Haiti’s small size means that flights are short (no flight is longer than 40 minutes), saving hours on bad roads. The planes are small, typically carrying 16 passengers or fewer. One-way tickets usually cost around US$100.
In villages you may see people getting around on bicycles. It is far less common in cities, and not a recommended form of transport for tourists.
Public boat taxis are common and relatively affordable in the north and south of Haiti for transport between locations not connected by roads. Hiring private boats is less economical.
Getting around Haiti by bus and minibus isn’t always comfortable, but it’s the cheapest way to travel within the country, and services run to most places you’ll want to get to. Sturdy beasts, buses have the advantage of taking you to places that you’d usually need a 4WD to reach.
Large, air-conditioned buses transport passengers comfortably between major tourist destinations. But seating in minibuses is designed to squash in as many people as possible, with six across being the norm. Your space is numbered, however, so look for the numerals painted above your head as you clamber through the bus over the assembled passengers and their bags (and occasionally chickens, too). When buying your ticket it’s worth asking for a window seat to give yourself some extra air. Try not to sit too far back either – passengers sitting behind the rear axle are regularly bounced unceremoniously into the air. The front cab has several seats next to the driver, attracting a premium of around two-thirds of a standard ticket.
With some exceptions noted in the text, there are no timetables; buses leave instead when they’ve collected their quota of passengers. Buying a ticket in advance is possible for long distances (Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien or Jérémie, for example), but be advised that the hour you’re told to be at the bus station will invariably be at least an hour before the bus pulls onto the road. Overhead racks and space below the seats should be sufficient for most bags, otherwise they’ll have to go on the roof (the baggage handler will want his tip). Although baggage is usually covered, rainstorms can still soak through, so keeping your belongings in plastic bags inside your luggage is a good idea.
Each town has a departure point for buses, known as ‘estasyon’ followed by the destination name (Estasyon Port-au-Prince, for example). They’re not proper bus stations, rather sprawling, chaotic and noisy conglomerations of vehicles and people and market stalls: Haiti in microcosm. Touts shout out destinations, which are also painted on bus fronts. While you’re waiting for the bus to leave, there’s a constant procession of hawkers and street-food vendors, so you won’t go hungry. Some even travel with the bus – traveling goods salesmen selling everything from toothpaste to miracle cures.
Upon arrival in their destination, buses turn into pseudo-taxi services, stopping at the roadside at passengers’ request. This can be done by pressing a buzzer or yelling ‘merci, monsieur’ to the driver. While this may be great for getting dropped right outside your chosen hotel, it can be maddeningly frustrating as the bus stops every 50m or so to drop off yet more people and their assorted baggage.
Breakdowns aren’t uncommon, but can sometimes provide relief from the terrible roads, or allow a much-needed food or toilet stop (it’s not uncommon to need to squat by the roadside occasionally). Otherwise food or rest stops can be rare.
Car & Motorcycle
Although having your own wheels is a convenient way of seeing Haiti, be aware that you need both nerves of steel and a sense of humor. Terrible roads, a lack of road signs, and the perils of wayward pedestrians and oncoming traffic are all part of the mix.
In order to drive or rent a vehicle in Haiti, you need either a valid International Driving Permit or a current license from your home country. It is an offense to drive without a valid driver’s license on your person. Carry your passport with you at all times, as the police will want to see it if they stop you for any reason.
Many international car-rental companies operate in Haiti, mostly based near Port- au-Prince’s international airport. Rates are pricey due to the high rate of accidents and road conditions that cause a lot of wear and tear. Although fees vary from company to company, don’t be surprised to be quoted around US$80 for a saloon, or US$150 for a 4WD per day. Although insurance is offered, it isn’t always comprehensive and often carries high deductibles; furthermore, foreign drivers are often held liable for accidents whether they are at fault or not.
It’s best not to come with high hopes in regards to Haiti’s roads. With the notable exception of the well-maintained highway from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel, the main roads are potholed and cracked. Secondary roads are worse, with some becoming impassable, especially after rain, except in a 4WD. Wherever tarmac allows drivers to get some speed up, accidents are common, so it’s sometimes worth thinking of the broken roads as an efficient traffic-calming system.
Avoid driving at night if at all possible.
Road rules are extremely lax, but most vehicles at least aspire to drive on the right. Drivers rarely signal, so expect cars to swerve out in front of you suddenly, usually to avoid a hole. When overtaking, use your horn liberally. Many drivers far prefer the horn instead of the brakes, so take heed. Always beep to warn people walking that you’re coming, and they will make way – even in the most congested street, you can usually miraculously slip through.
If you have an accident, you must stop your car and call the police as soon as possible.
In cities, watch out for parking restrictions. Instead of issuing tickets, police are liable to remove your license plates, returnable from the local police station on payment of a fine. When parking, kids or men may approach you to be a gardien and watch your vehicle for you for a small fee.
It’s extremely unusual to see foreigners hitchhiking in Haiti, but due to the low rate of car ownership and unreliable transport systems, Haitians are used to asking for a rue libre (free ride). As with hitchhiking anywhere in the world, there’s a small but potentially serious risk in flagging down a ride. If you do get picked up, don’t be surprised if the driver asks for some money – keep public-transport fares in mind so that, should you strike someone trying to extort silly amounts from you, you’ll know what not to give and what you’ll be expected to pay for the ride. However, some Haitians will be baffled by the sight of a foreigner without a vehicle and will just pick you up out of curiosity.
The quickest and easiest way to get around any town is to hop on the back of a moto-taxi (motorcycle taxi), often just referred to as a ‘moto’. As with publiques (collective taxis), these have transport license plates, and in some towns the drivers wear colored bibs. A trip will rarely cost more than about US$0.75, although rates can climb steeply if you want to travel any serious distance. Motos in Port-au-Prince are more expensive than elsewhere.
Moto-taxis can have two passengers riding pillion, although it’s not recommended. If you have luggage, get the driver to place it between his handlebars, rather than unbalancing yourself with it on your back. Although pot-holed roads don’t always allow the bikes to attempt high speeds, many drivers seem to have a fatalist’s view of their own mortality, so don’t be afraid to tell them to slow down.
If you want to wear a helmet, you'll need to have one with you. This is a very good idea, considering how people drive in Haiti. Moto drivers and passengers are regularly injured and even killed in accidents.
Taptap & Camionette
Smaller vehicles than buses ply the roads carrying passengers. A taptap is a converted pick-up, often brightly decorated, with bench seats in the back. Fares are slightly cheaper than a bus. The same rules for buses apply to taptaps, which leave from the same estasyon: they go when full, the comfy seats next to the driver are more pricey, and you can hail one and get off where you like. They’re usually packed like sardines (the answer to how many people you can fit in a taptap is invariably ‘one more’), so carrying luggage places you at a disadvantage. Expect a few bruises from the hard bench seats, bouncy roads and sharp elbows.
Taptaps are better suited for short trips, and in many areas are likely to be the only feasible way of getting around. In Port-au-Prince, taptaps run within the city along set routes and are by far the cheapest and easiest way of getting from A to B: fares are usually US$0.25.
Halfway between a taptap and a bus is the camionette. This is a larger truck designed primarily for transporting goods, but which also takes human cargo. Often open-sided, or with crude windows cut out of the truck body, these are very cheap and as basic as they come. There are no seats, just a few ropes dangling from the ceiling for people to hold on to. A foreigner riding in a camionette will get such looks of incredulity from a Haitian that it’s worth trying one for the response alone. Certainly, don’t do it for a smooth ride.
Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien operate collective taxis called publiques for getting around town. You might find them hard to spot initially, as they look like any other battered car, but look for the red ribbon hanging from the front mirror and license plates starting with ‘T’ for transport. Once you spot one, they’re everywhere. Charging set fares (usually about US$0.70), they roughly stick to particular routes. After you hail a publique, the driver will let you know if he’s going your way (minor detours are usually fine). The usual tight seating arrangement is two in the front and four in the back.
When you get into an empty publique, the driver will sometimes remove the ribbon, indicating a private hire with resulting increased charge. If you want to ride collectif (with other passengers), now is the time to let him know. Alternatively, settle the fee before he drives off, not on arrival.
Major towns sometimes have radio-taxi firms with meters.