Updated: Jul 21, 2021
...and why it was the vacation I did not realize I needed so badly
DISCLAIMER: Before making the decision to travel, you must take your comfort levels and health risks into account. You only know what is best for you! However, if you do decide to travel, make sure to do thorough research on local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19. Be advised that travel rules are in constant flux, so make sure to research the tourism board or embassy for the most up-to-date.
It had been over a year since I stepped onto a plane and stepped foot on international soil. It was only fitting that Haiti would be my first trip to mark my return to travel as I returned to my motherland!
As much as I adjusted to not traveling for a year and just exploring locally, I did not realize how much I yearned for flying, for having my passport checked, for walking through customs. I decided to dip my toes back into travel by taking a guided group tour with a company that has successfully traveled during a pandemic AND with someone I know that pays careful attention to detail. I also wanted a place that required a short flight so I did not have to worry about putting my mask down to eat for an extended flight. I chose Haiti because of its very low reported COVID rates (at the time, 13,000 out of 11.2 million people had been positive, which is 0.1% of the population and only 254 deaths). The reasons are still unknown. However, there are many speculations. Hence, I set off on a 6 day vacation to Haiti earlier this spring!
At the time that I traveled, Haiti required a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before boarding (which is different from 3 days) no matter what country you were coming from. Haiti accepts either antigen or PCR test (polymerase chain reaction). Passengers who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 and have recovered do not need to present the negative test result, provided they have authorized documentation confirming their recovery.
When searching the current COVID-19 guidelines for Haiti around COVID-19 test, I turned to the Haiti section of the U.S. embassy website. I also made sure to search the restrictions in place to return home to the United States.
Since my trip was on a Thursday at 6:30 AM, I took my PCR test on a Monday afternoon. I received my results Wednesday morning. I tried to limit my exposure to anyone before traveling as I not only did not want to risk exposure, but also risk transmitting to others. Fortunately, since I work from home, that was very easy to do. However, self quarantine is not a requirement.
TIP: Take a PCR test since it is accepted by all countries. Make sure to have a printed copy since I have heard of some people having issues at the airport.
A. Airport and Flight
I traveled through LaGuardia airport and connected in Fort Lauderdale. Let me tell you....everyone and their mama is traveling! I got to the airport 4 hours before as that is what is advised by Spirit Airlines. For a 6:30 AM flight, that meant the terminal was EMPTY. The workers did not arrive until about 3:30 AM and did not start checking people until closer to 4:00 AM. At that point, it was not crowded. However, once I got to the gate, there were lots of people.
3:00AM vs. 5:00 AM
B. CDC Guideline Implementation:
Not much social distancing was implemented. However, there were seats labeled guiding people to skip seats. In terms of lining up to board, there was no social distancing at all. However, all staff wore masks, and some wore gloves. All passengers were required to wear a mask at the airport and on the flight. The only time you are allowed to take it down is to eat and for facial recognition of your ID/passport before going through security. Since it is Spirit airlines, I do not recall getting any wipes!
TIP: Bring a pack of wipes, gloves, and sandwich bags so you can wipe down all surfaces with gloves on and just discard it in a sandwich bag.
TIP: Occupy two seats in order to ensure that no one sits next to you. It also becomes a good place to put your bag. I would wipe that down as well!
C. Checking of COVID-test:
Since I booked for a carry-on, I was not required to show my COVID-test where you would check-in a bag. However, they checked for it at the gate before I boarded the plane. There was a woman who walked around the line to save time before we scanned our ticket.
TIP: Have your ticket readily accessible for easy access as you will be asked a few times between flying to your destination and once you are at your destination.
In flight, we were required to fill out a green documentation for customs. There was not a document related specifically to COVID-19. This completed form is collected after landing when you are going through customs.
I received a temperature check by an airport staff as soon as we landed and it was written down on a separate document we had to fill out for contact information (for tracing purposes). I believe some health questions were asked as well.
Waiting to enter into the small terminal, there was some normalcy with the usual warm welcome with a local band!
If you were not born in Haiti, you will be asked (like me) to pay $10 USD tourist fee CASH ONLY on arrival at the airport. You will head to the left lane to pay. You will then move on to be processed and given the green customs form.
TIP: Make sure to have exact change!
NOTE: You must make sure to keep the small card as you will need it to depart Haiti! Someone on our tour group lost it and they gave her a hard time.
Experience While Traveling
Coming from New York, it was particularly jarring to come to Haiti. Very few locals on the street wore a mask. I think a big cause of that is Haiti has had reasonable low rates. Unfortunately, Haiti does not get a large amount of tourists, so sites we saw were not crowded.
In the hotel, there are more policies in place. When you had to grab food from the common area, you were required to wear a mask. They will also point it out if you forgot to put your mask on. The workers around the breakfast area also had a mask while the workers behind the bar did not.
Everything is pretty much open 100%. I was not aware of anything that was closed due to the pandemic. As a result, things were packed. In one dinner spot for example, the place was at full capacity. There were probably 50 people on the dance floor in close quarters with no masks.
I will admit that I felt uneasy at times because no one was wearing a mask. Think about your level of comfort/discomfort. Utimately, however, it was an amazing trip and everything turned out fine!
UPDATE: Haiti currently has a total of 16,079 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 1,034 since June 4. There have been 25 additional deaths as well, bringing total deaths to 346. As a result, the Government of Haiti has implemented measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Mask wearing is required both in public and in instances where social distancing cannot be maintained.
To enter back into the US, you are required to to get tested no more than 3 days before you travel by air into the United States (US) and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight, or be prepared to show documentation of recovery (proof of a recent positive viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel). It can be a PCR or rapid antigen test.
My tour host arranged for us to get tested on Sunday morning for our Tuesday afternoon flight. The nurse came to our hotel. However, I saw that the hotel did have a sign with information on where to get tested.
We received our results within a few hours! At the airport, the check-in agent asked for the COVID test results. When you have to go through customs, they ask for the bottom of the green documentation card.
Similar to the USA, everyone has to wear a mask at the Cap-Haitien Airport. You are required to wear a mask on the plane. No one checks for your COVID results once you arrive in the USA.
TIP: Take a screenshot of your results and boarding pass when you have WiFi at your hotel, just in case you don’t have good signal or if you are like me and don’t want to pay for international service.
Traveling in 2021 is a bit different than before. For most locations, you cannot simply just book a flight and show up. You need to think about protocols, curfews, and policies. It can be quite stressful to be honest. However, the stress is worth it once you land in a new country and enjoy your vacation! It was completely worth it. Keep in mind that most countries’ tourism industries have been impacted greatly and so you will also be supporting them when you travel.