In all honesty, I had not planned to visit Haiti and I went a bit by chance. In planning a little Caribbean trip with my girlfriend, the Dominican Republic came up as a convenient and interesting stop for me, prior to meeting her in Puerto Rico. When deciding whether to rent a car or use public transportation there, I discovered that one of the big bus companies has a Port au Prince – Santo Domingo connection. The flights were the same price and I remembered I had a friend working in Port au Prince. Perfect reasons to drop in.
Unfortunately, I only spent a long week-end, and I visited very little. This is not because there is nothing to visit in Haiti, but because transportation is either hard or expensive, especially travelling alone.
Of course, you can take this kind of public transportation, called “taps-taps”, but you have to want to. The alternative is a private taxi, always expensive, especially for intercity travel, or an internal flight. I am willing to endure almost any level of discomfort or expense if the payoff is worth it, like an active volcano, the most remote human settlement on the planet or the midnight sun of the High Arctic. The charming village of Jacmel with its famous arts and crafts? The Citadelle Laferriere and the ruins of the Palais San Souci? Not so much. It’s not that they are unappealing, but for the price of visiting them from Port au Prince, I could travel to 10 different castles and fortresses by train from Paris or London. In fact, the taxi from Port au Prince airport to Pétionville (~10 km) cost me more than my flight from Lithuania to France last year (~2,000 km).
Almost all the tourism in Haiti comes from cruise ships stopping in Labadee. While I didn’t go, I read a bit about it. It is not a town, but a fenced-off private resort leased by Royal Caribbean, which pays the Haitian Government US$10 per tourist per day. While visitors are certainly on Haitian territory, they may just as well be in the Dominican Republic, Miami, or any other place where a lot of Haitians work. A private security firm ensures no tourist gets out and no Haitians get in, except those who are allowed to sell arts and crafts on the resort. All food and drinks served come from the ship. Apparently the Government is improving roads and security in the area in the hopes of convincing Royal Caribbean to offer day trips to places like Milot, where the Fortress and Palace are located. In the mean time, I cannot imagine the appeal of such a place. Continue reading