7 Reasons Why I Didn’t Go to Haiti

Consultation with Dominican authorities re: possible Haiti trip

A few days after arriving in the Dominican Republic, on my recent trip, I felt a sudden urge to visit Haiti. It was right there, after all. Especially when I was in a village near Mao, just one hour or so from the border.

It was mostly one place that I was interested in, up north—a citadel called Citadelle Laferrière. It’s a large mountaintop fortress near the city of Cap-Haïtien (built between 1805 and 1820). It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which many say is a must-see. There’s also the nearby Sans-Souci Palace, which was the royal residence of King Henri I of Haiti.

In the Citadel, Cap Haitian, Haiti

Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti


Sans-Souci Palace, Haiti

And I wanted to go. I really did.

So did my Dominican friend Ely. Her mom also considered joining us. It sounded like a really cool road trip—and one we were gearing up for.

But we didn’t go. Here’s why:

Transportation Options Got Complicated

But when I started to look into it, the trip seemed less straightforward than I thought. Each time I called Caribe Tours, the bus company that has service between Santiago and Cap-Haïtien, I got conflicting information. When Ely called, she had the same experience.

She then offered to drive us there in her 4-wheel drive vehicle. It was tempting, but I was against the idea since we had no idea what to expect on the other side of the border. We might have spent a night in a large city and I didn’t have a clear idea re: parking and safety. While there are some obvious advantages to having one’s own vehicle, I also saw some disadvantages.

The Weather Got Crappy

While we were considering this trip, the weather was fine. Then, all of a sudden, it got cloudy and began to rain. I was shocked. I thought the weather was pretty much perfect in the DR. Wrong. When we checked the forecast for Northern Haiti, it was pretty much the same. This made the journey much less appealing.

I Really Liked the DR and Its Off-the-Beaten-Path Options

Then, after being in the Dominican Republic for several days, I realized that there was a lot to do—and quite a bit of it off the beaten path. When Ely and I saw the weather forecast, we decided to head to the rugged Southwest. I knew adventure awaited us there and decided that would probably be enough. For this trip, anyway.

I Wasn’t Psychologically Prepared

I remember posting on Facebook that I was considering a trip to Haiti and another traveler I know wrote me privately. “Are you psychologically prepared for Haiti? It’s pretty intense.” Although I imagined it might be, I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought. When I did, I did, I realized that I wasn’t.

Didn’t Have All the Immunizations I Needed

Sure, I’m up to date on my Hep A shot, but Hep B and others, I haven’t gotten for a while. Actually, I tend to blow the Hep B series (I wait too long and then can’t complete it). Anyway, getting some shots might have been a good idea for Haiti.

Haiti Seemed to Deserve Its Own Trip—at a Later Date

I think there’s a lot to do in Haiti—and that it would require some planning. I’d want to have certain things in place before going. I’m not sure I’d want to be as spontaneous there as I’ve been in other countries.

Consultation with Dominican authorities re: possible Haiti trip

I Felt Slightly Intimidated

To be perfectly honest, as much as I’d love to go to Haiti, the thought of it was (and still is) a tiny bit intimidating. The country has obviously had its share of problems and I didn’t quite have a clear sense of what it would be like there.

(In the photo above, I’m posing with some Dominican municipal police and officials in Mao Valverde, a town I visited. My friend and I went there for a consultation of sorts–to learn more about the border crossing. The advice we were given was–“Go ahead…just be careful on the other side.” The men were super helpful, by the way. )

Note: I have some ESL students from Haiti and when I told them I didn’t go, they seemed relieved. Despite all of this, I still do want to go to Haiti–and have a feeling I will make the trip. But not just yet. When it’s the right time and I’m ready.

Your Thoughts?

Would you have found a way to make this trip happen? Or would you have let it go as I did, with a possible plan in mind for later? Why/why not?

Would you consider a trip to Haiti? Or does it seem a little intimidating in some way?

Have you been to Haiti? If so, please tell me/us what it was like and share any links to posts you’ve written about where you went/how to do it. Thanks!

Want to See Photos of the Haitian Border?

PS: I have some very interesting photos from my visit to the Haiti border–in the southwestern part of the DR. Perdernales. A very off-the-beaten path location that few make it to. Would you like to see those photos? I may do a photo essay sometime soon.

Photo credits: Special thanks to those photographers who made their work available on Flickr: YamRock83 and Gretchen Mahan.

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34 Responses to 7 Reasons Why I Didn’t Go to Haiti
  1. Elizabeth Bird
    February 3, 2012 | 9:42 am

    I was in the DR a few years ago and also only went as far as the Haitian Border. It was really interesting to see. I didn’t actually visit the country because of many of the reasons listed in your post.
    Elizabeth Bird recently posted..Ruining my Hair on a Rainy AfternoonMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 3, 2012 | 12:29 pm

      Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing that. I have a feeling many end up in that situation. Perhaps next time? Meanwhile, I found the border fascinating and hope to share the photos soon.

  2. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    February 3, 2012 | 10:17 am

    I might be writing my own post like this about a couple countries in South America I won’t get to. I have discovered that if I don’t have enough time to travel the way I enjoy (aka slowly), then that country should be saved for it’s own trip another time.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … El Chalten – A Pretty FarewellMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 3, 2012 | 12:32 pm

      Hi, Stephanie. I hear you…it’s hard to strike a balance sometimes and it’s tough when the country is (or seems to be)…right there. As for length of time, it can be a tough choice. Re: my Haiti decision, I think it was more about the planning, logistics and unknowns vs amount of time I had. I think you can do the citadel in a couple days if you’re where I was in the DR. Having said this, I think I would like it if I could to devote a couple weeks to the country (or split it up with the northern half of the DR next time). We’ll see. :)

  3. LandLopers Picks of the Week | LandLopers
    February 3, 2012 | 11:55 pm

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  4. Rose
    February 4, 2012 | 2:33 am

    Listen to your body! If there’s more than one feeling that’s stopping you that means it is not for you right now. Maybe some other time that is more safe.

  5. Red Hunt
    February 4, 2012 | 3:14 am

    I think you probably made the right decision…if you had thoughts that Haiti is worth it’s own trip, then give it justice at a later time.
    It seems like a number of people want to visit Haiti to visit only a few sites and walk away with bragging rights, which doesn’t seem right.
    Haiti, more than any country in the West, needs their visitors to leave a positive impact…which I think is a bigger challenge, and takes more of a time commitment, than most realize.
    Red Hunt recently posted..Village Kids in MalawiMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 4, 2012 | 12:03 pm

      I hear what you’re saying–definitely.

      I’d read about a cultural center/low-budget hotel near the citadel, which seemed dedicated to connecting visitors and locals and allowing for a meaningful interaction. I wanted to stay there, but couldn’t reach the place by phone or Internet, and became even less interested in the trip as a result. I wanted to connect with the people/culture–especially because some of my current ESL students (and many I knew at a previous job) are Haitian.

      Close to the end of my DR trip, I met an American guy who was doing volunteer work in a community in the southern half of Haiti and I really admired him for the work he did. We talked about some of his projects and I became interested. What you mentioned occurred to me, too, re: the positive impact left by strangers being important. The country definitely needs that. Thanks for the reminder.

      Have you spent time in Haiti–traveling or volunteering?

  6. Sprite
    February 4, 2012 | 4:47 pm

    hmmm,I have a lot of work to do, ie. throwing out lipstick, nailpolish, but I want to travel there off the beaten path:) I think I could make it, after all I did survive the Kuna experience 😉 I know you will have an amazing experience when you decide to go!

    • CB Driver
      February 4, 2012 | 5:44 pm

      Hello, Sprite. I think the Kuna experience was good training! As for the lipstick and nailpolish, yeah–might be best to toss them at the border! :)

  7. Shannon
    February 6, 2012 | 3:37 am

    The one thing that is amazing to me is that when you step across the border eve just 25 yards you can see a totally different view of the infrastructure compared to the country you just crossed from (sometimes).

    I know that when I went to Tijuana, Mexico the transition wasn’t quite immediate but not long after we crossed over it wasn’t the same and you could tell you were no longer in the USA.

    In my mind I’d like to think that if a neighboring country has better infrastructure so does the next country but reality doesn’t portray it so.

    I’m looking to go with my church to the DR and I would like to visit Haiti too but I’ve heard far worse about Haiti than the DR for obvious reasons (the earthquake) what I really don’t know about is safety and I need to look into that once I can figure out how.

    When I get international travel down, I’ll then be able to decide what to do next.. 3 weeks to go!

    • CB Driver
      February 6, 2012 | 12:06 pm

      Hi, Shannon. I know what you mean about borders. The can definitely be just as you described, with the crossing revealing another world at times. Re: Haiti…I do think some precautions would need to be taken. After an earthquake like that, there are many diseases, etc. hanging around and some safety concerns, too. I’d be sure to get all the recommended immunizations and to wear a money belt. Having said this, I’m sure that for the most part, everything would be fine–especially since you’d be in a group.

      I hope your trip comes together and if so, feel free to come back and post a link to anything you write about it. Would be nice to see/read about it!

  8. Brigitte @ Kissimmee balloon rides
    February 6, 2012 | 8:52 am

    For Haiti’s situation, I would rather not dare go, in my own opinion I think I should think of my safety.

    • CB Driver
      February 6, 2012 | 7:39 pm

      That makes sense–definitely.

  9. Gray
    February 6, 2012 | 1:05 pm

    Our travel styles tend to differ, Lisa, but I’m definitely with you on this one. I wouldn’t have felt psychologically (or in any other way) prepared for it as a spontaneous side trip like that. If I were to go, I’d need to do a lot of upfront planning first.
    Gray recently posted..Things to Do in New OrleansMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 6, 2012 | 7:38 pm

      Hi, Gray. Thanks for sharing that. It did feel like the kind of place where a spontaneous trip might not be ideal. If I do go, there will be a lot of planning involved. I met a nice family from Haiti when I was in the DR who gave me their contact info. Perhaps I’d get in touch and try to meet up with them.

  10. Kelly ~ HIPTRAVELER
    February 6, 2012 | 3:00 pm

    I’ve traveled to a lot of countries in every inhabited continent of the world, including many of them by myself (as a solo female). And to date, Haiti is the only country where I canceled my flight and absorbed the cost of my airfare fees due to persistent concerns. I spent a lot of time researching the country and had candid discussions with an NGO humanitarian aid worker, whose alarming concern for my safety became the tipping point for my decision to cancel my Haiti trip. There were so many logistical challenges that I felt like I was just trying to survive my vacation. I ended up traveling solo to the Dominican Republic instead, and felt like at the time it was a smart personal decision. Maybe one day I will travel to Haiti… just not yet.

    Good luck & safe travels!


    • CB Driver
      February 6, 2012 | 7:36 pm

      Kelly–Thanks so much for sharing your experience re: not going. I appreciate it and understand how you got to that point. Sounds like you did some serious research and came to a logical conclusion, one I think I would have arrived at under the same circumstances. Awesome that you went to the DR! I’m sure you had an enjoyable time there.

      I hope that you make it to Haiti at some point–and that I do, too.

  11. Socko
    February 6, 2012 | 9:24 pm

    Haiti is a little too dicey for this monkey too. You made the right decision. I spent last weekend in the Dominican Republic, which is a modern and beautiful country filled with friendly people and historic sites. And I was tempted to cross another country off the list by stepping into Haiti. Just had a bad feeling about it and decided to wait until things get better there.

    • CB Driver
      February 6, 2012 | 11:39 pm

      Hi, Socko. Wild that you were in the DR recently. I was just there a few weeks ago! I also think I made the right decision. Next time perhaps… And cheers to the DR–and awesome place to visit, for sure!

  12. TravelBlggr
    February 9, 2012 | 4:44 pm

    A friend recently went to Haiti to shoot video for a project and it looked really rough.
    TravelBlggr recently posted..French MacaronsMy Profile

  13. TravelBlggr
    February 9, 2012 | 4:49 pm

    Ack! I hit the button to quickly … had more to the comment …

    If you go to Haiti, you want to know someone there on the ground. It’s not a place to travel to without local guidance. As for accommodations … there aren’t any really. Most people are still living in “tent” cities after the earthquake. An upgrade is an air conditioned shipping container. My friend has a non-profit there called Rebuild Globally. Check it out on RebuildGlobally.org
    TravelBlggr recently posted..French MacaronsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 9, 2012 | 10:40 pm

      Rachelle–Thanks so much for sharing this information. It’s sad to hear that things are so shaky there–perhaps that’s why I trouble getting through to the place where I wanted to stay–but it makes sense. Anyway, based on what you’ve said and what some others have reported, it sounds like I made the right decision. I’d still like to go, but not for another year or so. This is definitely not a good time.

      Thanks for the link to your friend’s organization. I’ll check it out.

  14. eriksmithdotcom
    February 11, 2012 | 2:26 pm

    All of these are good solid reasons, but especially the one about being intimidated. You’re well-read enough to know that Haiti is another ballgame altogether, and going there without the proper research is fool-hearty. I know people get away with these kind of spontaneous decisions, but why take the chance at being the person in one of those travel horror stories. I have a former student of mine who was spending a month in Columbia during a break in law school and he decided on a whim to jump over to Venezuela for a few days. He’s a smart kid, well-read, but ignored the advice of Columbia locals. Nothing serious happened, but he was robbed by a couple of cab drivers right at the border and then escaped being kidnapped another time by a good samaratain.
    Plus you are right, if Haiti appeals to you, it will be there later, and hopefully their economy will be more robust and it won’t be such a daunting prospect.
    eriksmithdotcom recently posted..Photo of the Day- Mount Rushmore National Monument, South DakotaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      February 11, 2012 | 11:34 pm

      Thanks, Erik. Sounds like you really understand.

      You’re absolutely right re: Haiti being another ballgame and I think that I was scared of being one of the horror stories. Shame about your friend who went to Venezuela. Sounds scary and he’s lucky he wasn’t kidnapped.

      And yes, if I want to go later and things are better, then I can/will. For now, best not to.

  15. Eric Klarholm
    February 2, 2013 | 12:54 pm

    If u go to Haiti, first have a trusted Haitian to be your guide. Stay out of PauP if you can. Security there is not good. The citadel is excellent. So is the Sans Souce palace. I have been to each of these twice and in Haiti 9 times. The language is a barrier. Kreyol is not french. No matter what others may tell you. I can put u in touch with trustworthy Haitians, that is a must. There is lots to see all over Haiti, and it takes a long time to get around. There are also some very nice beach resorts to be enjoyed. Cormier plage near Cap Haitian is great if u r up that way.

    • CB Driver
      February 3, 2013 | 12:21 pm

      Hi, Eric. I agree re: having a guide. Makes a lot of sense. Cool that you’ve been there so many times–and that you saw those sites up north that I was interested in.

      PS: Would you believe I actually speak a tiny bit of Kreyol? Yup, I do. I teach ESL and some of my students taught me a while back. I even have a copy of a ‘Learn to Speak Kreyol’ book.

  16. Rick
    April 12, 2013 | 1:54 pm

    Honestly, how much incidents are reported by tourists after their visit to Haïti? Zero.
    But there are news relating security incidents againts tourists in DR, Mexico, Jamaica and others. And tourists still visiting them.
    So I think information about Haiti ar so biased. And all my visits in Haiti are joyful and secure along beautiful beaches and other exciting places.

  17. Corina
    June 2, 2013 | 2:12 am

    DR is not a modern country. In fact, it is a third world country… don’t let the resorts fool you. I’ve been to DR several times and have been warned on several occasions NEVER to leave the resort and I’m black. That same “helpful treatment” you got from their police – I’ve gotten the opposite. In a place that has a large population of Blacks, they seem to be very racist. There are gangs, rapings and killings that occur in DR. Many of which is not publicized….. not to mention that prostitution is HUGE…Once you leave the border you’ll be right in a rural area… not to mention that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere so common sense should’ve told you that it wouldn’t look pretty.

    I have a friend who sited DR and she was hit and robbed of her iphone. This same friend went to Haiti and was not harmed. You say you weren’t psychologically prepared… so I take it that you have not been to rural and poor parts of DR — only gringo-approved places? If you want to get an real experience of a country — don’t go where tourists go. Traveling in Haiti is a pain but don’t let that deter you from going. Haiti has a lot of beautiful places, especially in the north and south… outside the capital and even places within the capital are amazing….

    • CB Driver
      June 3, 2013 | 4:37 pm

      Hi, Corina. If you take a look at my various posts re: the DR, you’ll see that I was not in tourist areas at all. In fact, I was on the opposite side of the country (nowhere near Punta Cana). I went to places like Mao and Bahía de los Águilas and absolutely did spend time in poor/rural areas. I am not a resort person by any means (look at my blog my closely and you’ll see that I prefer ‘off the beaten path travel’. Here’s a link to more DR posts if you’d like to see where I was.

      I think you misunderstood or missed a few points I made in this post. I do plan to go to Haiti in the future–when the time is right for me personally. It just wasn’t right for me this time around (which is 1.5 years ago now, so it’s an older post), due to the reasons I gave, including a lack of info re: transportation options and feeling that I didn’t have quite enough time to do the trip justice–ie, I’d prefer to give it more time.

      If you have recommendations for where to visit (and accommodations)–specific areas–I’d love to hear from you. Thank you.

  18. Robert
    July 9, 2013 | 3:37 pm

    I am so sorry to read your reasons for not seeing Haiti. No shots/medical treatment required either before or after my three visits were needed. Caribe Tours (a de lux Dominican bus company) makes it easy as they handle all the border formalities at both Jimani/Malpasse (for Port Au Prince) and Dajabon/Ouanaminthe (for Cap Haitien). Haiti,however, can be expensive as hotels are geared to “aid” workers on expense accounts and “budget” places either don’t exist or have standards below what backpackers expect.

    • CB Driver
      July 9, 2013 | 11:38 pm

      Hi, Robert. It was a while back that made that decision. I have a feeling that transportation is easier now than it was back then. When I inquired about buses, the information I received wasn’t too straightforward–and I speak Spanish pretty fluently.

      Good to know about the prices. What you’re saying makes re: the differences makes sense.

  19. Robert
    July 9, 2013 | 3:48 pm

    I would like to add for anyone considering a visit to Haiti, that it is a worthwhile place to see. Lovely,elegant welcoming people (although sometimes superstious about photos) and an interesting vibrant culture. I had a great trips there (including after the tragic earthquake) and no security problems. Personally, I think if a single woman can handle rather macho Dominican attitudes, Haiti will be easy. By the way, fresh Haitian food is the BEST!

    • CB Driver
      July 9, 2013 | 11:40 pm

      I’m sure that Haiti is a worthwhile place to visit–and I do intend to make the trip in the future. I’ve had a good number of students from there, so it’s interesting/appealing to me. I know a tiny bit of Creole, which a Haitian teenager taught me about 12 years ago. Perhaps I’ll travel to Haiti in a year or two…time will tell.

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