Caribbean Tourism

Cap Haïtien

Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second city,has a dramatic location on the sheltered, SE side of an 824m high cape, from which it gets its name. It was the capital in colonial times, when it was called Cap Français. Its wealth and sophistication earned it the title of ‘Paris of the Antilles’. The colony’s biggest port, it was also the commercial centre of the northern plain, the biggest sugar producing region.

Nowadays it usually referred to simply as Cap, or Okap in Créole. It was burned to the ground three times, in 1734, 1798 and 1802, the last time by Christophe to prevent it falling intact into the hands of the French. It was destroyed again by an 1842 earthquake that killed half the population. The historic centre’s architecture is now Spanish influenced, with barrel-tile roofs, porches, arcades and interior courtyards.

Vertières, an outlying district on the Port-au-Prince road, is the site of the battle at which Dessalines’s army definitively routed the French on 18 November 1803, forcing them to leave the island for good 12 days later. There is a roadside monument.

Cap appears to be more relaxed than Port-au-Prince and you will see people out on the streets at night. It is well worth visiting for its buildings and its surroundings but blancs report a hostile atmosphere.


The rich, alluvial plain to the S and E of Cap boasted a thousand plantation houses during the last years of the colonial period. ISPAN (T 62-2459), rue 15 and rue B in Cap, is a good source of information on these nearby colonial ruins, as well as Sans Souci and the Citadelle.


The beaches in the town itself are dirty and lack charm. Excellent beaches on the N side of the cape can be reached in 20 mins by car. The first is Cormier Plage, site of the recommended A1 Hotel Cormier Plage (T 62-1000), simple chalet or room in main building, including breakfast and dinner, excellent food, own generator turned on 0730-1100 and 1630-2330. Scuba diving with equipment for 10. Good wrecks and coral reefs. Run by charming French couple: Jean-Claude and Kathy Dicqueman. If you call ahead, they will pick you up from airport. Book ahead, because tour groups from Dominican Republic sometimes fill the place up. Take mosquito repellent.

5 mins further W (30 mins on foot), is Labadie, or Coco beach, a fenced-off sandy peninsula used by Royal Caribbean Lines as a private beach for its visiting cruise ships on Mon and Tues. The public may enter to use its facilities (pool, restaurants, water sports) for US$3.

Just beyond this beach, about 30 mins, walk, are steps down to Belli Beach, a small sandy cove with a hotel, D, nice rooms, WC, shower, fan, mosquito nets, they will cook good fish à la créole for US$4.50. Boats, some with outboards, can be rented here to visit nearby Labadie village, dramatically located at the foot of a cliff, and other beaches further along the coast, eg Paradise beach, 30 mins, US$6, no facilities. Fix a price before boarding. Labadie village (about US$3 by boat, also reachable by scrambling over the rocks) has two guest houses, Dessa Motel and Maison Amitié, with basic rooms on the beach, both F. Employees will buy and cook food for a price that must be negotiated.

Farther still, about 10 km W of Cap, is L3Club Roche Sauvage (T 62-2765) an all-inclusive, 144-bed resort with its own 300m beach. Spa and diving extra. Round trip air-and-sea transfer from Port-au-Prince another US$85 per person. Beyond Roche Sauvage is Labadie Shore, Crown Cruise Line’s answer to Labadie Beach.

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