Citadelle Laferrière, Milot
Photo: Ricardo Lartigue
Citadelle Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Americas.
Citadelle Laferrière, known to locals simply as La Citadelle, is the largest fortress in the Americas. Haitians call it the eighth wonder of the world and, if you make it up the summit of Pic Laferrière, you’ll see why.
The mountaintop fortress is massive, rising a vertiginous hundred and thirty feet from the mountaintop of Bonnet a L’Eveque, around 3000 feet above sea level. The Citadelle commands unparalleled views in every direction over the surrounding landscape of jungle-clad mountains, rivers and ocean.
What You'll See
The imposing structure was built to demonstrate the power of a newly-independent Haiti, but also to protect its citizens if the French attempted to retake the nation. The 100,000 square feet building includes several cisterns and storehouses, designed to provide enough food and water for the royal family and up to 5000 people to survive an entire year under siege.
The Citadelle is equipped with over 150 cannons - mostly captured in battle from the English, the French and the Spanish - and thousands of cannon balls, once over 50,000 in total. With such an armory and walls over 13 feet wide and 100 feet high, the fortress was impenetrable.
Fortunately, the French never returned, the canons were never fired in combat, and the Citadelle is much the same today as it was 200 years ago.
Visitors can spend a few hours exploring the historic site. You’ll discover ramparts, drawbridges, canon batteries, galleries, corridors, hidden passages and blind corners designed to outwit invaders. Most of the windows and ramparts overlook sheer drops down the flanks of Pic Laferrière, and beyond that offer spectacular views of the north of Haiti. Inside the courtyard there’s a brand-new museum, gallery and restroom, as well as a small gift shop selling drinks and postcards.
Citadelle Laferrière is Haiti’s most popular tourist destination for Haitians and visitors alike, and occupies a visible place of pride in Haitian culture. You’ll recognise the signature triangular façade on 5 HTG coins and 100 HTG bills, and on the covers of children’s school textbooks.
Citadelle Laferrière in Milot
Photo: Angelo Miramonti
Citadelle Laferrière was constructed between 1805 and 1820, after the African-descended population of Haiti led a successful revolution to throw off their colonial enslavers and declare independence from France. It took 15 years and 20,000 people to build.
Citadelle Laferrière was part of a larger fortification system which included Fort Jacques and Fort Alexandre; all built to protect Haiti from future attacks by colonizers who might sail over from neighboring islands. While other forts were built earlier as part of the revolution, the construction of Citadelle Laferrière was ordered by Henri Christophe in 1805, in the year following the achievement of independence.
The Citadelle towers one hundred and thirty feet over the mountaintop, but even standing at the base of the fortress, you can see far out to sea. More importantly, the Citadelle could be seen from far out at sea - the fortress was a sign to any would-be challengers sailing toward the newly-free nation that Haiti was prepared to defend itself. Overseen by Christophe, construction of the Citadelle was completed in 1820.
Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti
Photo: Angelo Miramonti
The Citadelle is located in the town of Milot, a six- to eight-hour drive north of Port-au-Prince.
The path to the Citadelle begins near the entrance to the nearby Sans-Souci Palace. Here, you will be asked to pay a small fee, and a local guide can accompany you to the top. You’ll also find vendors at Sans-Souci, offering drinks and snacks to fuel your hike and souvenirs once you’ve returned.
To make your way up the summit to the Citadelle itself, you have two options: hiking on foot or, for US$15, riding on horseback. Both options are just as scenic and authentic, and both offer their own type of adventure.
The route from Sans-Souci to the Citadalle is only 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) but the climb is significant at over 2000 feet (700 metres), so expect the hike to take you more than two hours. For this reason, you might prefer to stay overnight in Milot or Cap-Haïtien rather than attempting the hike after a long trip from Port-au-Prince or elsewhere.
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