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Haiti

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Royal Oasis
Royal Oasis - dream vacation

115, Rue Panaméricaine, Port-au-Prince

Best Western Premier Petion-Ville
Best Western Premier Petion-Ville - dream vacation

50 Angle Rue Louverture & Geffrard, Port-au-Prince

Moulin Sur Mer
Moulin Sur Mer - dream vacation

Km 77 Route Nationale #1, Saint-Marc

Marriott Port-au-Prince Hotel
Marriott Port-au-Prince Hotel - dream vacation

147, Avenue Jean Paul II, Port-au-Prince

Karibe Hotel
Karibe Hotel - dream vacation

Juvenat 7, Port-au-Prince

NH Haiti El Rancho
NH Haiti El Rancho - dream vacation

Impasse Des Hotels, Port-au-Prince

Le Plaza Hotel Port-au-Prince
Le Plaza Hotel Port-au-Prince - dream vacation

10 Rue Capois Champ de Mars, Port-au-Prince

Kinam Hotel
Kinam Hotel - dream vacation

Place St Pierre, Rue Pinchinat, Petion-Ville, Port-au-Prince

Haiti (Haitian Creole: Ayiti, French: Haïti) is a Caribbean country that occupies the western three-eighths of the island of Hispaniola. The eastern five-eighths of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north, while the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Haiti is a country with a troubled past, and its future still remains uncertain. Decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability, dictatorship and coups, among other things, have left it the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

Understand

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Tourists who are unsettled by grinding poverty probably should visit elsewhere. However, for those with patience and an open mind, Haiti reveals a rich culture that is unique among post-colonial nations.

It is extremely helpful when traveling in Haiti to have a local contact, through a church, a hotel, or just through making friends with someone. Experiences like dining locally, riding on a tap-tap, or strolling through one of the insanely crowded outdoor markets are great fun and very worth doing but are much safer and easier if you have a trusted Haitian to go along as a guide and interpreter.

Climate

Tropical and semiarid where mountains in the east cut off trade winds, Haiti lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to November. Experiences occasional flooding, earthquakes and droughts.

When traveling to Haiti it is very important that you bring a first aid kit. Be sure to include a lighter, flashlight (due to Haiti’s constant power outages), Pepto-Bismol, instant ice packs, Motrin, and Tylenol, water purifying tablets (just in case), bug spray, sunscreen, Benadryl, etc. Be sure to not drink the water and any drinks made with the water unless you are on an American-run base with guaranteed purified water.

Terrain

Mostly mountainous, with a wide, flat central plain to the north. The highest point is Chaine de la Selle at 2777 m.

History

Haiti was inhabited by the native Taino Indians when Christopher Columbus landed on December 5, 1492 at Mole St Nicolas; see Voyages of Columbus. Columbus named the island Hispaniola. The Taino were a branch of the Arawak Indians, a peaceful tribe that was weakened by frequent violent invasions by the supposedly cannibalistic Carib Indians. Later, Spanish settlers brought smallpox and other European diseases to which the Taino had no immunity. In short order, the native Taino were virtually annihilated. There is no visible trace of Taino blood on Haiti today, and the vast majority of Haitians are descendants of enslaved Africans, however, genetic studies have shown that both European and Taino admixture are more common than often believed.

In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola and in 1697 Spain ceded the western third of the island to France. Through the development of sugar and coffee plantations, the French colony of Saint-Domingue flourished, becoming one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. Enslaved Africans were brought to Haiti to work on these French plantations. Work conditions for slaves on Haiti were the harshest imaginable, as sugar and coffee plantations required intensive labor. The French imported an enormous slave labor force, which ultimately vastly outnumbered the French planters 10 to 1. Even within the minority of free people in the colony there were major divisions, between the "petit blancs" (small whites) who did not own slaves and worked in trades or as overseers, the "grand blancs" (big whites) who owned slaves and plantations and the "free coloreds" who were descendants of slaves and whites and occupied all strata of free society from wealthy landowner to poor day-laborer. The whites, who were largely born off the island and only came to Saint Domingue to make a fortune instituted a racist caste system designed to deny the "free coloreds" the relatively powerful position they had gained by the mid 18th century. However, all those inherent tensions (and the overriding tension of slavery) came to a head when the French Revolution broke out in the metropole in 1789 and all this talk of "freedom" and "equality" meant that everybody - including the big whites - wanted to overthrow the colonial order up to that point, ultimately resulting in a slave uprising and the collapse of the whole slavery and plantation based society.

In August 1791, Saint-Domingue's nearly 500,000 slaves revolted, triggering an almost continuous civil war in which the inherent tensions between the various groups of Haitian society erupted. After a bloody 13-year struggle, that was influenced and in turn influenced the Napoleonic Wars as well as the American War of 1812, the former slaves ousted the French and created Haiti, the first black republic, in 1804. Unfortunately, one of independent Haiti's first leaders, Jean Jacques Dessalines, who proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I perpetrated a massacre against the remaining white Haitians, killing almost all of them and driving most of the rest into exile. Jacques I was assassinated two years later, setting the precedent for a lot of violent transfers of power, which however usually ended with death not exile of the losing side. Haiti was hampered by the ravages of the wars, as well as a lack of major trading partners which was further complicated by the refusal of any major power to acknowledge Haitian independence. France only accepted independence in the 1820s after Jean Pierre Boyer agreed to pay a 150 million francs indemnity to France in exchange for recognition of independence - a major source of Haiti's crushing debt and a sum France has duly collected most of and never so much as apologized for. The United States, itself a slave holding nation, did not officially recognize Haiti until the Civil War eliminated Southern resistance in the Senate to such a move - six decades after Haiti had thrown off the colonial yoke.

A lack of government and civil unrest led to the American occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. While order was brought about and much infrastructure was developed in Haiti by the United States, Haitians resented the occupation of their country. The withdrawal of Americans by President Roosevelt in 1934 left a power vacuum that was filled by Haitian military elite. The Forbes Commission in 1930 accurately noted that "the social forces that created [instability] still remain--poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government."

The following 20 years saw ruthless struggles for power that ended with the ascension of François (Papa Doc) Duvalier. Duvalier's brutal dictatorship lasted nearly thirty years, with his son, Jean-Claude (Bébé Doc) Duvalier assuming power after Papa Doc's death in 1971. Bébé Doc was ousted in 1986, followed by more bloodshed and military rule that culminated in a new Constitution in 1987 and the election of former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president in 1990.

After a coup, Aristide went into exile. Most of his term was usurped by a military takeover, but he returned to office in 1994 after Haitian General Raoul Cedras asked the United States to intervene, negotiating the departure of Haiti's military leaders and paving the way for the return of Aristide. His former prime minister, René Préval, became president in 1996. Aristide won a second term as president in 2000, and took office early in 2001. However, accusations of corruption were followed by a paramilitary coup that ousted Aristide in 2004. Since then, Haiti has been occupied by U.N. peacekeeping troops (MINUSTAH).

Culture

The New World Afro-Diasporic customs of Vodou are widely practiced in Haiti and mixed with Catholicism. Vodou (also spelled Voodoo, et al.) arises from Yoruba religion from Nigeria, plus elements of indigenous Taino culture.

Holidays

  • January 1: New Year's Day and Independence Day
  • January 2: Ancestry Day
  • May 18: Flag and Universities Day
  • August 15: Assumption
  • October 17: Anniversary of the Death of Dessalines
  • December 5: Discovery Day
  • December 25: Christmas

Regions

Cities

  • Port-au-Prince — Haiti's big, crowded, and chaotic capital city.
  • Cap-Haïtien — the country's second biggest city, on the Atlantic coast near some beautiful beaches and interesting old forts.
  • Gonaïves — here, on 1 January 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines signed Haiti's Act of Independence, establishing the world's first black republic.
  • Jacmel — a relaxed town with a beautiful historic center and a claim not easily dismissed to be the country's artistic and cultural capital, albeit in ruins following the earthquake.
  • Jérémie — Haiti's westernmost and profoundly isolated town is a sleepy little charming place.
  • Les Cayes — Southern Haiti's principal port and a popular jumping off point for Île à Vache.
  • Petionville — a wealthy and much safer suburb of Port-au-Prince, where you will find most of the capital's nightlife, restaurants, wealthy Haitians, and foreigners.
  • Port-de-Paix — the main city in Haiti's drug-smuggling coast, with the opportunity to hail a ferry to Tortuga Island, a virtually undiscovered tropical paradise—albeit well discovered through the centuries by any famous pirate worth his salt and not a few wealthy drug lords.
  • Port-Salut — President Aristide's birthplace, home to miles of gorgeous, empty white sand beaches.

Other destinations

  • The Citadelle Henri Christophe (also known as Citadelle Laferrière) is a fortress located on a high mountain in Haiti overlooking the city of Milot, Haiti. At the base of the mountain stands the ruins of Palais Sans Souci.
  • Labadie - a private port used by cruise ships.
  • The 27 historic vestiges of Mole Saint Nicolas, North West, a strategic bay at the enter of Canal du Vent, also called Gibraltar of America. Good site for sports too (wind surf, kite surf, mountain bike, hiking..).

Gonâve Grande Source

Get in

Visas are required only by citizens of Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Panama. Citizens of other countries can stay three months without a visa.[1]

By plane

International travelers will arrive in Haiti at Port-au-Prince (PAP) at the Aéroport Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport or Aéroport International Cap-Haïtien in the North. The plane tickets can be purchased via many online ticketing sites and agencies. There are intra-Haiti flights available as well. Prices on these flights can fluctuate from time to time due to inflation but, depending on the airline, are usually between $125-$132 return from and to Port-au-Prince, cheaper between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. A really cheap, dependable and popular airline is Sunrise Airways In addition to avoiding rather dangerous and inadequate public transportation system by bus and tap-taps, flights offer a safe passage into and out of Port-au-Prince from other parts in Haiti.

Airlines such as American Airlines, Delta and Spirit serve Port-au-Prince from the US. Air Canada, Air France and Caribair, among others, also offer international flights to and from Port-au-Prince.

Lynx Air flies from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Cap-Haïtien. MFI (Missionary Flights International) fly to Cap also from Florida, but only registered non-Catholic Christian missionaries are welcome aboard. Other international airlines serving Cap-Haïtien include Sky King, Turks and Caicos Air and Pine-apple Air.

By road

From Santo Domingo, Caribe Tours runs a once-daily bus to Petionville (in the hills above Port-au-Prince) that leaves at 11AM. A ticket costs $40 one-way, $26 USD tax and 100 DR. Unfortunately, this bus drops you off in Petionville after dark so make prior arrangements with a trustworthy person to meet you and transport you to your lodging.

There is also a crowded border crossing between Dominican Republic and Haiti in Dajabón/Ouanaminthe. The border is open only during the day. From here you can catch local transport to Cap-Haïtien.

Another, less expensive, option from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, is to take a gua-gua (Dominican minibus) from Santo Domingo (departing a few blocks north of Parque Enriquillo) for 380 DR pesos (about $10, 5 h) and arrive in the border town of Jimani. From there, it is a 4 km walk or a 50 DR pesos ride by motoconcho to the border post.

The border is apparently open 09:00-18:00 (but don't rely those times). It is very easy to cross the border without submitting to any immigration procedures on either side, and although it would probably be illegal, it saves a few dozen dollars on bribes and is much faster too. Apart from entering the DR when a soldier takes a look at the passport, nobody does any inspection: immigration or customs. Entering Haiti legally is quick: fill out the green form and pay whatever amount the official asks (around 100 DR). There are no ATMs at the border.

Moneychangers give gourdes for DR pesos and US dollars. Rates are fair. There is plenty of local transportation from the border to Port-au-Prince. Crowded tap-taps and buses can take you to Croix-des-Bouquets for 50 gourdes (1.5-2 h), from where it is another hour to Port-au-Prince proper (bus, 5 gourdes). The road has variable conditions and is prone to flooding. Peruvian UN soldiers at the border have confirmed that the road to Port-au-Prince is safe to travel with no incidents of robbery or kidnappings, but definitely try to arrive in Port-au-Prince before dark.

Get around

By car

Cars may be rented through Hertz, Avis, etc. Taxis in Haiti are usually in the form of SUVs or trucks, as most of the roads are long overdue for repairs, in addition to plethora of unpaved roads one faces while travelling in Haiti. The price is often fair (i.e., 450 gourdes, or $11.53 at 39 gourdes to a dollar, from Port-au-Prince to Léogâne), but offers safety and comfort that cannot be found in riding tap-taps or buses.

By bus

"Tap-taps" are the most economical way to travel in Haiti. Haitian tap-taps are modified trucks or vans and are ubiquitous throughout Haiti. A raised wooden canopy-like cabin usually sits over the truck bed while wood benches are attached to the bed and serve as seats. Tap-taps are frequently painted bright colors, and often bear a religious slogan, such as Jesus vous aime ("Jesus loves you").

In Port-au-Prince, most routes cost 10 gourdes ($0.25). They are also quite convenient as they will stop anywhere along the route: simply yell "merci!" to get the driver to stop. However, they are sometimes overpacked and can be quite dangerous to ride in the mountain roads where the road conditions are less than ideal. First time travellers who do not speak conversational Creole are advised not to travel by tap-tap without assistance. There are also school bus versions of tap-taps used for longer voyages. These are often modified school buses.

A more comfortable alternative for long distance travel are minibuses. These congregate at various lots throughout the city, organized by destination. Seats to Jacmel, for example, cost about 150 gourdes (30 Haitian dollars, $3.75), while the more comfortable front seat may go for 200 gourdes ($5).

Talk

See also: French phrasebook, Haitian Creole phrasebook

The official languages of Haiti are French and Haitian Creole (Kreyòl Ayisien), which is a French-based creole language, with 92% of the vocabulary being derived from French and the rest primarily from African languages. Haitian Creole is the native language of the masses, while French is the administrative language, even though only 15 % of Haitians can speak it and only about 2% can speak it well.

Creole is mutually intelligible with French on the most basic level, so the competent French speaker should be fine in limited circumstances. Many Haitians are very appreciative if you take the trouble to learn a little bit of one of the official languages (preferably Creole), rather than using an interpreter or expecting them to speak English. Haitians working in tourist areas usually speak English well enough for conversation.

See

Port-Au-Prince has some landmarks, structures and statues, such as a large pair of hand holding the earth. Many of these are close to the airport. This city is the largest in Haiti and was the most affected by the earthquake. You will still see evidence of the disaster, such as crumbling buildings, but much reconstruction has taken place. When you go a short distance outside of the city, you will have a better idea of the devastation. There are still people living in the "tent village," which extends for about two miles and is made up small tarps draped over sticks stuck in the ground. As you go on, you may pass one of the mass graves dug after the earth quake, but you probably will not realize it is a grave. It's on the side of small mountain, and the grass has grown over the turned earth. There are no markings but you will sometimes see people there or flowers placed in memory.

Haiti has beautiful scenery if you know where to find it. If you are travelling or staying with someone who knows the area well, ask if there are any nice beaches or mountainous areas nearby. St. Marc, along with some other cities, has a beautiful mountain range that can be hiked. At the top of these mountains are some historical artifacts, structures and incredible views of the ocean.

Do

Champs-de-Mars was once the most beautiful park in Haiti but is now covered in tents housing people made homeless by the earthquake. It was a public place where people went to relax, before the quake. It is located near the National Palace.

Buy

The Haitian gourde is the currency of Haiti, denoted b y the symbol "G" (ISO code: HTG). A1 Although merchants are required to quote prices in gourdes by law, virtually everything is priced in "dollars"--not US but Haitian dollars, equivalent to 5 gourdes. This practice is a holdover from the US occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century, during which the gourde was pegged at G5 to the US dollar.

Haiti has become famous for its very informal yet interesting bustling marketplace. Everything is sold here ranging from the curiously appealing to the dullest of objects for rather inexpensive prices. Haggling is both wise and recommended, as most Haitians will charge foreigners at least double the market rate. There are various large retail supermarkets in the capital that offer a variety of items at fixed prices. Haiti has a world of crafts waiting to be sought after.

Eat

Haitian cuisine is typical of Caribbean métissage, a wonderful mix of French and African sensibilities. It is similar to its Spanish Caribbean neighbors yet unique in its strong presence of spices. Roast goat called 'kabrit', morsels of fried pork 'griot', poultry with a Creole sauce 'poulet creole', rice with wild mushroom 'du riz jonjon' are all wonderful and tasty dishes.

Along the coast fish, lobster and conch are readily available. Haiti has a very fine collection of fruit including guava, pineapple, mango (Haiti's most prized fruit), banana, melons, breadfruit, as well as mouth watering sugarcane cut and peeled to order on the streets. Restaurants in the bigger cities provide safe and delicious meals, and precautions are taken with the food and water to keep things safe.

However, even in resorts with purified water, it is not always safe to assume that raw vegetables (such as lettuce and tomatoes) have been properly washed. In smaller or more humble venues make sure to eat fruit and vegetables that can be skinned or peeled, drink bottled drinks only, make sure any ice is from a clean water source, and make sure any meat is well-cooked.

When bottled water or boiled water is not available, a freshly opened coconut provides water and electrolytes with minimal health risk.

Drink

Haitian rum is well-known. 'Barbancourt 5 star' is a top drawer drink. 'Clairin' is the local firewater made from sugarcane that can be bought on the street, often flavored with various herbs that can be seen stuffed into the bottle. 'Prestige' is the most popular beer, and is of good quality and excellent taste. Also be sure to try the 'Papye' drink, a sort of papaya milk shake that is deliciously refreshing beyond words on a hot day. Cremas is a tasty, creamy alcoholic beverage that is derived from coconut milk.

Sleep

There are many guest houses throughout Haiti. However, these are quite hard to find while overseas. Many of these guest houses run about 25 to 35 dollars a night and include 2 to 3 meals during the day. Sometimes these houses are associated with orphanages (such as Saint Joseph's Home for Boys).

Saint Joseph's Home for Boys is in Delmas 91, near Petionville.

Fondwa Guest House is at the bottom of the hill from Anbatonèl (a small village halfway between Léogâne and Jacmel).

Camping is a high-risk activity in certain parts of Haiti and is not recommended.

Learn

Haiti's illiteracy rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere at approximately 49%.

Work

Haiti's unemployment rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere at over 80%.

Stay safe

Since the earthquake on January 12, 2010, many people are still living on the streets in makeshift shelters. There have been a number of protests and an increase in criminal activity. Use proper judgment when traveling in Haiti. Overall, do exercise a heightened level of caution based on common sense. Do not carry huge loads of cash around, or walk late at night in dark streets.

Women should not walk alone on the island. The number of people that fled to the island after the earthquake is unknown, but the atmosphere on the island has changed some people. Even when women walk with other men, Haitian men may still utter remarks. They are not afraid to maintain eye contact, and their stares may make one uneasy. It is best to be polite, but be engaged in your immediate group.

Stay healthy

Sanitary conditions in Haiti are poor. Tap water should be avoided. Drink bottled water only.

Health care, while well below the standards of that in developed countries, is available in all large towns and cities. Many smaller towns and villages also have health clinics. However, medical equipment and a wide variety of medicines may be in meager supply.

The biggest concern in Haiti for travellers is malaria and dehydration. One should make an appointment with a travel clinic for anti-malarial prophylaxis. Hydration requirements can be fulfilled by preparing one of the many water purifying systems as if one were going camping, or by buying bottled water once in Haiti (which is widely available and inexpensive by western standards.) Washing oneself with water from places such as creeks or lakes is not recommended due to the risk of water-borne diseases. Immunization shots are not required but come highly suggested. Go to your doctor's office or a local hospital or clinic about a month or so before your trip to find out what kinds of immunizations they would suggest.

Depending on your itinerary, you may have to walk a lot. Comfortable footwear is crucial for avoiding blisters. Hiking boots are recommended as well as comfortable sandals.

Respect

One thing a missionary or other visitor to Haiti learns very quickly is that Haitians are a very friendly and down to earth people, despite all they have had to endure. There are some beggars and peddlars in the cities, but they are the exception, not the rule. Expect no kow-towing. Impoverished Haitians will always accept gifts, but they will almost always stand straight, look you in the eye, and repay you with a sincere "Mesi" (thanks).

Haiti is a nation of fairly conservative norms. Modest dress when exploring Haiti's cities is advised, especially for women. The smart visitor should look people in the eye, wave hello, and treat them with friendship and respect, as equals, no matter how poor or desperate their living conditions may seem.

Try to learn some basic words of Haitian Creole.

Ask permission before taking pictures of locals (they often ask you for money). Never walk about sticking your camera in people's faces or taking pictures randomly. Do not solely take pictures of the piles of trash you may see in some of the bigger cities (such as Cap-Haïtien or Port-au-Prince) or anything else that Haitians are not proud of as it is offensive. However, people have no problem with foreigners taking pictures of beautiful scenery, cultural events or historical sites.

Carry a few gourdes in your pockets for the kids who carry your luggage/shine your shoes/hail your tap-tap at the airport (but be alert for pickpockets).

Sometimes visitors to Haiti walk about handing out candy or dollar bills. While many people, especially children, will accept your offering, this is offensive to most people as it compromises the dignity of Haitians. Carry an extra water bottle and food to share with your driver, guide, or interpreter.

Be patient as nothing moves fast in Haiti. Most people will find your whining amusing at best and severely insulting at worst.

Carry a few photos of the area where you live, your workplace, or your family to share with friends you make. These are the things that transform you from just another tourist into a real person. More often than not, the people will return the favor, and you might just find a friend.

Your emotions are real. It is okay to feel overwhelmed if you have not experienced this type of culture difference before. If you are easily affected by signs of poverty, Haiti is not for you. Be polite but not intrusive. It is normal to ask questions of the locals. Remember that you are a guest in their country. Do not expect to be treated as a king or a queen (though you might get some extra privileges) because you are foreign. Haitians are warm and helpful people.

The people on the Gonâve Island have quite possibly less contact with Americans than say those Haitians in Port-au-Prince. The children shout "blan, blan, blan" as white people walk by. The children on the saline flats will readily walk with you, show you how to skip stones off the water and try very hard to communicate with you. They may try to charge you for picking up a shell from the flats and up to $6 to take a picture of their donkey. You do not have to pay, but out of respect, do not take the picture. They appreciate being asked if you may take their picture.

Hear about travel to Haiti as the Amateur Traveler talks to Daniel Noll & Audrey Scott from uncorneredmarket.com about travel to this rather ignored Caribbean country. 

 

Vibrant colours, friendly people, classic cars rattling down potholed streets, interesting geology, amazing beaches. Rum. Cigars. Music. Cuba is spectacular.

The country’s turbulent history has left it stranded in time in some regards: there are only 21 cars per thousand residents, pay phones are still a major form of communication, the Internet is almost completely absent. A visit to Cuba means cutting yourself off from the world a little (or a lot) — it’s a full immersion experience.

Pinterest pinPin me on Pinterest!Tourists are a major source of income for the country in general and for local people in particular; sometimes we felt like walking wallets as everyone wanted a share of our money. We were constantly saying no to offers of taxis, meals in restaurants, drinks in bars, erotic services. It’s understandable though: while the socialist government makes sure everyone has the bare minimum to survive, locals don’t have a lot of luxury. The tourist dollar is a way to supplement the average salary of less than US$20 a month.

Despite this, we found Cuba to be very reasonably priced: we stayed in casas particulares (local houses that rent out rooms) rather than hotels, and picked up snacks from street vendors rather than always eating out. Transport was the big expense, but didn’t break the bank, tours weren’t too expensive either, and a mojito in a bar could cost as little as US$2.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 312 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

Where is Cuba?

Cuba an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. The main island is the largest in the Caribbean, and the country also includes thousands of smaller islands as well. The US and the Bahamas are to the north, Mexico is to the west (Cancun is a 45-minute flight from Cuba’s capital, Havana) and Jamaica is to the south. A chain of Caribbean islands stretches off to the east, starting with Hispaniola, the island which houses both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

A tiny bit of Cuban history

Cuba was inhabited by various mesoamerican tribes until 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed and claimed it for Spain. After 400 years of Spanish rule, it was briefly ruled by the US after the American-Spanish war, and gained independence in 1902. The twentieth century was a turbulent one, most notable for the Mafia invasion during American Prohibition followed by the 1959 revolution which overthrew a dictator and brought in Fidel Castro as leader of a now-communist society.

This revolution saw all land holdings over 400 hectares appropriated by the government, with no compensation given to the landowners. Since a huge proportion of the land seized belonged to US citizens, the USA was understandably angry and not only stopped all trade with Cuba, but also prohibited its citizens from visiting the country. President Obama has recently overturned the embargo, so Americans will be able to legally visit very soon. This, along with the loosening of restrictions for Cubans to start small businesses means that change is on its way to Cuba — visit now if you want to see a society on the brink of change.

Cayo Jutia beach CubaCuba is pretty great for beaches.

Get to Cuba

Some cruise ships stop at Cuba, but there aren’t any ferries at present to other countries. This will be changing soon when US Americans have free movement to Cuba; we found several websites advertising ferry services from Florida, which will start operations as soon as it’s permitted.

This means that you’ll almost certainly arrive by air, and probably into Havana. The easiest way to get into the city is by taxi, which costs 20-25 CUC. Until recently, passenger flying out of Cuba were charged a 25 CUC departure tax: this was abolished on May 1, 2015.

A car in Trinidad, a href=The best way to get around Cuba is by taxi… and that might mean a car like this one.

A word about money in Cuba

We read a lot about Cuba before heading there, and most of the articles dwelt heavily on the country’s dual currency system. It’s nowhere near as hard to grasp as these articles will make you think — don’t worry about it!

The currency you’ll be using the most is the convertible peso, or the CUC. It’s pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, so one CUC is the same as a US dollar — easy, right?

The other currency is the moneda nacional (MN or CUP). One CUC is worth 24 MN, and it’s definitely worth carrying some of these, in a separate wallet if possible. You can use them to buy street food like pizza, pastries and sandwiches, as well as drinks and ice cream from vendors or fruit from street carts. If you don’t have any MN on you, many vendors will accept CUC and give change in MN — just make sure to give the smallest denomination possible as they won’t have change for 20 CUC.

Many government-run shops will now accept both currencies and display prices in both CUC and MN. Apparently the dual-currency system is on its way out, but this might take some time!

A typical Havana street. A typical Havana street.

Getting money in Cuba

It can be a challenge to get your hands on Cuban cash. It’s not transferable outside of the country, so you’ll have to wait until you’re there to get it, and that often means standing in ridiculously long lines. The information below was correct as of mid-December 2015.

We decided to rely on plastic, and had no problems withdrawing cash from the ATM at the airport using a Visa debit card. There are ATMs on the departures floor and at the exchange office outside Arrivals. (Turn right out of the door, and — if no-one is using the ATM — talk to the security guard to skip the queue.)

Our Visa Debit worked everywhere, however, most regular debit or MasterCard debit cards don’t work at all, and US cards won’t work either. You can also withdraw from a Visa credit card, but you’ll get charged interest immediately on the amount you take out so it’s not an economical option.

There’s a 3% fee on all ATM withdrawals and currency exchanges, so when we withdrew 800 CUC at the airport, it cost us US$824 plus our normal bank charges.

The other way is to bring cash and change it at a bank or cadeca exchange office. Don’t bring US dollars as there’s an extra 10% tax on them: pounds, euros and Canadian dollars are your best bet. Be prepared to wait in line, usually outside the office: a security guard allows one person to enter at a time.

Trinidad CubaGoing to Cuba can feel like going back in time.

Where to go in Cuba

Havana

Havana seemed to be crumbling around us, with many buildings in a bad state of repair and piles of rubbish decorating the streets. It’s an interesting place to wander around; though — we used an app to explore the main sights but didn’t go into any of the museums. Make sure to see the Capitol building, the pleasantly asymmetrical cathedral, the Castillo de Real Fuerza fortress, and the Partagas tobacco factory. Walk along the malecón (seawall) and buy snacks from the peso shops of street vendors using moneda nacional. We did a tour of one of the tobacco factories, which was very interesting, though quite short. Tickets cost 10 CUC and you have to buy them from any one of the big hotels in the city centre, not from the factory itself.

Viñales

Viñales has boomed in recent years to become a tourist hub. Almost all of the houses are casas particulares and budget street food is hard to come by. It’s worth a visit though: do a tour of the national park on foot or by horse to see tobacco and coffee plantations, visit a cave and swim in a small lake. It’s also a good base for heading to one of the beaches on the northern coast: Cayo Levisa and Cayo Jutias are both around 60km and 90 minutes drive away. Going to Cayo Levisa means hopping on a day tour as going independently is a lot more expensive; we chose Cayo Jutias as it was a little cheaper to get there and seemed less commercial and more laid back.

Viñales, CubaViñales, Cuba

Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara

Just an hour or two away from each other, these three colonial cities are all worth a visit. We spent two days each in Trinidad and Cienfuegos, and just visited Santa Clara for the Che Guevara memorial. Trinidad was great for the nightly outdoor concerts at the Casa de la Musica, and Cienfuegos charmed us with its beautiful colonial buildings and seaside location.

Other destinations in Cuba

Twelve days isn’t enough to scratch Cuba’s surface. We limited ourselves to the western side of the island due to time constraints, but there’s plenty to see on the other side as well. We’ve heard that Santiago de Cuba and Guardadlavaca are interesting cities, and there’s snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking opportunities all over the place. There’s no overnight hiking possible: everything we found out about required a guide, a park fee and only comprised 4-15km loops (1-4 hours, maximum hiking time).

Eating in Cuba

Rumours of terrible food in Cuba didn’t match our experience there. Perhaps because new private restaurants have a financial incentive to ensure customers enjoy their food and come back for more, we found the food to be pretty good, on the whole. There was certainly a lot of rice and beans, but in almost every restaurant we could choose from chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or lobster, and side dishes of vegetables were also available. For variety, we had the occasional hamburger or pasta dish, and bought snacks from street stalls in moneda nacional.

As well as eating in restaurants, we also had dinner in our casa particular at least once during each stay. We found the food to be excellent in each case, and the price (7 or 8CUC per person) to be fair. If you’re travelling solo, prices may be a little higher to offset the labour-to-income ratio.

Drink and smoke

Cuba is famous for rum, and for good reason — it’s fantastic. We stuck to Havana Club, the best quality of the brands available, and also the brand you’re most likely to find in bars. Choose from white rum (3 year old) or barrel-aged darker varieties, such as our favourite, the Añejo 7 años. Our cocktail of choice was the mojito, but the daiquiri was also created in Cuba if you want to try it out.

We don’t smoke as a rule, but a few puffs on a Cuban cigar is an experience worth having. Buy your cigars from a temperature-controlled store if at all possible, and never buy on the street. You can tour the cigar factory that produces Partagas, Romeo y Juliet and Cohiba in Havana and see the more casual way cigars are rolled in the tobacco plantations near Viñales.

A tobacco farm in Viñales, a href=Visit a tobacco farm while you’re in Viñales, Cuba.

Get around

The Viazul buses provide a comfortable journey between Cuba’s main cities, but places are limited in high season and you’ll need to buy your tickets (in person) a day or two in advance. Your other option is to hire a car and driver, which we found to be the most convenient way to travel as we were a group of four. Prices are similar to what you’ll pay for the bus, though you might be able to negotiate a small discount if you’re lucky.

Solo travellers can book a seat in a car travelling in the direction they’re heading, though drivers might try to cram four people in the backseat to earn more money. You can ask for advice at the Infotur office in each city, or your casa particular host might have a contact for you.

Classic car in a href=Cuba is full of awesome classic cars.

Warnings

Most Cubans earn less than US$20 per month, which isn’t really enough to live on. Tourists represent a chance to earn more, and while many people have legitimate businesses, others make a living through scams. Jineteros (touts) are a constant issue: they get a commission if they take you to a casa particular or restaurant, so you’ll end up paying more than you should if you show up somewhere with one in tow. Some restaurants seemed to charge different prices depending on the day, and Craig was once charged three times as much as he should have been for a lemonade by a waitress who wanted to line her pockets. It’s hard to avoid all the scams all the time, even for experienced travellers, so be prepared to be ripped off at least once during your trip.

Final thoughts

Cuba is a fascinating country that’s slowly incorporating capitalist values into its socialist system. You’ll undoubtably be frustrated by its contradictions, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

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On the slopes of the seven hills that surround the city of Medellín in Colombia, life is pretty good. Children play in the streets. Retirees relax in the parks. Workers bustle to and fro as street vendors hawk arepas — maize pancakes topped with cheese, avocado, and more. When I visited the “City of Eternal Spring” in 2014, named for its year-round balmy temperatures, I found its steep residential neighborhoods filled with spaces for art and theater, verdant parks, schools, and public libraries.

It hasn’t been this way very long. In the 1980s and 1990s, Medellín was the most dangerous city in the world. An urban war involving multiple drug cartels, including the Medellín Cartel led by Pablo Escobar, spiked the city’s homicide rate to more than 800 per 100,000 people in 1993. In barrios like Santo Domingo, which were largely built by refugees from the surrounding countryside, crime was a daily fact of life—and police that tried to intervene paid with their lives.

But today the city’s homicide rate sits around 20 per 100,000, far lower than cities like New Orleans and St. Louis. According to Numbeo’s quality of life index, which takes into account factors like life expectancy, crime rate, purchasing power, healthcare, and more, the city ranks alongside New York City, Turin, and Doha. What changed?

The answer glides silently overhead. In 2004, the city’s then-mayor, Sergio Fajardo, cut the ribbon on a scheme that must have seemed ridiculous at the time: a cable car, running from Santo Domingo down to the metro line that snakes through the center of the city. What use was a ski lift in a place where the temperature has never dropped below 46°F (8°C)?

The Medellín cable car system.

But, local politicians argued, the idea made a great deal of sense. The steep sides of the Medellín valley make traditional rail transit impossible. Buses get stuck in the city’s perpetual traffic jams, resulting in a commute to the center that takes at least two hours — each way. A cable car, its growing crowd of supporters said, would let the population of Santo Domingo soar over the dense, irregular neighborhoods below, reaching their destinations in minutes, not hours. It would let them become a real part of the city.

“I grew up with an idea of fear, of danger, of exclusion of those areas,” says Pablo Alvarez Correa, a Medellín local who offers free walking tours of the city, describing his first ride on the cable car. “I decided to go when a friend came to visit me from abroad. It was absolutely amazing. It was very interesting to be able to see the state of development of those areas; to understand that many things had improved for them.”

Those improvements were quantified in a 2012 research paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. A team of U.S. and Colombian researchers compared violence in city neighborhoods that had access to the new cable car with similar areas that didn’t, both before and after it was built. “The decline in the homicide rate was 66% greater in [cable car] neighborhoods than in control neighborhoods,” they wrote, “and resident reports of violence decreased 75% more in [cable car] neighborhoods. These results show that interventions in neighborhood physical infrastructure can reduce violence.”

Urban renewal has been focused around the Medellín cable car stations.

Correa concurs that these areas are much safer than they had been previously, noting that the cable car project marked the beginning of greater investment in these previously neglected areas of the city. “The cable car brought the library, and then next to the library they built a little park, and then they built an entrepreneurship center where they empower people from the community to get access to credit or to get coaching in some idea that they had,” he explains.

“Then because tourism started, someone said, ‘Maybe we can start selling street food in these areas where the tourists go by.’ It’s not only about the cable car and that’s it, but it is using it as an excuse or as part of a program to bring many other services.”

Today, the cable car system in the city has been dramatically expanded. Line K, the original line that connected the metro system with the neighborhoods of Acevedo, Andalucía, Popular, and Santo Domingo, was joined by line J in 2008, and line H in December of 2016. A more tourist-oriented line L opened in 2010.

“Before, those areas with the cable car were extremely dangerous, and now they have become the jewel of the crown of Medellín” says Correa. “Now they are very proud because that’s where people come to visit.”

No one knows who invented the first cable-propelled transit system. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, and the technology was almost certainly developed independently in several locations to solve local problems. The first records of people transported by cable-drawn systems go all the way back to a brush drawing of a ropeway (below, centre) in South China in 250 B.C.

Researching the topic can be difficult, primarily because there are seemingly hundreds of different ways to refer to slight variations on the same basic principle. Spend 10 minutes looking into the subject and you’ll find people talking about gondolas, aerial tramways, ropeways, cableways, téléphériques, funiculars, funitels, inclined lifts, and many more.

Historical illustrations of aerial ropeway transportation systems.

“That is actually one of the fundamental research problems that people encounter with the technology,” says urban planning consultant Steven Dale, founder of online cable car resource The Gondola Project, who has dedicated his career to the topic. “The blanket term we use for all the technologies collectively is ‘cable-propelled transit systems’: any system that is supported and propelled by a cable,” he adds.

“There’s probably about a dozen different sub-branches, and those are things like an aerial tram or a jigback, or a pulse, or a mono cable, or a bi-cable. The word gondola is specific to the cabin, but it’s become a kind of catchall term to be used for the system as a whole, particularly in North America. Cable car is another catchall term. It actually technically refers to a very specific type of cable-propelled transit system, but it is so commonly used that we stopped fighting that battle a couple of years ago. We realized it was a pointless battle to fight.”

Cable cars (which I’ll try to stick with for the duration of this article) are very good at solving a specific but increasingly common problem — how to transport cargo or people across topographical obstacles. “Remember topographical doesn’t just mean natural — it can mean man-made as well,” says Dale. “We see all sorts of problems where there’s a 12-lane highway between point A and point B, or there’s an industrial park, or there’s some man-made piece of topography that creates a barrier to access.”

That’s exactly the problem that a Croatian bishop named Fausto Veranzio faced in 1616. One of the earliest urbanists, the Pope had called him to Italy to help deal with the frequent flooding of the Tiber River, which he solved with an ingenious water regulation system. While in Italy, Veranzio wrote and published a book called Machinae Novae, which depicted 56 different inventions, machines, devices, and technical concepts.

Images from Fausto Veranzio’s ‘Machinae Novae,’ 1616.

Inspired by the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci a century earlier, his inventions included several types of mill, a universal clock, wind turbines, a parachute, suspension bridges, and, most interestingly for us here, an aerial lift that crossed the river on multiple ropes. The drawings earned him a global reputation and were so popular that they were even reprinted in Chinese a few years later.

Not long afterwards, in 1644, a Dutch engineer named Adam Wybe was given the task of figuring out how to move large amounts of soil over the Motława River in Gdańsk, Poland, to construct defensive fortifications. His solution was to build the world’s first modern cable car.

Etching of Adam Wybe’s ropeway conveyor in Danzig, by Willem Hondius.

The machine was supported by seven wooden pylons, some 650 feet [200 meters] long, and inspired by existing ropeways. But Wybe nonetheless chalked off some significant firsts. He was the first to use a looped cable (as opposed to a rope), the first to put multiple vehicles on the same cable (120 wicker baskets which could be automatically unloaded), and the first to create a system that was in constant motion (driven by a team of horses).

The Industrial Revolution saw the widespread proliferation of the railway, with automobiles following not far behind, but the period following the Second World War was something of a second renaissance for cable car technology. Shortages of fuel, rubber, steel, and concrete made road and rail transport tricky, particularly in Europe, but cableways required very little in the way of construction materials and were seen as cheap, efficient, and reliable.

The most impressive relic of this time can still be found in the dense pine forests of northern Sweden. In 1942, a group of 1,500 men were hired to clear a path for a ropeway that would take ore from a mine in Kristineberg to Boliden, where it could be processed. Designs were based on a 26-mile [42-kilometer] cableway that had been built a year previously in the center of the country, but this time the material would be traveling much farther — an enormous 60 miles [96 kilometers]. That makes it the longest ever built, even today.

Construction was rapid, and the first ore gondola was sent down the cable on April 14, 1943—more than four months ahead of schedule. The system, named the Norsjö Ropeway, ran for 43 years before it was shut down in 1986, when heavy trucks finally became a more economical way to transport the ore. Today, only an eight-mile [13-kilometer] stretch survives, converted to passenger transport as a tourist attraction.

It wasn’t only Europe where cargo ropeways proved popular. In 1954, a French-American company began mining manganese in Gabon, but the nearest reliable transport route — the Congo-Ocean Railway — was more than 155 miles [250 kilometers] away, across rough terrain.

George Perrineau, an engineer, was tasked with constructing a transport link between the two and he chose to construct a cableway system — the COMILOG Cableway. The route ran from the mine in Moanda to a town called Mbinda, where a new branch of the railway was built to link up to the existing tracks and take the metal to ports in the Republic of Congo. Comprised of 10 sections, the cableway was equipped with 2,200-pound [one-tonne] buckets that could carry manganese 24 hours a day. It operated until 1986 when the government of Gabon, looking to ship the metal through its own ports, routed a new railway to the mine.

The ability of cable car systems to easily link up with existing transport infrastructure, as seen in the COMILOG cableway example, is a key reason for their third modern renaissance — this time as mass transit.

“Imagine a theoretical city where your home is one mile away from the nearest metro stop,” says Dale. “Servicing that last mile is incredibly inefficient. We have [public transport] funding problems because we have to get people to the subways, to the metros, through that last-mile problem. That’s where our inefficiencies mostly build up — because we use inefficient technologies like buses and streetcars.”

But cable cars, Dale says, are ideal for fixing that problem — particularly when you factor in topography. “They can provide very high-frequency service — less than a minute wait times — at a very comparable cost to buses and streetcars. In a first-last-mile problem, they’re beautiful — basically acting as feeding systems.”

He adds: “With a cable car there is virtually no incremental cost in adding capacity and lowering wait times. With a streetcar or bus system, the incremental cost is significant — in order to expand capacity or lower wait times, you need to buy/run more buses/streetcars and then staff them as well.”

In Medellín, this factor made a real difference to the success of the scheme — the cable car system there is fully integrated into the metro network, so riders can use one ticket for both. “Everything is in one zone,” says Correa, “meaning that someone who lives in the poorest barrios can reach the industrial areas paying less than a dollar. The metro started closing the chasm in those economic terms. The price drops because now they don’t have to take two buses.”

Part of the now-defunct coal transportation cableway between Adventdalen and Longyearbyen in Norway.

That success has been noted worldwide. Countries around the globe are now rushing to construct cable car systems in much the same way that they were rushing to construct monorails a few decades ago. The success of the Medellín project inspired its local neighbor, Caracas, to construct its own mass transit cable car, as well as other projects in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Colombia’s capital, Bogotá.

In Iran, the Tochal Telecabin system carries winter sports enthusiasts from the city of Tehran to the enormous Tochal ski complex. In Armenia, the Wings of Tatev cable car ferries religious tourists to the Tatev monastery year-round. Mexico City has a proposal for a cable car, as does Haiti, Vietnam, Lagos, Mombasa, and many other places. The list of current proposals that The Gondola Project tracks is enormous.

“There are a lot of proposals out there,” says Dale. “The majority probably won’t get beyond the proposal stage. That doesn’t negate the validity of the technology.”

Even when they’re built, not all modern cable car projects succeed. In London, in July 2010, the city’s transport authority announced plans for the U.K.’s first urban cable car. Called the Emirates Air Line, the proposal was for a privately funded cable car for pedestrians and cyclists between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

Planning permission was granted, and construction began, but the cost of the project — originally pegged at £25 million [$31.25 million] — swiftly rose to more than £60 million [$75 million], making it the most expensive cable system ever built. “As someone who happens to know a little bit about cable transit systems, let be me completely blunt,” wrote Dale at the time. “There is absolutely, positively, completely no reason whatsoever this project should cost London taxpayers ~$100m USD. Not a single good reason.”

The Emirates Air Line cable car, named after its sponsor, opened on June 28, 2012, a month before the start of the 2012 London Olympic Games. A total of 34 carriages operate at the same time, with a maximum capacity of 10 passengers each. Crucially, the system — despite appearing on the Tube map — is not integrated with the rest of London’s transport network. Passengers must purchase an extra ticket, costing £3.50, to use it.

While the cable car proved immediately popular among tourists visiting the city for the Olympics, its usage fell swiftly once the Games were over. In November 2012, passenger numbers dropped to less than 10 percent of capacity. For every 10,000 rides, only one was made by a regular commuter. Today, those statistics have been lifted slightly by special, tourist-focused night flights (which serve alcohol) but aren’t much better. The project began to attract major criticism, mostly over its taxpayer funding and location.

The towers of the Emirates Air Line cable car, from the north bank of the River Thames.

In 2015, Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown said that he expected demand for the cable car to grow as the areas that it serves are developed (some dispute this). He also noted that the service has built up a £1-million [$1.25-million] operating surplus. But the reputation of the cable car among Londoners is very poor (attracting the derogatory nickname “dangleway”), and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

help its scary up here

🙁

— EmirateDangleway (@Dangleway) 28 de marzo de 2016

Dale picks out the fare structure and the way the system was sold to Londoners as key reasons why the Emirates Air Line is unpopular, though he insists that it’s not a failure in his eyes. “Your narrative around the system is essential,” he says. “Understanding what you’re trying to do. Are you selling this for tourists? Are you selling this for locals? Is it a hybrid approach where there’s a combination of the two?”

He adds: “Tied to that narrative is your fare structure, because your fare structure is what’s going to determine how this thing makes money or not. So you’ve got to make sure to figure out how to get that right, and that ties into your narrative. They’re two completely different demographics. And if you don’t price those markets differently, you’re leaving money on the table and you’re alienating your locals.”

On The Gondola Project’s blog in January of 2016, Nick Chu wrote: “If anything, the Emirates Air Line is a fascinating case study that offers many important lessons on how cities should, and should not implement urban cable cars and public infrastructure. Aspiring gondola-cities would be wise to pay attention to and learn from its successes and failures.”

The rest of Europe is no doubt cautiously eyeing London’s experience with the Emirates Air Line. In 2021, Paris hopes to become one of the first European cities to implement a modern cable car system aimed at commuters. It’s not trying to be a tourist attraction, nor does it replicate existing transit links. Instead, it hooks up the endpoint of one metro line with more distant suburbs separated by a highway and a steep ridge — exactly the kind of problem that cable cars are great at. It’s being considered in the context of a wider, long-term effort to fix transport issues in Paris’s suburbs.

But Paris isn’t alone — the city of Gothenburg in southern Sweden also has grand plans to build a commuter cable car across the Göta älv River to mark the city’s 400th anniversary. The person in charge of the project is Per Bergström Jonsson, and when I meet him in the city traffic authority’s offices on a cold January morning, he’s surprisingly candid. “When I first got it on my table, I thought, ‘What kind of crazy idea is this?’” he says.

It’s not the city’s first cable car. In 1923, a line was built between the Götaplatsen square and the Liseberg theme park to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city. A century later, the technology is back. “We got the idea from the Gothenburgers,” Jonsson says. “But we have started to realize that cable car technology has big advantages if you compare them to tram lines, or bus lines, or other public transport technologies.”

The 1923 Gothenburg cable car.

The city’s new cable car will run from Järntorget square, over the river to the Lindholmen campus and science park, then up to Wieselgrensplatsen where it meets one of the tram lines that radiate out from the center of the city. The aim is to create a shortcut that people can use to transfer between those tram lines without having to go all the way into the center.

“Two and a half million [people] is at least what we are quite certain will use the cable car as a shortcut in the public transit system,” says Jonsson. “They are already using the transit system, and they will gain from using this as a shortcut. On top of that, we will have tourists, we will have new travelers, and we will have travelers that are pedestrians or cyclists that will change to using the public transport system because of the cable car.”

One interesting unknown is what percentage of users will be scared of heights. “It should be somewhere between eight percent and 12 percent, but we really don’t know,” Jonsson says, admitting a little sheepishly that he’s a member of that group.

“But you must have been on a lot of cable cars,” I say.

“I’ve been in some, and some of them are quite scary,” he replies.

In Sweden, building a new public transport system is a cooperation between the municipality, the region, and often the state, too. The country’s consensus-based decisionmaking culture means that things tend to take a little longer than they might in other countries, so final approval — the “point of no return,” as Jonsson calls it—will arrive in mid-2018. “After that we will start building,” he says.

While the politicians deliberate, his office is in the process of securing the various building permits for the construction — no simple task. The bottom of the cable cars will need to be at least 148 feet [45 meters] above the surface of the river, so that boats can pass underneath. On land, they must pass 98 feet [30 meters] above buildings. “That’s a fire restriction, actually,” says Jonsson. “If you have a fire in the building, so that the cables won’t melt from the fire.”

So far, the public favors the idea. “About 75 percent of Gothenburgers like the idea of traveling with cable cars. Almost 70 percent even like the idea of having the cable car outside their house. That’s remarkably high, so far,” Jonsson says. “The general way of seeing the cable car project is a little bit too cheerful, I think,” he adds, stoically.

To preempt complaints, his office has been actively asking citizens what worries they might have — so they can be solved in the planning phase, before construction begins. The biggest fears are privacy, Jonsson says, and rider safety. “It’s a driverless system. We will have people on the platforms, in the stations, but not in the gondolas, and the ride is four-minutes long. Things could happen during those four minutes. I think that if we don’t solve that in a way that the Gothenburgers accept, we will not build it.”

Gondola designs in Per Bergström Jonsson’s office.

Early ideas to address the rider safety issue include a high frequency of gondolas (“If you are uncomfortable with the persons that you’re about to board with, you can wait,” says Jonsson), safety cameras, a communication system, a staffed cabin every half-hour, and even the ability to reserve individual gondolas at low-traffic times.

Jonsson is also keen to emphasize that the Gothenburg system will be integrated into the city’s tram network — unlike the Emirates Air Line in London, which he describes as “badly planned.” Ridership will be heavily weighted toward locals, who’ll outnumber the tourists at least 10 to one, but Jonsson says that the final numbers will be heavily dependent on how close they can get the cable car terminals to the tram stops. “If we get one and a half minute’s walk, it will be 5,000 [people per day],” he says. “If we have 30 seconds’ walk, it will be 13,000.”

Most impressive of all, though, is the technology that will go into the cable car system itself. The Gothenburg scheme will run on three cables — two for support and one for pulling. That allows for up to almost a half-mile [one kilometer] between towers and exceptional wind stability. Traffic on the city’s bridges is limited at wind speeds of 49 m.p.h. [22 meters per second], but Gothenburg’s cable car should be able to operate safely at speeds of up to 60 m.p.h. [27 meters per second].

“The London system, which is a monocable, shuts down at 14 metres per second [31 m.p.h.]. It’s down about 30 days a year due to wind, and that’s not acceptable for us,” Jonsson says. I ask how many would be acceptable. “One,” he says. “Perhaps a half, one every second year. The cable car won’t be the first system to be shut down when we have bad weather, it will be the buses and the ferries.”

The scheme is due to open on June 4, 2021, and if it’s a success then more lines will follow — along a similar principle of creating shortcuts in the existing transit network. “We will have the first one up and running for one and a half, two years, to see if it’s a good idea,” says Jonsson. “If it turns out to be a popular way of transporting yourself, we will start building the next one four years after that.”

While reporting this story, there was one city that kept popping up — La Paz. The Bolivian capital has the most extensive network of cable cars in the world, named Mi Teleférico, stretching nearly seven miles [11 kilometers] across the city, with another 18.6 miles [30 kilometers] under construction. Cars depart every 12 seconds, seating 10 passengers each, yielding a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour — a true “subway in the sky.”

“It’s building the backbone of the city’s transit network on cables, and that’s never been done before,” says Dale. “When I said before that they’re really ideally suited to first-mile problems, feeding into a higher-capacity system, La Paz is really challenging that idea, and saying — ‘Hold on a second, why don’t we use this as our trunk, as our main form of public transit’—which is totally unique.”

Ekkehard Assman is the head of marketing for Dopplmayr, an Austrian firm that specializes in the manufacture of cable cars. To date, the company has built more than 14,700 installations in 90 different countries — including the system in La Paz. “It’s more or less the first real cable car network in a city,” he says. “Three lines are already working and have already transported more than 60–70 million people since they began running in 2014. In addition, we’re on the way to building six more lines and I heard a couple of days ago — they’re not signed yet, these contracts — but President Morales has already talked about two more lines.”

Mi Teleférico combines best practices from all around the world. Prices are rock bottom — about 35 cents for a ticket—while usage is almost all local. “There’s not a lot of tourist things going on there,” says Assman. “It’s more or less pure urban transport.”

Mi Teleférico in La Paz.

While the system opened in 2014 amid the growing global craze for cable cars, the city’s precarious topography means that the idea has a much longer history than other projects. In the 1970s, a team working under councilman Mario Mercado Vaca Guzmán planned a route between the neighborhoods of La Ceja and La Florida. In 1990, a feasibility study for a similar route was performed, but ultimately rejected over high fares and low passenger capacities. In 1993, mayoral candidate Mónica Medina included aerial transit as a campaign promise, pledging a system of interconnected cable car lines.

The idea kicked around for another two decades until July 2012, when Bolivian President Evo Morales called together the mayors of La Paz and El Alto and the governor of the La Paz department and finally got them to make it happen. Funds were provided by the country’s national treasury and the Central Bank of Bolivia, and the doors of the cabins opened for business on May 30, 2014.

Like in Medellín, there have been enormous positive effects on social mobility — the cable car runs between La Paz and the neighboring El Alto, a poorer area with a majority indigenous population. Travel between the two areas has historically been difficult, due to a 1,300-foot [400-meter] altitude difference, but the cable car system has broken down the physical barriers between the two dramatically different populations — and perhaps a few of the psychological ones, too.

As a technology, cable cars have a lot of factors in their favor. They bridge tricky terrain. They efficiently get people to and from bigger mass transit systems. They’re cheap to build and maintain, and the newest designs are safe in even extreme weather conditions. They’re modular, quiet, clean, and run on electricity rather than polluting fuel.

It’s also clear that the technology has to power to effect major, positive change in the world’s cities. It’s not as simple as slapping down a cable car and inequality disappears. “Something that we, in Latin America, have learned is that you cannot copy and paste models and expect them to work perfectly,” says Correa. But if integrated well into existing transit networks, sold properly to the locals, and suitably priced, they can deliver tremendous benefits — both to underserved communities and cities as a whole.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the technology is the reaction that it generates in people. When confronted with the idea of cable cars as mass transit for the first time, some people respond with horror or fear, others with mirth or excitement. “I think it’s just… what’s the phrase? Lightning in a bottle, a perfect storm, something like that,” says Dale.

In his job as a cable car consultant, he speaks a lot to city planners who’ve been told to go away and research the subject. “I’ll be honest — the first thing that half of our clients say to us when we pick up the phone is: ‘Is this the stupidest idea I’ve ever had?’ You can hear it in their voice, you can hear fear,” he explains. “Because they know if they get it wrong, they’re going to be jumped on at work, they’re going to be humiliated, people are going to laugh at them and all of this.”

The best part of the job, Dale says, is watching people come around to the idea. “I get a thrill, quite honestly, from being able to take people from a place of thinking, ‘This is the most ridiculous idea in the world’ to a place where they go, ‘This actually isn’t ridiculous at all.’

“So many of the decisions that get made in the urban planning sphere are emotional decisions, and to see [planners] actively confronting that fear, that is unbelievably rewarding and unbelievably exciting.”

This post was first published here as part of How We Get To Next’s Going Places series. It is reproduced here under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Visiting a developing country can provide some of the most authentic cultural experiences and human interactions on the planet. But it also can pose challenges, especially to those unaccustomed to the rigors of traipsing through countries with modest economies, or widespread poverty, or few tourism facilities. Or all of the above.

uganda africa country road

More so than travel through Western nations with well-established tourism infrastructure, visiting developing countries requires flexibility, diplomacy and patience -- and the keen ability to shelve preconceived notions about a place.

We queried three frequent travelers to developing countries to cull their best tips.

1. Do your research.

Online and print guidebooks are, of course, useful for researching a destination before traveling, but the information can be out of date. This is especially true for guidebooks that may not be big sellers and thus are not updated with regular frequency; developing countries often fall into that category.

As soon as she knows she is going overseas, Brittany G. Lane of Washington D.C. says she sets up a Google Alert for the country she's visiting. "Two days before I went to Tunisia there were major protests. The U.S. media hadn't reported on it yet, but Google Alerts picked up French and British news reports that were useful for me to read," said Lane, a research associate for The Urban Institute, which works on local governance issues in developing countries.

Message boards, such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum or the TripAdvisor forums, are excellent spots to seek out advice from seasoned travelers to your destination. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are also good places to survey other travelers.

10 Hardcore Tips for Frequent Travelers

2. Learn to communicate in the local language.

Before you visit any country, you should learn a few basic expressions in the local language. This especially holds true in nations where English may not be taught in schools nor widely spoken. Yes, you should learn the basics -- "hello," "please," "thank you," "can you help me?" -- but also try to learn even more. Not only will this help you navigate better, but you'll also help create goodwill along the way.

3. Study local traditions and taboos.

Study them before you depart using resources such as CultureCrossing.net, a compendium of social customs around the world, and ViewChange.org, where videos from developing countries offer a glance at everyday life. But also "spend the first couple of days just observing," Lane said. Before her trip through North Africa, Lane said she received conflicting advice about whether to wear a head covering. After a few days in-country, the answer became clear. (Not necessary in most places.)

4. Constantly assess risks.

What do you do if a local family invites you into their home for a meal and it's difficult to decline their offerings? "You have to assess the risk and decide if getting sick is worth it," said Michael McColl, director of communications for Ethical Traveler, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Emily Sollie is the director of communication for Lutheran Relief Services in Baltimore and a frequent traveler to such countries as Haiti, India, Mali and Nicaragua. She recalls being welcomed to a rural village in Nicaragua by a group of poor women who offered her and fellow travelers homemade salads. Generally, it's not a good idea to eat raw vegetables in countries where the quality of the local water could be questionable.

"They were lovely looking and we wanted to eat them, but we had to turn them down," Sollie said. "We were gracious, but it was still awkward."

Traveling through a developing country will likely involve such risk assessment on a daily basis -- and not just about food. Is it safe to walk alone at night? Is that hotel clean and secure? Are you at risk of getting robbed on that train?

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

5. Choose transportation wisely.

Speaking of transportation ... developing countries may have their own modes of transport, but not all of them follow rigorous safety standards. If you aren't able to fly aboard an internationally recognized major airline, for instance, be sure you seek out info on a local airline's safety records. Same goes for trains and buses.

Input the company's name and the term "safety record" or "crash" into an online search. That's how Lane learned of a June 2012 Dana Air accident in Nigeria that killed all passengers as well as 10 people on the ground due to a suspected dual engine failure. "I had the choice recently to fly through Nigeria on that airline, and I chose not to," she explained.

6. Avoid giving to money to strangers.

It's one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of travel: someone obviously in more need than you asking for money.

"Begging is not natural behavior for most cultures," said McColl, who has visited more than 50 countries. "They probably learned it from other travelers before you -- travelers who were not thinking through and taking responsibility for their actions."

Better than giving the person in need a few coins from your pocket, McColl said, is to help those in need through a community organization, such as a local nonprofit, church or school. Seek out a respected local leader, and ask about a community initiative that feels like a nice fit for you. Alternately, you could research an organization once you get back home, or support a nonprofit organization that serves the community you visited.

child begging in cambodia

7. Don't give handouts to children.

Similarly, avoid giving items to children, no matter how tempting it may be, McColl recommends. "It could condition them to do it again, perhaps becoming more aggressive in doing so in the future," he explained.

You could avoid such potential negative impact by instead giving the item to the parents, a teacher or other community leader, McColl recommends. School supplies are always welcomed -- much more so than candy, especially in communities where regular dental care isn't readily available. You could also research in advance the needs of a community -- basic medical supplies or clothing, for instance -- and bring those items.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

8. Understand the role bribes play in some places.

In some French-speaking countries in Africa, it's known as a cadeau, or "gift." We might think of it as a bribe, but here's a case where shelving that preconceived notion is imperative. Paying such fees is a reality in many countries, and a few soles or rupees aren't going to break your bank.

Arguing over paying a so-called bribe could prove to be more trouble than it's worth. "It's not your time to make a stand against the rules of the country," Lane advised.

That being said, you should know the difference between a small fee and a full-on shakedown. Again, doing your research in advance should help you determine this.

9. Bargain fairly.

A lot of countries operate on bargaining, and taxi drivers or street market vendors fully expect you to haggle. Be fair when you do so. Again, a few extra coins aren't going to hurt you, but you also shouldn't walk away from the transaction feeling ripped off. For more haggling help, see Shopping Abroad: A Traveler's Guide and Let's Make a Deal: Haggling Abroad.

10. Eat and drink cautiously.

The standard overseas eating and drinking rules apply in developing countries; our article, Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling, covers the basics. Sollie only drinks water from bottles that are sealed when she herself opens them. Iodine tablets are useful if you need to purify water. (Read Drinking Water Safety for more options.)

Lane also always totes a stash of protein bars. "I find that I tend to make bad food choices if I'm really hungry," she said. You can stave off that hunger and thus be in a better position to make smart decisions if your stomach isn't growling.

11. Learn to listen.

This tip is taken directly from Ethical Traveler, and may very well be the heart of any travel experience. As an article on the group's website says: "Travelers from the USA in particular should be aware that many people -- especially in developing countries -- believe that having the ear of an American is tantamount to having the ear of America. So wherever you're from, listen well -- and with respect -- to all points of view."

We hear you.

You May Also Like9 Things to Do When No One Speaks EnglishHow to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul FlightGet Our Best Travel Deals and Tips!Write About Your Latest Trip

--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Haiti: A Coloring Book for Grown Ups

Richar

Coloring isn't just for children. Explore Haiti through these intricate, hand drawn pen and ink drawings of typical scenes, landmarks, and favorite icons. Use your imagination to bring to life the market scenes with their vibrant fruits and vegetables, the sugarcane fields in their shades of green and brown, or the ocean with tropical fish, busy fishermen, and colorful dugout boats.

Includes 32 original drawings. Printed on heavy white paper on one side only for easy coloring and removal.

Haiti (Bradt Travel Guide)

Paul Clammer

This is the only stand-alone guidebook on Haiti on the market and is packed with practical information covering accommodation, eateries, travel routes, wildlife and vodou. A comprehensive section on birdwatching and insightful information on Haiti’s rich artistic and musical heritage ensure the guide appeals to both birdwatchers and cultural enthusiasts. Paul Clammer discusses the medicinal merits of Haitian rum, how to catch a Port-au-Prince taptap (bus) and how to check into the Graham Greene suite of the Hotel Oloffson. 

Haitian Creole Phrasebook: Essential Expressions for Communicating in Haiti (NTC Foreign Language)

Jowel C. Laguerre

The essential terms you need to communicate with the nation’s 8-plus million Haitian Creole speakers

If you are travelling to Haiti to help with the relief effort or to aid in its rebuilding, Haitian Creole Phrasebook is your must-have resource. In addition to featuring content specifically related to relief and rebuilding, this book also covers the basic topics such as introducing yourself, asking for directions, giving instructions, or asking for information. A separate section is devoted to key words and phrases related to relief efforts from communicating with medical personnel to construction and engineering terminology

Features:

A mini-dictionary includes essential vocabulary for quick reference An 30-minute audio download that features key words and phrasesVital vocabulary and phrases relevant to relief and rebuilding processes

McGraw-Hill will donate a percentage of sales to the Haitian rebuilding effort.

Topics include: Basic Vocabulary, Basics of Haitian Creole, Greetings and Wishes, Expressing Preferences and Opinions, Numbers, Time, and Weather, Family, People, and Description, Communication, Living and Working in Haiti, Transportation and Directions, Money and Shopping, Accommodations, Food and Drink, Specialized Vocabulary, Earthquake, Construction Rebuilding, Relief Effort, Medical Vocabulary, Security, Resources

Lonely Planet Dominican Republic & Haiti (Travel Guide)

Paul Clammer

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Dominican Republic & Haiti is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Follow in the footsteps of conquistadors in Santo Domingo, claim a spot in the sand at Playa Rincon, or visit Haiti's mighty Citadelle la Ferriere; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Dominican Republic & Haiti Travel Guide:

Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries show you the simplest way to tailor your trip to your own personal needs and interests Insider tips save you time and money and help you get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - including hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, and prices Honest reviews for all budgets - including eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, and hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer and more rewarding travel experience - including customs, religion, history, art, literature, music, dance, sport, architecture, politics, landscapes, and wildlife Over 39 local maps Useful features - including Month-by-Month (annual festival calendar), Dominican Republic Outdoors, and Top Experiences Coverage of Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince, Playa Rincon, La Vega, Damajagua, Cabarete, La Citadelle la Ferriere, Punta Cana, the Peninsula de Samana, Port Salut, Lago Enriquillo, Pico Duarte, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Dominican Republic & Haiti, our most comprehensive guide to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is perfect for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less traveled.

Looking for more coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Caribbean Islands guide for a comprehensive look at what the whole region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Paul Clammer, Michael Grosberg, and Kevin Raub.

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travelers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

City Maps Port-au-Prince Haiti

James McFee

City Maps Port-au-Prince Haiti is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities and the list goes on and on. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city. This city map is a must if you wish to enjoy the city without internet connection.

Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti

Amy Wilentz

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, this is a brilliant writer’s account of a long, painful, ecstatic—and unreciprocated—affair with a country that has long fascinated the world.A foreign correspondent on a simple story becomes, over time and in the pages of this book, a lover of Haiti, pursuing the heart of this beautiful and confounding land into its darkest corners and brightest clearings. Farewell, Fred Voodoo is a journey into the depths of the human soul as well as a vivid portrayal of the nation’s extraordinary people and their uncanny resilience. Haiti has found in Amy Wilentz an author of astonishing wit, sympathy, and eloquence.

Dominican Republic 1:400,000 & Haiti 1:350,000 Travel Map (International Travel Maps)

ITM Canada

Double sided map on durable synthetic paper, suitable for tropical conditions. One side includes a travel map of the Dominican Republic 1:400,000 with name index and an inset of central Santo Domingo. The other side includes a travel map of Haiti 1:350,000 with name index and an inset of central Port-au-Prince.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica

Zora Neale Hurston

Based on acclaimed author Zora Neale Hurston's personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica—where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer during her visits in the 1930s—Tell My Horse is a fascinating firsthand account of the mysteries of Voodoo. An invaluable resource and remarkable guide to Voodoo practices, rituals, and beliefs, it is a travelogue into a dark, mystical world that offers a vividly authentic picture of ceremonies, customs, and superstitions.

Exercise a high degree of caution; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Neighbourhoods of Martissant, Carrefour, Bel Air and Cité Soleil, in the Port-au-Prince area (see Advisory)

These areas continue to be dangerous due to criminal activity and the local authorities' lack of capacity to ensure order. Personal safety and a police presence are not guaranteed. The police are unable to respond in a timely manner to calls for assistance in these areas, and it is strongly advised to avoid going out after nightfall.

It is imperative that Canadians travelling to these areas have suitable accompaniment. You must ensure that you are expected by family members, friends, colleagues, local business representatives or organizations able to meet you as soon as you arrive at the airport or border, and to guide you in your travels. The use of public transport of any kind is not recommended. As the security situation can change at any moment, check with the organizations, institutes or hosts that are taking care of you to receive the latest updates on the region to which you are travelling.

National Carnival

The National Carnival will take place in Gonaïves from March 2 to 4, 2014. Expect large crowds and traffic disruptions. Be particularly vigilant during this event.

Crime

The security situation is hazardous and very unpredictable. Remain extremely vigilant wherever you are in the country. Criminal activity is especially evident in large centres such as downtown Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs continue to operate. Many gang leaders escaped from the national penitentiary during the January 2010 earthquake and are still at large. Others have fled the capital.

Although travel in the parts of the country less affected by the earthquake presents less of a risk, exercise extreme caution and do not travel after dark.

There have been several recent reports of violent incidents along Route Nationale 2 from Petit‑Goâve (Ouest Department) to Miragoane (Nippes Department). Criminal gangs have committed robberies by erecting roadblocks. If you have to travel through this area, remain extremely vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.

There has recently been an increase in armed robberies targeting travellers, particularly foreigners of Haitian origin, arriving on international flights at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. In most cases, the victims’ vehicles are followed by criminals on motorcycles. Be extremely vigilant when leaving the airport.

Murder, kidnapping, armed robberies, burglaries and carjackings have been known to occur even in daylight hours. The general Haitian population, regardless of social class, can be considered at risk of being kidnapped. Although rare, there have been kidnappings involving Canadians and other foreign nationals, including missionaries, aid workers and children. Most victims have been released after a ransom was paid. In some exceptional cases, however, victims have disappeared or have been killed.

Never walk alone. Keep windows closed and doors locked when travelling by car. Avoid showing visible signs of affluence, such as expensive-looking jewellery or cameras. Remain cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship or hospitality. Foreigners, including Canadians, are viewed as wealthy. If confronted by thieves, do not resist.

Remain alert to small groups of loiterers, especially near your residence. Keep doors and windows secure at all times. Instruct domestic staff to permit only pre-authorized visitors whose identities have been verified into your home. Keep all visitors under close surveillance.

Avoid photographing individuals without first obtaining their approval. Be cautious when photographing scenes in poor or urban areas, where people may feel exploited or insulted by being subjects of such activities.

Demonstrations and unrest

Haiti periodically experiences social unrest, particularly during election periods.

Demonstrations are frequent, and protest marches and strikes may occur at any time in the capital, throughout the country and on main highways. Local transportation services may be disrupted. Avoid large crowds, as they can turn into violent demonstrations. Monitor the situation through local news broadcasts and stay inside during political gatherings and demonstrations. Be aware that curfews could be in effect.

Rioting and related violence can occur on little or no notice.

Road travel

Already narrow and poorly maintained, roads were made worse by the January 2010 earthquake. Most vehicles are also in poor condition. Few traffic lights operate and those that do are limited to urban centres. Traffic signs are rare. Driving at night and in bad weather should be avoided, even in the city. Streets are rarely lit, and unlit vehicles are common. Vehicles are often abandoned on or beside the road. Many people drive while intoxicated and do not respect traffic rules.

Since there are periodic disruptions of fuel supplies, fuel tanks should always be kept at least half full.

Because of the lack of police and roadside assistance services, you should carry a mobile phone and a list of contact numbers in the event of an emergency. However, coverage for cellular telephones can be intermittent in some rural areas.

Public transportation

Avoid all public transportation, especially informal taxis (“tap-taps”) to and from the airport. Buses are mechanically unreliable and overcrowded.

Marine transportation

Ferry accidents occur due to the overloading and poor maintenance of some vessels. Do not board vessels that appear overloaded or unseaworthy.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Caribbean, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Caribbean. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Caribbean, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, malaria and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria throughout the year in the whole country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss the benefits of taking antimalarial medication and to determine which one to take.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in the Caribbean, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Health care services were severely affected by the January 2010 earthquake, particularly in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs, as most hospitals and emergency health care centres were either severely damaged or completely destroyed. Already scarce and below Western standards prior to the earthquake, health care services tend to be overwhelmed easily. Emergency response is not guaranteed, as there are not enough ambulances to provide adequate service. Life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense. Outside the main centres, basic emergencies may not be handled in a timely manner.

Physicians and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical care.

Medications sold in Haiti may be of inferior quality to those available in Canada. Pharmacies may carry expired medications.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs can result in lengthy legal proceedings, heavy jail sentences and fines. Canadians have been arrested for drug trafficking after they agreed to check in bags for new acquaintances.

Laws

A Haitian driver's permit, which is required for vehicle operators staying more than three months, may be obtained on presentation of a valid provincial driver's licence or an International Driving Permit (IDP). For stays under three months, an IDP is recommended.

Legal fees can be very high and judicial procedures are slow. Some Canadians have experienced a lengthy detention period (in some cases, over a year) before being sent to trial. Prison conditions in Haiti are extremely difficult. Penal facilities are overcrowded, unsanitary and under-resourced.

Money

The currency is the gourde (HTG), but prices are often quoted in Haitian dollars (fixed rate of 5 gourdes to 1 Haitian dollar) or U.S. dollars.

Most leading hotels accept major credit cards. American and Canadian travellers’ cheques are rarely accepted, and Canadian currency is never accepted. Canadian bank cards may be used to access funds from some automated banking machines (ABMs), but the withdrawal limit is much lower than in Canada. Haitian ABMs have proved unreliable in the past and should not be depended upon in emergency situations. Be extremely vigilant when using ABMs in Haiti due to a high risk of robbery. It is advisable to deal directly with a teller.

Climate

On January 12, 2010, a strong earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck close to Port-au-Prince. The earthquake caused widespread loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure. Power and telecommunications are still severely disrupted. Health services remain extremely limited.

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities. Flooding and landslides have caused tremendous damage to many parts of the country in the past. Travel to affected areas can be severely restricted and could be hazardous.