Cap-Haïtien is the second largest city in Haiti with a population of 275,000 in 2015. It lies along a bay on the northern coast of the country.
When Haiti was the French colony of Saint Domingue, the city was the colony's capital, then called Cap Parisian or Cap Francais. Following independence, it was briefly the capital of the monarchy established in Haiti's North by King Henri Christophe, who built a magnificent palace, Sans Souci, and giant citadel, Citadelle Laferriere, the largest fortification in the Americas, nearby. The country was unified upon Christophe's death in 1820, and the capital moved to Port-au-Prince.
Today the city is a busy port and has a number of nice beaches nearby.
Cap-Haïtien's airport is called Hugo Chavez International Airport (CAP), renamed from Cap-Haïtien International Airport in 2013. It is a few miles from downtown. A flight from Port-au-Prince takes about 30-45 minutes. Taxi drivers will ask for up to US$20 to take you into town, but $10 or even $5 is more reasonable. The airport is small and has very few facilities: no ATM, for instance.
Caribbean Air provides excellent charter flights for missionary groups from Ft Lauderdale to Cap-Haïtien. Cabin service and bathroom available on 30 passenger flights.
Tortug'Air, a local airline, has also flown to Cap from Port-au-Prince.
The city is small and compact enough that you can walk most places. There are, however, many taxis and motor-taxis available. Most restaurants and bars are in the central, gridded part of the city.
The downtown area is full of French colonial architecture -- it looks like New Orleans may have looked in the past. There is a wide promenade, Bouleved du Carenage, along the bay offering a nice view and sea air. A number of restaurants line the Boulevard. The downtown has shops and restaurants, but most cater to locals.
The Cathedral and Grand Place downtown are also rather impressive..
The nearby town of Milot is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sans Souci Palace and the Citadelle Henri Christophe, both built by King Henri Christophe. The palace ruins are impressive, as is the Citadelle, a massive castle that has been renovated and is really pretty amazing to see.
To the north of the city are a few beautiful beaches.
The walled Labadie (or Labadee) beach resort compound is 10 km to the city's northwest, and serves as a stopover for Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Some of the largest and most luxurious, dock weekly at Labadie. The resort is connected to Cap-Haïtien by a paved mountainous road. People not on cruises can visit the beach too for a small fee.
From just outside Labadie, you can catch a water taxi to Paradis, a beautiful secluded beach in a nearby cove. There's a tiny tiki bar and locals will catch and grill seafood for you if you ask. Rates vary, generally G1000 (gourdes) and up (bargain with them!)
Cormier Plage is another beach on the way to Labadie with a really nice and large beachfront hotel, restaurant and bar.
In addition, Belli Beach is a small sandy cove with boats and hotels. Labadie village could be visited from here.
The Boulevard du Carenage along the water is a nice walk and there are bars, restaurants and craft shops. Beaches north of the city are very nice, and outside of town are the Citadelle and Palais Sans Souci.
Market places dot the city with frenetic hustle and bustle. Sidewalks are crammed with vendors selling everything from charcoal to second hand bicycles fresh from Miami by boat. If it's avocado or mango season, do yourself a favor and buy some.
- 1 Tourist Market, Rue 24 & Blvd Carenage. closes around 6-7PM. A tourist market is open with a number of stalls with a lot of vendors who sell arts, crafts and souvenirs, some of better quality than others. The metalwork is pretty nice, and there's also a lot of jewelry, woodwork, clothing and paintings. The vendors are nice and it's worth a visit. A worthwhile endeavor for the city.
- 2 Kokiyaj Market and Bar & Grill, Boulevard de Carenage at Rue 26. A small supermarket on the first floor and a bar and grill upstairs, the market has all the necessities -- food, toiletries, water, alcohol and so on.
There are various restaurants, many near the waterfront or the Hotel Roi Christophe. Many places serve good seafood dishes (lobster and conch especially), French food, American food or a mix. Traditional Haitian food often includes rice and beans, flattened and fried plantains (but not sweet ones) and pikliz, a spicy cole slaw.
- 1 [formerly dead link] Lakay, Boulevard du Carénage. Probably the best restaurant in Cap-Haitien, Lakay has good Haitian food, some American and French food, and also pretty decent pizza. They have live music sometimes as well. Definitely worth a visit if you're in town. Mostly outdoor seating but they do have umbrellas.
- 2 Croissant d'Or, Route Nationale 1 (SW of downtown, just past the gate). A tasty French bakery that also sells pizza and sandwiches. Really good pastries.
- 3 Ti Boukan, Route Nationale 1 (SW of downtown, just past the gate, next to Croissant d'Or). Good Haitian restaurant and bar with outdoor seating. Good lunch too, though a little slow.
- 4 All System BBQ (Deny's), Rue 23 & Rue A. Affectionately known as Deny's, after the owner, this is a roadside, no-frills barbecue spot. Deny's specialty is a plate of barbecued chicken with a tangy sauce, fried plantains with pikliz (spicy coleslaw), avocado (in season), macaroni salad and sometimes other sides. It's tasty and inexpensive, something like G100-150. He also makes other things if you ask him, and can also do the plate to go. Deny keeps upgrading as more people visit, he has tables and chairs and has some Ikea plates too. He has lots of inexpensive Prestige beer, and if you want some klerin (Haitian moonshine) there's a stand next door. All System is an experience and Deny is super nice. He speaks Spanish, French and some English. cheap.
- 5 Auberge du Picolet, 90 Boulevard du Carnage, ☏ . The restaurant at this nice little hotel has good seafood, a tasty good steak sandwich (which is only on the lunch menu, but they'll make it at dinner too) and good pastas. The pikliz is super spicy and the rum sours are fantastic. If you stay at the hotel, breakfast is included. US$8-15.
- 6 Hotel Roi Christophe, Rue 24 B, ☏ . The Hotel Roi Christophe has a nice restaurant and a cozy bar on its large campus near the center of town. The restaurant is in a nice older wood building with art and plants and is open on two sides. Lots of Haitian and French specialties, plus pizza and burgers.
- 7 Jardins de l'Ocean, Boulevard Carenage. A nice little seafood restaurant up on a hill overlooking the ocean.
- 8 Kokiyaj Market and Bar & Grill, Boulevard de Carenage at Rue 26. Above the market is a relaxed restaurant and bar with a water view serving American Creole and Haitian food.
Most of the restaurants are also good for drinking places, but there are a few bars too.
Prestige, the local beer, is tasty, and rum drinks are popular. Barbancourt 5 star is the best local rum (and most expensive!) Try a rum sour, made with lime, lemon and sugar.
Kleren is the local moonshine which you can buy on the street or from some stores. It's strong and variously flavored -- fruit, cinnamon, even conch (sea snail!) It can be tasty but drink at your own risk, as it's often homemade.
- 1 Riarmanita, Rue D near Rue 24 (near the Hotel Roi Christophe, just up Rue D). A small, fun, standing-room-only bar located near the Hotel Roi Christophe. Nice staff, fun dance music. No sign, just look for the open door and loud music. We never knew what the place was called so we asked the owner -- it's her name, Rita, with her favorite brand, Armani. Thus Riarmanita.
- 2 Decobar, Rue A & Blvd. du Carenage (near Auberge Picolet). A noisy, fun disco.
- 1 Hostellerie du Roi Christophe, Rue 24 B, ☏ , . Nice, Old World style hotel in a former colonial mansion relatively near the center of town. Lush grounds surrounded by a big wall. Rooms start at c. $75/night with some in the mansion and others in outlying houses. Wireless internet. With bar and hotel restaurant. US$75 and up.
- 2 Hôtel Mont Joli (Hotet Montjoly), Rue 29 B, ☏ , . A nice hotel with a nicely stocked gift shop, a bar and restaurant. US$100.
- 3 Auberge du Picolet, 90 Boulevard du Carénage, ☏ . A very nice small hotel on the water on the Boulevard du Carénage. The restaurant is good and rum sours are fantastic. Breakfast is included in the bill. It's located down the street from Lakay, a nice restaurant, and Kokiyaj, a restaurant and small market with American and European items. Also near Deco Bar, a disco. US$100.
- 4 Hotel Beau Rivage, Boulevard du Carénage (near Kokiyaj Market). A decent hotel in a big old house. Visitors say it's a bit more rustic than Auberge du Picolet. Faces the bay.
- 5 Habitation Jouissant, Boulevard du Carénage (near Kokiyaj Market). A very nice and new boutique hotel located in the hills above the city. Really nice view over the bay. The bar, Lime Bar, gets good reviews too. US$90-200.
- 6 Cormier Plage, Route de Labadie (about 8 km north of the city), ☏ . A nice beach resort, Cormier Plage is on a white, secluded beach. There's a big restaurant and tiki bar and lots of rooms that face the ocean. You can hear the waves roll in. Very relaxing, and the bar has great rum sours. The restaurant has a lot of really fresh seafood -- the conch is great, as is the lobster salad. The price includes breakfast. US$92.
- TheCoOp Guest House, Rue 22 at Ave C (corner house, #12) (2 blocks from Hotel Christophe), ☏ . An affordable alternative for foreign visitors with meal-provided option. Special rates for volunteers, short-term or long-term. US$40.
- Hôtel Beck, ☏ .
- Hôtel Imperial, ☏ , .
- 7 Hotel Le Paradis S., Rue 19 & Rue N (northwest of Place des Armes and the Cathedral), ☏ . Renovated in early 2016. US$100.
Stay safe and healthy
General warnings about Haiti are true also for Cap-Haïtien, though the city is, on the whole, safer than Port-au-Prince.
Drink bottled water, even at restaurants and hotels, and use hand sanitizer before eating. Arranging transportation through your hotel maybe be safer and easier than finding it on the street, but probably a bit more expensive.
A tap-tap to Milot will cost around G15 (US$0.45), but taxis are probably a bit safer, or at least less stressful. The Citadelle Laferriere and ruins of Sans Souci Palace are very impressive and worth a visit. You can hike from the palace up to the Citadelle, but it's very steep and somewhat strenuous.
The Government of Haiti has built a ticket stand and marketplace for vendors at the foot of the trail to the Citadelle, and there you can hire a guide (recommended) or rent donkeys. You'll need to be in good shape if you don't take a donkey. The donkey rental people may just follow you for a while even if you say no, waiting for you to tire out.
A taxi to the airport from the town will cost around G100, or US$2.50. On leaving, you will be required to pay taxes of US$28 in cash. There is no ATM at the airport.