The Notre Dame Cathedral in Cap-Haïtien
Photo: Verdy Verna
The Christophian City
Colorful houses in Cap-Haïtien
Photo Angelo Miramonti
The Paris of the Antilles
Cap-Haïtien is Haiti’s second largest city, popular with travellers because of its proximity to world-class beaches and UNESCO heritage sites.
A key city during the Caribbean colonial period, Cap‑Français (as it was then named) earned the nicknamed the Paris of the Antilles for its sophisticated architecture and artistic culture. It was the capital city of the French colony of Saint Domingue from 1711 until the Haitian Revolution, when it became the capital of the Kingdom of Northern Haiti under King Henri Christophe. Christophe renamed the city from Cap‑Français to Cap-Henri. When Christophe died in 1820, the whole island of Hispaniola was briefly unified, and it was in the early phases of this (re)unification that Cap-Haïtien was given the name it has today. Mostly, though, you’ll hear this beautiful city called simply “Le Cap”.
Old gingerbread house in Cap-Haïtien
Photo: Franck Fontain
What to see and do in Cap-Haïtien
The early 20th century Notre Dame Cathedral (also known as the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral, Cap-Haïtien Cathedral and (French) Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption.
Héros de Vertières
Héros de Vertières (Heroes Monument of Vertières) is an open-air sculpture park dedicated to the heroes of the 1803 Battle of Vertieres.
The Battle of Vertières was the last major battle of the Second War of Haitian Independence, and the final battle of the Haitian Revolution led by Jean Jacques Dessalines. It was fought on November 18, just south of what is now Cap-Haïtien.
An inspiring site that celebrates a remarkable moment in history, a visit to the Heroes de Vertieres is especially empowering for travelers from the Haitian diaspora. The monument is on the western outskirts of the city, within a five-minute drive of both Hôtel Impérial and one of our favorite places to eat in Cap-Haïtien, Lakay.
The Bottle Gate(s) (French: "Barrière Bouteille" / “Barrières Bouteilles")
These iconic bottle-shaped structures mark the historic entrance to the city.
The Iron Market (French: Marche au Fer)
Named after the iconic Port-au-Prince Iron Market, this lively market is housed inside a Victorian-era cast iron pavilion. First built in 1890 under Haitian engineer Alexandre Bobo, Cap-Haïtien’s Iron Market has attracted tourists since the 1960s thanks to its impressive period architecture and the huge range of handicrafts sold here - especially colorful ritual objects associated with vodou practice. Today, the Iron Market is a chaotic sprawl of craftspeople and food vendors hawking their produce.
Dance to live music
Let your hair down like a local with these Cap-Haïtien musice scene stalwarts: Septentrional and Tropicana d’Haiti. Catch them at a venue called Versailles (named after the French royal palace).
Lakay Restaurant, Cap-Haïtien
Photo: Anton Lau
Where to eat
Lakay: Restaurant Lakou Lakay prepares excellent (and huge!) traditional Creole feasts - just be sure to make a reservation.
Boukanye: our favorite place to drink coffee in Cap-Haïtien, this pirate-themed hangout is a great bar by night but a cozy café by day.
Cap Deli: serving up some of the freshest food in the city, Cap Deli is the place to go in Cap-Haïtien for American-style burgers and pizza.
Lolo: a new Italian-Haitian restaurant, Lolo serves exquisite fresh pasta and fine wine.
Must-try local specialities: Cap-Haitien cuisine is particularly well-known for its cashew-based recipes, so be sure to try some local cashew dishes while you're in town! Native to Brazil, cashew trees are now an important crop across the Caribbean, and most of Haiti’s are grown right here in the North Department.
Amiga Island, (Ile-a-Rat) close to Cap Haitien
Photo: Anton Lau
The best beaches nearby are Cormier, Labadee and Île-à-Rat Island (Amiga Island).
The beach at Cormier is one of the most under-appreciated on the island – and only a twenty minute drive from downtown Cap-Haïtien.
Labadee Beach is one of the crowning jewels of Haiti, with fine sands and crystal-clear blue water that attracts cruise ships from around the world.
Île-à-Rat (Amiga Island) is a tiny island off the beaches west of Cap-Haïtien. This little paradise is a microcosm of what makes Haiti one of the greatest little countries in the Caribbean, with fine white sand beaches, shady palm trees, warm turquoise waters, incredible fresh seafood - and fewer crowds. The swimming is superb, and snorkelers can find half-buried colonial artillery and anchors.
For USD $40 a boat taxi from Labadee will take you to Île-à-Rat, and for an extra USD $15 they'll cook you up a fresh lunch of lobster, octopus, crab or fish, all caught locally. Make sure you take some ice-cold bottles of rum and Prestige with you for the trip!
Boat taxis going to Île-à-Rat (Amiga Island)
Photo: Verdy Verna
Where to sleep
Ocean view hotels:
Only accessible by boat, Kay Lolo Plage is a boutique B&B secluded in a private cove and surrounded by tropical forest. The separate bungalows and villa are in great condition and offer travellers a private beach with gorgeous views, birdsong and very exclusive vibes. There’s no wifi or running water here, but you’ll find kayaks, paddleboards and a breakfast cooked just for you.
Citadelle Laferrière, Milot, Haiti
Photo: Ricardo Lartigue
South of Cap-Haïtien, Citadelle Laferriere is a hilltop fortress built by revolutionary leader Henri Christophe.
Sans-Souci Palace shares a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Citadelle Laferriere. A visit to both sites is considered essential for any trip to Haiti, and the hike (or horse-ride) from Milot to the Palace and then on to the Citadelle is well-worth the effort.
The city of Dondon is located about two hours south of Cap-Haïtien and has been settled since pre-colonial times when Haiti's indigenous Taíno people lived there. This little corner of Haiti attracts a lot of tourists, and the main drawcard for visitors is the opportunity to explore the stunning system of grottoes nearby.
American Airlines fly direct from Miami to Cap-Haitian, with fares starting at US $127 and a flight time of less than two hours.
From Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, Sunrise Airways will take you to CAP in 45 minutes for less than US $100, but it’s more fun, and you’ll see more of Haiti, if you jump on a cross-country bus or rent a car. On wheels, the journey from PAP to CAP will take four hours or more, depending on your route. Will you drive inland via Lake Peligre and Bassin Zim, or along the Caribbean coastline via Montrouis and Gonaives?
Coming from the Dominican Republic? Caribe Tours, the most popular bus company in Dominican Republic, runs daily from Santiago to Cap-Haïtien. The journey takes roughly five hours: two and a half hours from Santiago to Dajabon, on the Dominican border, then another hour from Haitian border town Ouathamije to Cap-Haïtien. Return tickets cost US $25 per person, plus an extra US $25 border-crossing fee.
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