The Haiti Bucket List: 10 Top Things to See and Do In Cap Haitien
Updated: Jul 1
Haiti has always had a special place in my heart. It is the land of my ancestors. It is a land rich in history. It is also a land of beautiful landscape. It is why I keep returning, despite people’s misconceptions due to the very distorted aspects shown in the media. You are probably wondering: What is Haiti best known for? What can you do in Cap-Haitien for free? Are there cheap things to do in Cap-Haitien? How safe is Cap Haitien? Is Haiti dangerous for tourists? What are the top attractions to visit in Haiti?
2021 was my third time in Haiti and second time in Cap-Haïtien, which has motivated me to update this post with five more experiences you should check out when visiting Cap-Haïtien. Check this post out for the Top Ten things to see and do when visiting Cap-Haitien. Many of these things are tourist attractions in Haiti. Make sure to check out Cap-Haitien today! Read below for places to visit in Haiti.
Located on the Northern coast of Haiti (Nord Haiti), Cap-Haïtien is considered Haiti’s “second city”, although it is the sixth most populous city in Haiti. It is a city rich in history, nicknamed the Paris of the Antilles due to its wealth and sophistication as reflected in its architecture and art during the colonial period. From 1711 to the Haitian Revolution almost one hundred years later, it was the capital of the French Colony, Saint-Domingue -- in fact, it was once the richest French colony in the Americas. During this period, this city’s name changed multiple times: Guarico during Spanish colonization, Cap-Francais during French colonization, Cap-Haitien after Haiti’s Independence, Cap-Henri during King Henry Christophe’s reign , and then back to Cap-Haitien. Many people today call it “Le Cap” or “Okap.”
1. Hike to La Citadelle Laferrière
You cannot visit Cap-Haïtien without visiting La Citadelle Laferrière, located in the historic Haitian town of Milot. This is Haiti’s top touristic site for good reason -- it is rich in history and breathtaking views. The structure itself is an amazing feat, which is why it is often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.. The largest fortress in the Americas, La Citadelle is a large mountain hilltop fortress. It was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. You must read this post before going on this hike so that you are the most prepared!
2. Roam around Palais San Souci
Another place near La Citadelle that you must visit is the Palais San Souci, which translates to “no worries.” This palace was King Henri Christophe’s main palace out of his 9 palaces, 15 chateaux, many forts and summer homes located on his 20 plantations. This was co-named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site with La Citadelle.
3. Hang out along Le Boulevard:
When in Cap-Haïtien, you must stroll on Le Boulevard, which is the main street along the waterfront filled with several restaurants and a lively nightlife. Walking by during the evenings, you might find live music or a DJ playing in a restaurant. To find out the best restaurants to go to, check out my itinerary.
4. Bois Caïman
This site is very significant to Haitian History, and arguably all of World Black History. It is where the slaves gathered to announce the start of the revolution in August, 1791 led by Dutty Boukman. At this site, which is a hidden cave, you will see where they hid and made offerings to their African ancestors in order to help them successfully defeat the colonizers. You will find some offerings that people still make today in that space. Nearby is a statue of Dutty Boukman.
5. Kassava House
Kassava is a popular starch in Haiti, often eaten in a cracker form with peanut butter spread or with milk. There is a kassava house where you can see the entire process for yourself as well as sample and purchase. For the name of the spot, check out my itinerary.
6. Buy art at Marché Artisanal
You cannot go to Haiti without admiring (and purchasing) some art work. Haiti is known for it’s amazing art in various media -- iron, canvas, wood. This tourist art market is a great place to purchase some of this beautiful artwork.
7. Fort Picolet
This hike is a very difficult one because you have to walk up and down broken rocks (which into stairs) and cross the beach with lots of washed up debris and rocks. By the time I returned from this hike, I ripped my pants and my sneakers were soaking wet. However, it is well worth it for the postcard views. Fort Picolet, built in 1741, is the third and largest of the three fortifications north of the Carenage neighborhood in Cap-Haitien. This fort has not been specially preserved or restored, so it truly is as authentic as it gets. The French built this fort, along with others in the area, in the early 1700’s. Once you make it to the fort, you will find cannons ready for any impending attack, and steep steps to deter from any potential invasions. It is located near some rough waters to prevent people or ships from reaching the area. This is surely one of the lesser known sites in Cap-Haitien.
8. Paradise Bay
For a more beach vacation vibe, one place worth checking out is Paradise Bay. To get to Paradise Bay, we drove to Labadee to board a Luxury yacht from @Balance Haiti. As you are sailing closer and closer, you become more and more in awe. You are surrounded by lush green mountains and turquoise, calm waters. I felt like I was approaching the Ko Phi Phi Islands of Thailand. We stayed at rented houses that were built on the sides of mountains for our time there. We enjoyed our time on the beach with barbequed chicken and freshly caught seafood that was cooked.
During our time in Paradise Bay, we had no cell phone service, no internet, or TV. However, with the beauty of the island there is no need. You will wake up to beautiful views of glistening waters. Our house was walking distance to a gorgeous beach. To get from one house to another, we used these motorized wooden boats, which also got us back to Labadee to depart for our trip. Overall, my time at Paradise Bay was simply...paradise.
9. Swim on Amiga Island (Île-à-Rat)
Amiga Island, in my opinion, was a once in a lifetime opportunity considering its location and history. Location wise, it is a very remote island that we could see from the distance during our stay in Paradise Bay. It was the true definition of being isolated from everything. Historically, legend has it that Christopher Columbus would come here and spend "alone" time with his mistress. Columbus also "met" Native Americans here. It's called Amiga Island because he found the Native Americans to be friendly. Amiga Island was also believed to have medicinal rhubarb. Turns out that the rhubarb was only weed! Being on this island during Columbus Day weekend felt like I was reclaiming my island. The island is surrounded by the clearest water and white, powdery sand that I have seen. It is hands down the best beach that I have experienced in the Caribbean so far!
10. Explore village of Labadee
Labadee is typically known for being a cruise port for Haiti. It was quite interesting to see the juxtaposition of "cruise life" and true village life from the motorized boat. You will quickly notice from the boat or when driving into Labadee that one side is sectioned off for cruise travelers. There are tons of beach chairs and water sports set up in the water. There is even a fence built to separate the property owned by cruise ships and the land being currently constructed.
However, from a distance, you will notice the actual village of Labadee where the locals are gathered in large crowds on Sundays playing Kompa music and chatting. You also notice them selling Kola Champagne or other local products. It reminded me of why it is important to have a local experience when traveling. It reminds me why taking a cruise does not give you anywhere near the accurate depiction of the country. The village of Labadee felt authentic!