Cap-Haïtien: Bustling markets and beautiful beaches on Haiti’s northern coast

My G Adventures trip to Haiti covered a lot of ground.  For the first part of our trip, we flew up to Haiti’s northern coast to explore Cap-Haïtien, the beautiful beaches nearby, and to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

If you’re keen to learn the history of Haiti to improve your understanding of the country as you experience its culture, starting in the north is ideal. The north is where the seeds of rebellion were planted and sowed, and where its most majestic historic sites are located. Previously known as Cap-Français when it was the capital of Saint-Domingue, the French colony which preceded the modern Republic of Haiti, present-day Cap-Haïtien is a compact, charming city perfect for exploring on foot.

Flying to Cap-Haïtien

We flew from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien from the city’s domestic airport, Aérogare Guy Malary, which is next door to Toussaint Loverture International Airport. The domestic terminal is much smaller and quieter, and you pretty much get waved at to board when your plane is ready to go. We flew Sunrise Airways, on a pretty small plane, but certainly not the smallest plane flying out of the airport that day. Everything except the smallest of hand luggage got checked in the hold, and passengers were seated by having the pilot size you up and tell you which part of the plane to sit in.

Fun fact: on internal flights, there are no limits on liquids. You can take a bottle of water on the plane.

Haiti Cap Haitien flight airplane airport

Our 25-minute flight was a delight. We were lucky to fly on a beautiful sunny day. Our flight took us over Haiti’s mountains, and you definitely got a bird’s eye view of how the country has developed in recent decades.We also flew over the famous Citadelle Laferrière, the mountaintop fortress which we would visit the next day. Unfortunately for me, we were in direct sunlight, and combined with the airplane window, my pictures turned out like garbage. Luckily, our guide got a much better picture of the very same thing the next time he flew by.

The flight into Cap-Haïtien takes you along the white sand beaches of the north, and the clear blue water. We touched down, loaded up our van and headed for town.

A stroll around Cap-Haïtien

Cap-Haïtien is Haiti’s second-largest city and was not affected by the 2010 earthquake. It’s a completely different vibe than Port-au-Prince – smaller, more relaxed – with the ocean meeting a well-maintained seawall. The city is built on the base of the hill and observant visitors will note the bright blue signs on some streets indicating tsunami escape routes. (Basically, head up the hill.)

Haiti Cap Haitien street

We started our trip with a walking tour of Cap-Haïtien on a quiet Sunday morning. A lot of people were at church, which meant a less busy market street and a far less chaotic experience at the city’s central market. One of my travel buddies bought some rum from a street vendor, and learned an important Haitian ritual about pouring out a little bit for the spirits before passing it around to get a bit of Haitian courage for entering the market.

Cap Haitien Haiti walk tour

The Marché de Fer in Cap-Haïtien was relatively quiet, which gave us a good opportunity to see the typical things for sale. Piles of shoes, handbags, clothes, housewares, every kind of raw meat and fish, fresh seasonal vegetables, and everything is up for negotiation. Towards the back, there were the vendors dedicated to Vodou supplies, selling anything and everything recommended by your houngan or mambo for whatever pressing matter in your life needs attention from the spirits.

Even on a Sunday, the market experience is intense, and after some wandering through the aisles and trying to stay out of everyone’s way, we returned to the streets of Cap-Haïtien for more quiet exploration.

Day at the beach, Cormier Plage

Our official itinerary for the day ended with the walking the tour. Our very resourceful guide offered options for things we could do with the rest of our day, and when he mentioned a beach day at a nearby resort, I surprised myself with saying, “Yes, that sounds amazing.” I may have also been persuaded with the very positive reviews for the resort’s rum punches. We quickly changed clothes, and headed up the hill that would take us to the beach.

We headed towards Labadie, known to cruise travelers as “visiting Haiti” – a private beach owned by Royal Norwegian – stopping just short of Labadie in the small village of Cormier and making a glorious afternoon of it at Cormier Plage Resort. We immediately set ourselves up at the beachside bar for an afternoon of swimming, volleyball, lazing around, and an undocumented number of rum punches. The staff were friendly and the service prompt, and for the first time in my life, I imagined a scenario where I would go on a beach holiday.

Cap Haitien Haiti Cormier Plage Resort beach

Haiti’s north made quite the first impression, setting the scene for daily discoveries and revelations about the country. Stay tuned – it just keeps giving.

All about my trip to Haiti

For more about my G Adventures trip to Haiti, check out my Haiti travel section:

Krista Spurr bitesized travel Haiti travel blog posts

If you’re extra curious, explore my detailed Google Map of everywhere I visited in Haiti:

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