The island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean is shared by Haiti and Dominican Republic. While Dominican Republic, an ex-Spanish colony, is more advanced than it’s ex-French colony Haiti. Struck by a massive earthquake in 2011, and constant political instability has made this country the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Having traveled to Haiti from Dominican Republic, most locals in DR advised me not to travel to Haiti – ‘you’ll get kidnapped or killed. You will surely be mugged. Avoid Haiti by all means. Why would anyone want to go there?’ so on and so forth!
There are some security issues in parts of the country like the capital Port-au Prince, so it’s always recommended to be cautious and check your government’s website for the latest updates. But cities like Jacmel in the south and Cap-Haitien in the north are not just safe, but beautiful and easy to travel.
I traveled to Cap-Haitien only during my visit to Haiti.
How to reach Cap-Haitien (with costs)?
Some U.S.-based airlines like Spirit Airlines fly direct between Miami and Cap-Haitien. But if you’re coming to the land border from Dominican Republic (DR), then you have multiple options –
- Cheapest way to travel is taking a local bus from Santiago to the border at Dajabon, and then taking another local bus from Ouanaminthe border town in Haiti to Cap-Haitien;
- A better but expensive option is to take a luxury bus from either Santiago or Santo Domingo and directly go to Cap-Haitien.
I went with option #2 and crossed the land border from Santo Domingo to Cap-Haitien on Caribe Tours bus costing RDP 1,750 (about $37) one-way. Remember that in addition to the cost of the bus, you have to pay US$37 as DR exit fee and Haiti entrance fee, which is usually added to the cost of flights if you’re flying.
Covid-19 Test Needed?:
Having traveled during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are restrictions and requirements from individual countries on entry/exit. Although Dominican Republic had lifted all requirements, Haiti required a negative PCR-Test or Antigen Test before entering. I got an Antigen test done in Santo Domingo at Amadita Laboratories. These have locations nationwide and some of them are open on weekends as well. Each Antigen test costs $37 and results come in 30 mins. You will have to go back to the lab for results, unless you’ve downloaded their app where you can get the results.
No one at the Haitian border checked the covid-19 antigen test results!
Haiti – Information
Visa: Most countries don’t need a visa to Haiti. But things change all the time so make sure to check.
Currency: Haitian Gourde (HTG), which was USD 1 = 100 HTG. Local shops prefer HTG, but USD is accepted at most places like hotels.
Languages: French and Creole are spoken across the nation, although some people may speak Spanish and a bit of English.
Accommodation in Cap-Haitien
With lack of resources and infrastructure, there aren’t many options to stay in Cap-Haitien. I booked a standard room at Hotel Des Lauriers with multiple recommendations of friends who had recently stayed here. This hotel is located on a hill overlooking the city with great views, especially during sunset. Rates differ based on the type of room from US$40 a night for a budget room (located about 30 stairs up the hill from the reception area), US$60 a night for standard room, to even more for a better room.
[View of Cap-Haitien from Hotel Des Lauriers]
Things to see in Cap-Haitien
Dating back to the 17th century, this is arguably the most beautiful cathedral in Haiti. The cathedral was affected by an earthquake in 1842, and underwent considerable modifications in early 1940s. A massive building fronting the town’s central square, it has two towers and a dome. Inside, beautiful atmospheric layout with colorful windows and sculptures.
The cathedral can be seen standing over the city from my hotel perched up the hill.
The Cluny Market in Cap-Haitien is a covered market made up of large metal halls. Located in the heart of Cap-Haitien, this is a cramped and busy market where you can find anything and everything. And if you don’t find something here, just maneuver yourself around the streets next to the market to find that!
Built in the 19th century, this is the largest fortress in the western hemisphere created for war by the French. Located on the top of a mountain, it is located just south of the town of Milot, about 18km south of Cap-Haitien. A visit to the Citadel must be combined with the ruins of San Souci Palace in the town of Milot.
Sans Souci Palace
Located at the southern end of town of Milot, the Sans Souci Palace was the royal residence of King Henri Christophe I of Haiti that now lies in ruins after multiple earthquakes.
How do you get to the Citadel and Palace from Cap-Haitien?
For security and covid-related wary travelers, you can book a private car from Hotel Des Lauriers that costs US$80 per car. This includes transportation only, and does not include the fees of the guides or entrance to the sites. But for some travelers like me, this was an expensive deal.
I decided to take the public transport from Cap-Haitien to Milot, over to the Citadel and return.
Cap-Haitien to Milot
First step is to make your way from your hotel to the ‘bus station’, where the taps-taps (local mini-buses) pick up passengers and the 18-km journey takes about 30 minutes to reach town of Milot. Take a taxi to the official bus station, and ask anyone where the tap-tap to Milot goes. It’s well-known and someone will point out to you.
| Taxis in Cap-Haitien internal
Taxis in Cap-Haitien don’t come cheap, especially when they see you as a tourist. For example, a taxi from the Lakay Restaurant to the Hotel Des Lauriers will cost anything between US$10 to US$20. Most taxi drivers will not negotiate the price because they know they are at an advantage.
But a new service called “Flex Taxi” has started in Cap-Haitien that costs HTG 250 (US$2.50) one-way. The best part is the driver will come pick you up from wherever you are and drop you to your destination for HTG 250!
Contact number: +509-4765-6543
The 12-seater tap-taps are comfortable and they wait until it gets full (doesn’t take long to fill in). Locals are helpful and will let you know where to get down in Milot. The price for this one-way ride is HTG 25 ($0.25). Pay the driver when you get out.
Milot to Citadel
I decided to visit the Citadel first and then the Palace. Upon reaching Milot, a lot of guys will circle your tap-tap offering their motobikes up to the citadel. The next 5-7 km to get you to the car-park closer to the Citadel is quite steep and can only really be done with a motorcycle taxi.
The quoted price from the motobike ‘drivers’ will be HTG 2000 or US$20. Make sure to negotiate the price, and one driver agreed to take me (and another girl traveling with me) for HTG 500 (US$5) one-way for both of us on the same bike.
Before you start the ride, you will pay US$10 per person and get the ‘ticket’ that includes both, the citadel and the palace.
The road leading up to the car-park of the Citadel is cobblestone, and it gets really bumpy! So hold on to your ride! My recommendation is to get one bike per traveler, instead of two on one motobike. We were dropped at the car-park in 20 minutes!
Citadel car-park to the Citadel
The carpark is busy with locals cooking, offering souvenirs, and locals trying to make you take the horses up. There are two ways from here up to the citadel. Note that the distance is 1.5km only.
- Hike up to the Citadel for free. The incline is fair, and it can get hot in Haiti! The entire walk in on cobblestone path which makes it easy to walk on.
- Ride the horse for HTG 1000 (US$10). The horses walk slowly and takes about 45 mins to the Citadel gate.
I chose for option 1.
After spending more than hour at the Citadel, we started to walk down and we realized that our motobike driver was waiting for us at the gate. So that was a quick, yet bumpy ride down to the Sans Souci Palace gate.
Milot to Cap-Haitien
From the Sans Souci Palace, it’s about 10 minute walk to the ‘center’ of Milot town, where you can catch the tap-tap heading back to Cap-Haitien. The cost is same (HTG 25). The tap-tap will drop you at the south-end of Cap-Haitien from where we caught a tuk-tuk (cost HTG 200) to Lakay restaurant for some lunch.
Where to eat in Cap-Haitien?
Apart from the busy market where ladies are cooking and selling some local delicacies, there are two recommended restaurants where most of the expats go –
- Lakay Restaurant – Right across from the shoreline, this restaurant has inside and outside seating. There’s a security guard with a machine gun walking around the perimeter which was intimidating but secure. The spaghetti pasta is delicious and local beers are great too.
- Cap Deli – Facing the port of Cap-Haitien, this upscale restaurant has two levels. Most people sit on the rooftop level that offers better views and a lot breeze. Their fresh pizzas are the best! (You can order food at Hotel Des Lauriers that gets delivered by this restaurant).