La otra cara de Haití (“the other side of Haiti”) is Atlas Travelers’ motto, the Dominican organization with whom I traveled through northern Haiti for three days from Santo Domingo. Atlas Travelers strives to present another “angle” to Haiti that rarely makes the news: the country’s natural beauty, deep history, and rich culture. They have also been making strides in their efforts to better bridge tourism and interconnection between the Dominican Republic and Haiti; engaging with both Dominican and Haitian local entrepreneurs/small businesses. Together, along with 9 other travelers, we crossed the border to Haiti from the Dominican Republic to spend an unforgettable 3 days in Haiti.
Crossing Over to Haiti from the Dominican Republic
Dajabon, Dominican Republic
The Dajabon border was bustling with crowds due to the famous Dajabon Haitian-Dominican market. Every Monday and Friday, people from both sides of the country gather together to buy and sell goods. You’ll see men and women carrying giant boxes, rolling carts, balancing baskets on their heads, and pushing wagons filled with goods to sell.
Fortunately, the border control/immigration officers are well-acquainted with Atlas Travelers, so they were extra helpful and expedient. We paid an exit fee of $20 USD cash to leave the Dominican Republic (usually included in your flight ticket). Next, our Atlas Travelers‘ private minibus drove through about 3 different checkpoints until crossing the bridge over the Dajabon Massacre River, and finally, we were in Haiti!
Passing through Haitian immigration is easier. We all handed our passports to one officer, along with $17 USD each (fee to enter + depart from Haiti). As we waited, we exchanged our money to Haitian currency (Gourds) through a man who comfortably hangs out by the immigration office with a thick wad of cash.
Then we stocked up on some Haitian Prestige beers for the 90-minute drive to our first stop: Cap Haitian!
Cap Haitian: Walking Tour, Gastronomy & Artisan Market
Cap Haitian, often referred to as Cap or Au Cap is the second largest city in Haiti located in the northeastern part of the country and about a 90-minute drive from the Dominican border. At the height of the French colonization of Haiti, Cap Haitian was the richest city in the Caribbean. And after French colonization, it also became known for its critical history of the country’s independence. Today the city retains much of its colonial facade while also holding much of the nation’s most important historic monuments.
Exploring Haitian Gastronomy
Haiti’s creole cuisine (criollo) has African, Taino, French, Spanish and even Arabic influences! Tasting a little bit of everything should be high on your list of things to do in Haiti. The unique fusion of citrus and spicy flavors (agropicante) will have you gorging on the simplest dish due to the mount-watering flavors. Go to Lakay, Boukanye or Lolo Restaurant for some of the most delicious foods in Cap Haitian. Don’t leave Haiti without trying at least a few of the following dishes:
- Soup Joumou
- Vegetable stews
- Sos Pwa
- Poulet Aux Noix (Chicken with cashews)
- Bannane frit (Haitian tostones)
- Diri ak djon djon
Cap Haitian History Walking Tour
Our tour guide Lubin, took us on a walking tour around the main highlights of Cap Haitian. He covered famous squares, monuments, churches, historic streets, and local businesses; all while explaining the fascinating history of Haiti and Cap Haitian. Like did you know….
- Haiti was the world’s first black-led republic
- Haitian was also one of the only successful mass slave rebellions in written history
- Haiti was one of the first countries in the Americas to win its independence from the colonists in 1804
- France threatened embargos against Haiti and demanded reparations to compensate former slave owners for their “loss”. The cost is estimated to be valued today at $21 billion dollars and it was not paid off until 1947. Today, Haiti still feels the impact of that debt. Source: Forbes.
Cap Haitian Shopping: Artisan Craft Market
Last stop of the day: Artisan market to shop for Haitian art and speciality crafts. How cute is this purse (pictured above) that I bought for my cousin?! We came across several instruments hats, trinkets, jewelery, and other hand-made items for sale in the different booths.
Labadie Bay Beach Hopping & Cap Haitian Nightlife
Put on your swimsuits, pack your towels and bring waterproof bags for a full day of beach hopping through the magnificent Labadie Bay. It took about an hour to get there from Cap Haitian, passing through lush mountain hillsides roads overlooking the Caribbean ocean.
When we got to the port, we boarded one of the many colorful long tail boats for our tour around the bay.
Fun fact: Labadie Bay isn’t just for tourists. Local Haitians commute on these boats as everyday transportation between different parts of the bay. So you’ll see Haitian families commuting and pass by people going to work, such as fishermen.
Isla Amiga aka Ile a Rat
Isla Amiga or Ile-a-Rat is a tiny island about 40 minutes from the Labadie port. This gorgeous island is surrounded clear cyan-blue water with a backdrop of emerald-green hills. Here you can swim, snorkel, go for a walk, or feast on some freshly caught seafood.
Playa Cadras is another popular stop by boat on the tour of Labadie Bay. It is akin to some of the best beaches in South East Asia! Fine golden sand, greenish-blueish waters, surrounded on both sides by tree-covered hills. Here you can eat, swim, go kayaking, or go for a walk to explore.
Cap Haitian Nightlife
After a fun-filled day of beach hopping through Labadie Bay, we returned to Cap Haitian for dinner and nightlife activities. In Cap Haitian, you can walk around the main strip by the sea to check out the different restaurants and bars for food, drinks, and dancing! My personal favorite was Lakay Restaurant where locals come out for some great food and music. If you’re interested in exploring more of the Cap Haitian nightlife, I suggest visiting the following places:
- Hotel Satama — for cocktails with a view
- LaKay Restaurant — for dancing
- Cap Haitian Deli
Milot: La Citadelle & Sans Souci Palace
UNESCO World Heritage-listed La Citadelle sits up high at the top of Bonnet a L’Eveque Mountain, built as a fortress against French invasion. Completed in 1820, after the Haitian Revolution under King Henri Christophe’s reign, this mountain fortress is also a symbol of the world’s first black republic. Read more about La Citadelle here.
To get here, we drove to the town of Milot and from there began our ascension up the mountain by car. However, cars can only make it so far, so you must either hike the rest of the way for about 45 minutes or ride up a horse/donkey for 20 minutes ($10 to $15 USD + mandatory tips).
At the base of the mountains just before the start of the hike up to La Citadelle, are the ruins of the Sans Souci Palace. This majestic palace, completed in 1813, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, in 1842 an earthquake destroyed much of the palace, and it was never rebuilt. But you can still take in much of the architecture as well as the breathtaking views of lush green hills through the windows of this magnificent castle. San Souci Palace was once thought to have rivalled the Palace of Versailles in awe and grandeur.
Where to Sleep in Cap Haitian
Please note that hotels in Haiti average to over $100 per night. Haiti is not a “low budget” destination. Here are the best hotels to stay in according to location, price, and quality:
- Hotel Mont Joli – $125/night
- Hôtel du Roi Christophe – $125/night
- Satama Hotel – $125/night
- Habitation des Lauriers – $60/night (this one is more affordable but harder to get to)
Tours with Atlas Travelers start at $400 USD per person. This is a pretty cost price considering that if I had solo traveled to Haiti it would have cost me much more money and time (researching, planning, and arranging logistics). Plus, I was traveling with seasoned guides from both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. If you’re interested in booking a tour, DominicanAbroad is collaborating with Atlas Travelers. You can email me for $20 off their tours or use code: DOMINICANABROAD when booking through them.
Communicating/Languages in Haiti
In this region of Haiti, it seemed like many people spoke some English, Spanish, and French in addition to Creole. So I got by very well, speaking to everyone with a mish-mash of those three languages and the occasional dash of Creole that I’d learned on the bus ride thanks to our guides.
Safety: Is Haiti Safe to Travel?
A lot of people fearfully warned me against traveling to Haiti, both Dominicans and foreigners alike. But I’d also met several travelers who’d gone and loved their time there. I also knew plenty of foreigners living and working in Haiti. To my surprise, Cap Haitian and the other parts of northern Haiti felt relatively safe. People with their cell phones in their hands, women walk home at night, and we never felt our safety threatened during our travels through Haiti.
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Interested in traveling the Dominican Republic?
Here are some of my travel blog posts on the Dominican Republic:
- Best Places In the Dominican Republic to Visit Beyond Punta Cana
- 10 Reasons to Visit Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic
- A Guide to Moving to & Living in Santo Domingo
- Visiting the Three Eyes National Park (Los Tres Ojos) in Santo Domingo
- How to Get to Bahia de las Aguilas from Santo Domingo via Public Transportation
- Dominican Republic Road Trip to the Dominican Southwest (2018)
- I Caught the Dreaded Amoeba Parasite in DR: What Happened & How I Treated It
- Prejudices Against the Dominican Accent & Anti-Dominican Sentiment
- Why I am Dominican Abroad and Not American Abroad
- Hiking Pico Duarte in the Dominican Alps: Conquering the Tallest Mountain in the Caribbean