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 pe