiting your time traveling by foot can keep you safer. Although some criminals target cars, more criminals target people walking. Being in a car also gives you more options to get away more quickly.
- Travel in groups: Traveling alone is never the safest, but traveling alone in Haiti is incredibly dangerous. Always walk in groups because that may dissuade criminals from choosing you as a target. It also helps to have people who can help you if trouble happens.
- Know how to contact authorities: If something happens to you, phone the Haitian police. They’ll have the fastest response time. The emergency phone number in Haiti is 114, but it only works for Haitian phones. If you’re an American citizen and the situation doesn’t require emergency services, you can call the embassy at 011-509-2229-8000.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions potential travelers have about Haiti:
Do US Citizens Need a Visa to Travel to Haiti?
No, American citizens don’t require a visa to travel to Haiti if they stay in the country for less than 90 days. If you plan on staying for more than 90 days, you need to organize a visa with the Haitian immigration authority.
How Long Can a US Citizen Stay in Haiti?
American citizens can stay in Haiti for up to 90 days without a visa. Haiti offers tourist visas for up to 6 months.
What is Haiti Famous For?
Haiti is famous for its unique history and culture. Haiti is the only country that formed after a successful slave rebellion. They also have a flourishing culture marked by African and Caribbean influences.
Why is Tourism So Low in Haiti?
Tourism is low in Haiti because crime is significantly higher than in other Caribbean countries. Faced with a choice between visiting Haiti or the Dominican Republic, most people will choose the Dominican because it’s much safer.
What’s the Safest Area in Haiti?
The safest area for tourists in Haiti is Labadee, a small resort town near the city of Cap-Haïtien in the north. It’s far away from the crime and population centers of the south and west, shielding it from the dangers there.
Labadee was built by an ex-president who wanted the area to be a hub for cruise ships. Currently, some cruise lines still dock there. They hire security to keep the area free from crime so tourists can enjoy the natural beauty and friendly people.
So, Is Haiti Safe to Visit?
Unfortunately, Haiti isn’t a safe country for tourists. With rampant crime, a weak government, large gangs, and the potential for natural disasters, Haiti is best avoided by travelers.
But if you still want to visit Haiti, you need to be watchful. Always be wary of your surroundings, especially if you’re alone or in a crowded area. If you ever feel like you’re being followed, go directly to a police station.
And although Haiti isn’t a safe place to travel, that doesn’t stop them from having a unique culture influenced by their sad history. You can always learn about their history without traveling to a potentially dangerous place.