Cap-Haïtien, Haiti | A Gringo’s Guide
In this guide, I'll breakdown everything you need to know about Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.
From attractions to hotels, safety, and more…I've got you covered. The weird thing is what I remember most about my trip. What's that? Arriving in the city.
I got off the plane, went through customs, and walked outside of the airport. I had a shuttle scheduled to pick me up and take me to the hotel, but I couldn't find it.
There's no marked van or anything…and this is one of the nicest hotels in the city. But there are 100+ sets of eyes staring at me, and only me. Then the eyes start yelling at me, trying to get me to ride with them. To pay them money, as I'm the one traveler outside right now because I was the only person with just checked luggage.
It's like the opposite of the Rea Sea parting. The sea closed. All on me. Yelling to get my business. Reaching out to tap me on the shoulder as I pass by.
If you had a drone, the scene would have looked like the opposite of an eyeball from above. One shaved-headed white dude in the middle of dozens of Haitians.
Then amidst the madness, I hear my name being shouted out, “Mr. Jake! Mr. Jake Nomada!” but he pronounced it “Jack” like most people from the Caribbean do until I tell them otherwise. It was my shuttle from the hotel.
My heart stopped pounding a bit and I found the guy. It was over once the drivers all knew I already had a ride. The gentleman walked me to the shuttle. We took off.
Then he drives me through the city as we're on the way to the hotel and I couldn't believe my eyes. Now, I've seen poverty before. Witnessed it first hand many a times, but Haiti was on a whole different level. One I'm not sure I can describe in words.
Trash is everywhere. Every building in the city is rundown…and that's a nice way to put it. Nothing looks clean. Sure as sh*t isn't modern.
People just meandering around in clothing that could only be described as rags, and I'm not saying that to hate or be rude. It's just reality here. Hell, the shuttle driver even made me roll up my window to make it harder to see my pasty gringo skin. That didn't exactly help me relax, either.
I get to my hotel and the place is somewhat of an oasis in the chaos. Tucked on a hillside with stunning views and an infinity pool – along with acceptable Wi-Fi speeds and some semblance of customer service.
If you're going to Cap-Haïtien, come prepared. This is a travel experience unlike most others. Certainly not for the faint of heart.
Yet I absolutely loved my time here in northern Haiti. Below you'll find out why, as I discuss the question every gringo wants to know, ‘Is Haiti actually a sh*thole?' and much more:
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What's it Like to Visit Cap-Haïtien, Haiti?
For those curious what it's like visiting, traveling around, or living in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti…
It's a bit tough to describe properly. But I'll do my damned best:
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti is one of the roughest cities I've been to out of the dozens upon dozens I've visited throughout Latin America, and I've been to nearly 20+ countries in the region.
The level of poverty found in this city will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, even for the most experienced of travelers. Like mentioned above, people walk around barefoot wearing rags as clothing. The center is filled with hundreds upon hundreds of people just meandering around during the day, and the market around the area is packed to the brim with vendors.
But nothing looks even remotely clean. The buildings are ran down, bordering on decrypt. Modern infrastructure is non-existent. The lack of businesses is astounding.
There's trash literally everywhere…
Oh, and the trash issue covers every beach inside the city limits. Not a pretty sight to behold. Not to mention, there was a gas shortage in the country when I visited. So hundreds of people would be stopped at every station to attempt and fill up before the gas ran out. This required military force at every gas station to ensure riots didn't break out.
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti is rough around the edges. Hell, it's rough in the middle too. Plus, there really isn't a nice neighborhood to hole up in, either.
The actual city of Cap-Haïtien has no safe havens. From what I gathered, the area is one giant ghetto. I don't state this to be rude, simply here to state what I noticed during my time in the city.
The only nice area of Cap-Haïtien I found was in the hills above the city, where the rich locals lived and the nicer hotels were located.
You'll want to stay in this area when visiting Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. It's the only area of the city I ever felt at ease in, and I like a little grit and grime from time to time.
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti was even too much for me from a poverty standpoint.
Is Haiti Safe?
While the above may come off as harsh, I didn't actually feel unsafe in the city. Unsettling? Hell yeah. But never truly unsafe, like I was about to get robbed or something.
I found the Haitian people exceptionally helpful and more than friendly. Sure, this could be because they knew I was a foreigner the minute they laid eyes on me and wanted to get some cash from me.
But my experience with the Haitian people was more than pleasant. No one bothered me during my time spent walking around the city center with a few other travelers. Or when I went to tourist attractions.
Here's the thing about safety in Haiti…
It's an intimidating place.
The trash, lack of infrastructure, and all are uncomfortable. Plus, Haitian people can be big as hell with aggressive body language. But the stats simply don't show Haiti to be as unsafe as most assume.
In 2017, there were 890 reported homicides, with 79% occurring in Port-au-Prince (Source).
This appears to be the most recent and accurate statistic I could find online. But it must be stated that crime rates and stats hard to come by in the country due to underreporting. So it's impossible to know what's really going on.
If accurate, that appears to be a murder rate of around 8.10 murders per 100,000 people throughout the country.
Thus, while Port-Au-Prince is seemingly violent, the rest of the country may not be. With these stats, one can surmise that the murder rate outside the capital of Port-au-Prince is relatively low.
Especially when considering over two dozen countries in Latin America have a higher murder rate than Haiti, including neighboring Dominican Republic (Source).
From talking with locals in Cap-Haïtien, most didn't seem too concerned with safety throughout the small city. In their minds, the city was paradise compared to the violent capital.
While I'm certainly NOT saying Cap-Haïtien is the safest place I've been, I didn't find the city to be any more dangerous than other Caribbean and Latin American cities.
The difference is the poverty levels. Poverty in Cap-Haïtien makes the city feel far more dangerous than other places, even though that is not reality. But the U.S. Government seems to disagree.
Due to rioting during the time I was in Haiti, the country was considered to be a strict ‘do not travel' according to the State Department. There was a Level 4 travel advisory…which should not be taken lightly.
Do not travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest.
There are currently widespread, violent, and unpredictable demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Due to these demonstrations, on February 14, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.
Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.
Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport. The U.S. Embassy requires its personnel to use official transportation to and from the airport, and it takes steps to detect surveillance and deter criminal attacks during these transports.
Is Cap-Haïtien, Haiti safe?
However, the city is neither as dangerous as it feels. The murder rate is not high by Caribbean or Latin America standards, and the people didn't seem to be overly aggressive, either. If you stay in a nice hotel and pay for a tour guide, you shouldn't have much issue whatsoever.
I didn't have a single issue. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of my time in Haiti.
Hotels in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
If you want to ensure your safety and have a damn good time in this city/town, then you definitely need to drop some decent cash on lodging.
While the poverty in Haiti is astounding, you'll find hotels are not nearly as cheap as you'd expect. In fact, it's difficult to find western-style hotels and amenities throughout the country. And when you find them, you'll be paying a pretty penny for the privilege of staying in such a comfortable spot.
But you MUST pay these prices to ensure some type of safety in Haiti, and enjoy the western-style amenities. Haiti is NOT a country where living like a local will be acceptable in any which way.
In Cap-Haïtien, I found two hotels which I highly recommend.
If you're coming to the city, I'd ignore all Airbnb options and make sure you stay in one of these hotels. The services, rooms, and amenities will be of far higher quality than anything I saw on Airbnb.
I stayed at…
The place is absolutely perfect for a trip to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.
The rooms at Satama Hotel are spotless, the Wi-Fi works well, and there's hot water. The complimentary breakfast is good and comes with eggs however you want them. Plus, the food at the hotel is great for lunch and dinner. Some of the best food I ate during my time in Haiti.
I felt safe here, as the hotel is built into the side of a mountain above the city of Cap-Haïtien. The security is good and the staff is professional. Most of the staff also speaks some English, with a few individuals offering seemingly fluent English.
While there's no gym on the property, the infinity pool on the property overlooks Cap-Haïtien and the bay. It's an absolutely stunning view and offers a resort-like feel.
Overall, my stay here was spectacular and I couldn't recommend the place enough. One tip though…
Make sure you bring a few dozen $1 USD bills when coming to Haiti. This hotel, and pretty much everywhere in Cap-Haïtien, will not have change for $20's. The staff works hard and you'll want to tip them, but this won't work unless you bring some $1's.
Expect to pay $90-150 a night here depending on where you book and when. Well worth it. If you can afford staying here, this is the BEST spot in all of Cap Haïtien, Haiti. By Far. Bar none.
Mont Joli Hotel
This is the only other hotel in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti I'd recommend…
It's located about two blocks below Satama Hotel on a hill above the city. This hotel is a little bit older than Satama, but still gets the job done. The location is safe, the swimming pool is nice, and the view is great too. My buddy stayed here around a year ago and was pleased with his stay.
Expect to pay anywhere from $75-125 USD when staying at Mont Joli Hotel.
For my money, Satama Hotel is overall a better bet and worth the extra few bucks a night if you're coming to Cap-Haïtien. But Mont Joli Hotel is the only ‘budget option in the city I'd recommend.
Things to Do in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
I came to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti for one reason only. What's that? Because I wanted to see a few tourist sites.
Places that looked absolutely fantastic, but were NOT overrun with tourists.
The sites in Cap-Haïtien did not disappoint in that regard. The city and surrounding areas are home to some of the best historical sites in all of the Caribbean.
I met a couple of Haitian-American guys at the hotel and we ended up checking out a handful of the best attractions in Cap-Haïtien over a few days. It was a damn good time, and I truly enjoyed getting to know the history and culture of the country.
With that in mind, here's a few of the best things to do in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti:
When talking about things to do Cap-Haïtien, Haiti…
Citadelle Laferrière is the #1 attraction.
Hell, this spot might be the best place to visit in the whole country. Located on top of a mountain, the place is essentially one massive fort designed to keep intruders at bay. It was created to host a full army for days on end, so the place is massive.
Built by slave rebels at the turn of the 19th century, the Citadelle Laferrière used to be home to over 400+ cannons…plus a bakery, dormitories, and everything needed to keep an army alive for weeks on end.
The castle/fort is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason…
It's a truly stunning place. But that's not even the best part. The best part about visiting Citadelle Laferrière is that there's almost no one else there. When I went, my group was the only people around.
No hordes of tourist snapping photos. No tour groups all around. Just me and a couple of guys from the hotel with out tour guide.
Cost wise, you can expect to pay upwards of $100 USD for a tour of Citadelle Laferrière and Sans Souci Palace. This includes transportation to and from the hotel, a bilingual guide, and more.
You could try and do the tour by yourself, but I would NOT recommend this. Not in Haiti. Plus, our tour guide was incredibly informative and funny…which added to the experience.
Sans Souci Palace
If you're going to check out Citadelle Laferrière, then you'll also visit Sans Souci Palace. Why? Because Sans Souci is located directly under the fort/castle.
Not only that, but San Souci Palace is also a stunning attraction in its own right. Our tour started at the base of San Souci, just outside the small town of Milot in northern Haiti.
We immediately met our guide and he walked us onto the Palace grounds, and the tour began.
What was once the residence of King Henry was now a rundown former shell of what used to be a stunning palace. However, the attraction was still truly breathtaking. And again, we had the place to ourselves outside of the couple hustlers looking to sell trinkets and such as we went on our tour.
Located about 20 minutes away from the city center of Cap-Haïtien is Cormier Beach Resort.
The place is an old-school beach resort that offers hotel rooms, but only costs $5 USD for a day pass, which includes beach access, tennis courts, and an old-school gym.
There's also a restaurant and bar on-site.
It was a cool place to say the least.
I swam in the warm ocean here before heading to the gym for a quick workout…
Overall, this is an ideal place to spend a morning or afternoon while in Cap-Haïtien. A taxi or shuttle from Cap-Haïtien will run you around $50 bucks for the roundtrip, and the driver will stay at the resort and wait for you.
The beach here is quite nice and well-maintained.
While not as fancy and developed as Labadee Beach, Cormier is easier to get to and offers of a ‘Haiti' experience than the cruise ship port city.
I didn't get to check out Labadee Beach, as visiting a cruise ship port town filled with tourists wasn't my idea of a quintessential Haiti experience.
That being said…
Many rave about the beaches here and the spot is certainly a popular cruise ship destination. If I had a few more days in Cap-Haïtien, I would have checked Labadee out for sure. I'd venture to guess you'd be able to find more western-style amenities here than anywhere else in the country due to the sheer amount of tourists coming in each and every week.
Another incredible fort in the north of Haiti is Fort Picolet.
Designed in 1741, the French built the fort to keep out the Spanish on the other side of Hispanola in the Dominican Republic. Today, the fort is more of a home for squatters and individuals practicing voodoo than a tourist destination.
Covered by plants and trees, the place is also somewhat hard to get to and my hotel didn't even offer a tour to the place. I'd be weary of going here, but I have no doubts it'd be one hell of an adventure and place to check out.
Language Barrier in Haiti?
Being able to speak some Spanish for the last few years while traveling around Latin America, I'd forgotten how frustrating it is to not speak the local language.
In Haiti, I could not communicate with the locals.
Outside of Haitians working in hotels or as tour guides, no one I met spoke English. Spanish is not spoken in the country outside the border areas near the Dominican Republic.
Haitians speak Creole and French, with Creole being what's generally spoken throughout the country…although seemingly everyone understood French, as it's the language spoken by the upper-classes.
While you'll be fine not speaking French for a short trip, I wouldn't plan to spend too much time in Haiti without picking up some of the language.
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti | My Verdict?
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.
The sites were spectacular, the people friendly, and it was an incredibly unique travel experience. An experience I highly recommend any and all travelers who've been to more than a dozen countries.
One that was made 10X better by being able to hang out with Haitian-Americans from my hotel. Friendly dudes who showed me a different side of their country and culture.
But Haiti is not a ‘novice' travel destination. This isn't a place for noobs to travel.
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti is impoverished and the people struggle. In fact, I've never seem poverty on this scale throughout my travels around Latin America. While people seemed fairly happy here, there's no doubt that life is rough in this part of the world.
While I'd prefer not to say it, there's no doubt many areas of Cap-Haïtien must be considered ‘shitholes' by every measurable metric.
I'm not one for empathy, but I felt for the local Haitian people and the living standards throughout the country. The level of poverty here is simply unlike anywhere else I've seen.
Definitely visit Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. It's a quick direct flight from Miami, offers great hotel accommodations, some world-class tourist destinations, and more…along with unique experiences.
However, this is not a city I'd spend a few weeks or months in. It's a place ideal for a quick, unique trip to explore the culture and sites…but Definitely not a digital nomad destination.
Until next time,