What are the popular things to do in Haiti? Well, let’s start at the beginning. Haiti isn’t a destination for everybody. For decades, it has been a country struck by natural disasters and shaken by political instability. It’s also the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Times are very tough for the people living here, yet the resilience they show is astounding.
But if you’re an experienced traveller or somebody seeking adventure, Haiti might be just the destination you’re after, and of the best things to do in Haiti is a visiting Cap Haitien. And there are a few things to do and see while there.
Note: Haiti has experienced some security issues in parts of the country, so it’s recommended to check with government advice before travelling there.
We crossed the land border via bus from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic into Cap Haitien, Haiti. It was recommended by friends as one of the best things to do in Haiti. We spent a few days in this crumbling colonial city that we took an instant liking to.
If you can see beyond the garbage, the polluted water and broken buildings, there are colourful shops oozing with character, well-dressed Haitians going about their daily tasks, and people getting on with the far from easy lives here with a smile and respect for each other.
Do you need a visa for Haiti?
I’m travelling on an Australian passport and Marty has an EU passport – both are visa-free. This is the same for residents of the USA. Check if you need one for travel to Haiti as things change.
Languages: The people speak French and Creole. (Even knowing the basics in French will help you a lot during your time here). You will also meet some people who speak Spanish and a little English.
Currency: Haitian Gourde (HTG). USD are also used frequently.
At the time of writing USD $1 = 85 HTG.
Can you drink the water?
No. But instead of relying on purchasing bottled water, bring a reusable bottle and fill it up at your hotel. (Our hotel offered free water to drink at any time – always a bonus in tropical destinations where water isn’t drinkable).
There are not many options for decent hotels to stay at in Cap Haitien and it’s really important to book a hotel with good security.
We booked a room at Hotel Des Lauriers from the recommendation of friends who had recently stayed here.
In fact, this could be one of the things to do in Haiti even if you aren’t staying here – come up here for a drink and the epic views.
View of Cap Haitien from our hotel
Hotel Des Lauriers is located on a hill that overlooks the city of Cap Haitien. The city is located next to a beach (I wouldn’t recommend swimming here, yet Labadee Beach is ok) which curves around into a large bay. Such fantastic views from here!
The rate was USD $54 p/n for a budget room which includes a good breakfast. The hotel also has standard rooms from $60 (single) and $110 (double). Make a reservation on Booking.com for the best rates at this hotel.
The Canadian owner of this hotel is very helpful and he is happy to arrange a guide or driver for you to see some of the surrounding sites. Alternatively, if you’re confident to get out there on your own, he has some useful information about the area, costs and local information.
There are two main sites in Cap Haitien, both must do things in Haiti. And you can see them both in one day.
What are the main things to do in Cap Haitien?
Citadelle Laferrière – This is the largest fortress in the western hemisphere located on top of a mountain. It was built in the 19th century by 20,000 people. This huge structure was created by war and for war, but fortunately, the attack of the French army never came.
Sans Souci Palace – Built in 1810, the Sans Souci Palace is located in the town of Milot. This was the royal residence of King Henri Christophe I of Haiti. Now a ruin, the palace was once a bustling whirlwind of feasting and dancing, with grandiose gardens, artificial springs, and a system of waterworks.
Book a private driver or do it independently?
We chose to go on our own (as we most often do) and that is mostly due to our budget. To hire a trusted driver to take you to both sites below, the cost would be about USD $60 for the car. This doesn’t include a guide or entrance to the sites, it’s comfortable and convenient transport only.
We decided to go to the Citadel first and Sans Souci afterwards. All the details for how to catch local transport to the two main sites in Cap Haitien are below. But trust us, no matter how you get here – you don’t want to miss these two places, the things to do in Haiti for every visitor.
The local taxis in Cap Haitien are called ‘tap-taps’. Great way to meet locals.
How do you get to the Citadel using local transport?
We needed to make our way to the town of Milot, this is where you need to get out and then make your way to the Citadel. There is an area in downtown Cap Haitien where the ‘tap-taps’ (local taxis) pick passengers up and then drive towards that destination.
Our hotel manager very kindly offered for his hotel driver to take us there (no charge) so we’d be able to catch the local transport to Milot.
The drive from our hotel to the downtown area was about 3 km. Once we reached this ‘taxi stand’, our driver asked the guys which one was headed to Milot. He pointed to a car and it was almost full!
We jumped in and squeezed past the locals sitting in the back of the tap-tap, over their bags of goods purchased from the markets and nestled ourselves into a seat.
The first thing I noticed was that each and every person in the back of this taxi was dressed very well. They all gave a shy smile and looked a little puzzled. I’m sure they wondered why these two blonde women are catching this cheap car to Milot with them.
Sure, for one reason it’s certainly much cheaper than a private car, and secondly, Marty and I like the local encounters when we travel. As we often say, the key to travelling all over the world on a budget is to move like a local.
Cost of a shared taxi to Milot?
The price for this ride was 25 HTG or 30 cents. The 18 km journey took about 30 mins. It was fine and we even got to see some of the green countryside on the way as the taxi is open in the back.
Once we reached Milot. the guy hanging off the back of the taxi and who we paid let us know that this was our stop. This is as far as you can go using a local shared taxi.
The next 5-7 km to get us to the car-park closer to the Citadel was quite steep and can only really be done with a motorcycle taxi. (NOTE: An SUV or taxi could take you to this next part). There were motorbikes and some guys claiming they can guide us at the Citadel for a fee.
How much is the motorcycle taxi to the Citadel carpark?
I asked our hotel manager before we departed this morning about what we should pay for this part of the journey. He advised me to pay no more than USD $5 each or HTG 400. We asked the motorcycle taxis how much it was and of course, they quoted us the tourist price of $20. If I’m being honest, I’d do exactly the same, or quote me more!
We negotiated with one driver to take us for 700 HTG for both. He accepted. It was a bumpy and steep ride for 20 minutes or so, straight up, so we had to hold on.
If we did it again, we’d get a motorcycle taxi each as the incline is tough and the motorcycle struggles with three people. We made it to the carpark near the Citadel and we are dropped here.
So now what? Where is the Citadel and how do we get there?
This carpark was a busy place with ladies cooking, souvenirs, and people selling things. You can see the Citadel from here, yet the question is how will you reach it. You have two options for reaching the Citadel from here –
Walk up to the Citadel for free. Sure, you’ll work up a sweat because of the heat and the incline is fair – but in hindsight, it was easy and I’d take this option again. The distance is about 3km and it took us about 30 min to reach the Citadel. The ground is cobble-stones, so it’s easy to walk on.
Pay a guy (I hear they request USD $10 each) to lead a very skinny horse with you on its back up to the Citadel. The ride takes about 45min. Unless you are physically unable or cannot walk up the hill for health reasons, I’d recommend taking option 1.
We visited the Citadel on a weekend and boy was it busy up there. It looked as though every teenager in Cap Haitien was here with their friends, their music and their rum.
Clearly, this is one of the places and things to do in Haiti for locals as well. Great!
The view of the surrounding countryside from the top of the Citadel
How much is the entrance to the Citadel?
Entrance for us was USD $10 each. We were unsure if this was correct as everything we had read to enter and all the guide books said it was USD $25. The security guy at the entrance requested $10, so we paid and they put a blue paper wristband on us and let us in. Win!
The Citadel was very cool. The views are absolutely epic and exploring the grounds was very interesting. We spent about an hour here, it’s enough to explore all areas of the fortress.
Marty and I inside the Citadel.
Once we exited the Citadel, we walked down the hill for a while and then decided to flag down a passing motorcycle to take us to Sans Souci Palace as it was said to close at 4 pm and we didn’t want to miss it. We paid a motorcycle taxi HTG 500 to drop us at Sans Souci Palace.
It was a downhill ride and again, perhaps we should have got two motorcycles as the decline is steep. I tried not to squash Marty who was sitting in the middle, but it was kind of difficult.
We got there in the end and were happy to arrive and see the beautiful ruins of the Sans Souci Palace.
The abandoned ruins of the Sans Souci Palace
Cost for entrance to Sans Souci Palace?
Zero! That’s correct. We were stoked as we expected to maybe pay an entrance fee to go and check out these abandoned ruins, however it was all open and nobody requested any cash from us. So yes, Sans Souci is our second place of the things to do in Haiti.
This place was cool. We sat on the green grass and just admired how opulent this palace would have been many years ago. We explored the inside and took some great pictures.
Relaxing on the grass in front of Sans Souci Palace. This place is cool.
How to catch local transport back to Cap Haitien
We walked 10 minutes through the town of Milot and found a tap-tap filling up with passengers. They were heading back to Cap Haitien. The taxi is now full with ten young local Haitien guys absolutely loving the tunes blasting at maximum volume.
Marty and I are sitting in the middle of all the guys, catching glances at them wondering what we were doing there. These moments on our travels are priceless.
The fare back to town was again 25 HTG each. The drive was nice and green with clean air, but as soon as the tap-tap approached Cap Haitien, I could smell the downtown area before we saw it. It is here that the rotting garbage sits in huge piles and the smell of sewerage mixed with the heat almost hits you in the face.
I watch as three massive black pigs grunt and bump around in the middle of the pile of trash and sewerage. The tap-tap stops downtown which is still a few km from where our hotel is located. This is the last stop. We jump out of the taxi and look around here.
The downtown area is very busy, maybe you could call it a little hectic. There is lots of traffic, yet it feels very safe. We had a place recommended to us to go and catch an early dinner, so we flagged down another motorcycle taxi and we headed there.
A motorcycle taxi within the city costs around $1 or 100 HTG.
Things to do in Haiti – Eat out in Cap Haitien!
We ate at Lakay Restaurant – a local place that has been there for quite some time. It was still hot and we felt we had earned a beer. We ordered two super cold Prestige local beers (110 HTG each) and some food.
We’d eaten very well at our hotel last night (fillet steak with pepper sauce, very French) so we craved simple easy food today. I ordered a burger (185 HTG) with fries (175 HTG) and Marty ordered a massive baguette with chicken.
It was good food and the total bill was under $10.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the colourful streets of Cap Haitien. I find the crumbling colonial architecture fascinating and kind of beautiful. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is worth seeing, we sat nearby on a bench and enjoyed this quiet part of the city.
Making our way home on foot, we reached our hotel around 6 pm. We wanted to make it home before dark as it’s not recommended to be walking outside at this time, just to be safe. We enjoyed another cold beer on our balcony as we watched the sunset over Cap Haitien.
We enjoyed our visit to Haiti and Cap Haitien
To sum up, our time spent in Cap Haitien was a very positive experience and the city with nearby attractions is one of the best things to do in Haiti. We really enjoyed it and felt very safe the entire time.
This has to be one of the most colourful countries I’ve travelled to and I really loved the local passion for music and sense of community. They appear to be a nation that looks out for each other, something I am sure they could be an example to many other countries in the world.
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveller you are.
We didn’t know too much about the food of Haiti, but the cuisine really surprised us. I think we almost made it through the 10 most popular foods in Haiti.
If you’re hoping to visit the Dominican Republic while you’re here, our post on crossing the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti may be useful for you, even if we were travelling in the opposite direction. It will still give you a good idea of protocols at the border and what to expect.
Finally, our best travel tips from over 15 years of travel are something that most travellers appreciate. It’s packed with some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years from travelling to some difficult countries as independent travellers.
TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES
✈️ Flights:WayAway, Skyscanner, and Expedia are the best sites to search for the cheapest flights and great deals from your home country.
🏨 Accommodation: Booking.com, Agoda, andHotellookare the top platforms to search for fantastic hotels and accommodation options at the best price.
🚌 Transportation: To book trains,Trainline is the best and cheapest website. To book transport in Europe, USA & Canada, we useOmio & FlixbusUS. For travel in Asia, we use 12Go.For all other countries, we use BookaWay to compare and book Bus, Ferry, or train tickets to get around.
Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 190 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.