The city of Cap-Haïtien is neat to explore, though we didn’t do much of that ourselves. It reminds me of a mix between Port au Prince, Jacmel, and Santo Domingo. There are dozens of narrow streets organized in a numbered and lettered grid layout, which makes it easy to find your way around. Our hotel sent a shuttle for us, so we mostly just saw the big cathedral in town and then we checked out the “boulevard” the day we flew out and had a pizza lunch overlooking the water.
I was most excited to visit Cap-Haïtien so I could go to the Citadel (“Citadelle Laferrière” or “Citadelle Henri Christophe”). It’s less than 20 miles from Cap-Haïtien near the town of Milot. We have a friend who has an office in Milot and he let us crash there for two nights. Our first full day of the trip was our planned time to tour the mountaintop fortress. Unfortunately this was the worst day for it.
From the time we landed in Friday night, it rained almost 24 hours straight. Including our entire tour of the Citadel. We didn’t have a car, so we had to use motorcycle taxis and horses to trek the 5 miles from the foot of the mountain in Milot to reach the Citadel at the top. It’s rare that you find yourself cold in Haiti. But it’s safe to say that I was pretty miserably cold and wet. Not exactly the adventure we had planned. I pulled my camera out a few times to snap some pictures. No panoramic views like I see from everyone else’s visit. The clouds were all around us and you couldn’t see out past the border of the fortress itself. More of what I’d expect from exploring a castle on a cool day in Scotland than what I’d had in mind for my Haitian vacation weekend. But we tried to make the best of it!
The Citadel was built by Henri Christophe after Haiti gained independence from France to protect against future invasions. From The Lonely Planet: “[The Citadel] was completed in 1820, employed 20,000 people over 15 years and held enough supplies to sustain the royal family and a garrison of 5000 troops for a year. With 4m-thick walls that reach heights of 40m, the fortress was impenetrable, although its cannons were never fired in anger.”
On the way up to the Citadel you pass San-Souci Palace. “Sans souci” means “carefree” in French. This was the residence of Henri Christophe completed in 1813. It was mostly destroyed in an earthquake in 1842 and never rebuilt. We didn’t go inside because of the rain. We stopped back by the day we left Milot and took some photos from outside the gate.
Our last night we decided to splurge for a relaxing time at the beach. We stayed at Cormier Plage, about a 20 minute drive from Cap-Haïtien up and over some dirt mountain roads. Cormier Plage has nice rooms, plenty of beach chairs, some great hammocks perfect for an afternoon nap, a delicious menu, and even a masseuse on the beach ready to offer you a relaxing massage.
I definitely recommend a trip to Cap-Haïtien. I suppose I’ll keep it on my bucket list in case I ever have the chance to go back to the Citadel on a sunnier day! And I’d love to check out some of the quiet tropical beaches near Labadee. Next time!