Cap-Haïtien is the second largest city in Haiti. It lies along a bay on the northern coast of the country.
When Haiti was the French colony of Saint Domingue, as Cap Francais, the city was the colony's capital. Following independence, it was briefly the capital of the monarchy established in Haiti's North by King Henri Christophe, who built a magnificent palace and giant citadel, the largest fortification in the Americas, nearby. The country was unified upon Christophe's death in 1820, and the capital moved to Port-au-Prince. Today the city is a busy port and has a number of beaches nearby.
Cap-Haïtien's airport is called Hugo Chavez International Airport (CAP), renamed from Cap-Haïtien International Airport in 2013. It is located a few miles from downtown. A flight from Port-au-Prince takes about 30-45 minutes.
Other international airlines serving Cap-Haïtien include American Airlines , Sky King, Turks and Caicos Air (InterCaribbean; daily flights to PLS) and Pine-apple Air. The airport is small and has very few facilities: no ATM, for instance, but is being upgraded. Taxi drivers will ask for up to $20 to take you into town but $10 or even $5 is more reasonable. There may be some fairly aggressive baggage handlers too -- they'll grab your bag and say they work at the airport and then ask for a tip.
Caribe Tours goes from Santo Domingo via Santiago and Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. The trip takes about eight hours and the buses are reasonably comfortable. The bus station is downtown and a cheap taxi to and from your hotel is recommended. Round trip price is $60 (as of 2012), plus small entry fees each way. They will take your passport and return it at the border; make certain that it is put in the pile going to Cap rather than their other bus to Port-au-Prince. The Haitian roads are adequate. The actual border is a little stream and Haitian immigration is in a hot little building. Passports seem to be handled quickly. When crossing the other way there is a longer delay for Dominican customs. Update Nov 2017: there are buses from CAP to PAP, Sans Souci among them (bus terminal in town on the main road) but note that the first 100-130 km of the road is in wretched state of disrepair, both in valley and across the mountains. There is risk of having such a trip disrupted due to road quality and bus not being able to pass through. One way ticket is $17 per person; bus is reasonable.
The city is small and compact enough that you can walk most places. There are, however, many taxis and motor-taxis available. Taxis from the airport will try and charge US$30 to visitors, but you can bargain down to $20-25 if you speak French or Creole. There are also lots of tap-taps that go past the main road (Route National 3), though it's about a 8-10 minute walk out of the airport. You need to get the tap-tap going left (standing on the same side as the airport) to go to Cap-Haitien city, and going right to go to Milot and the Citadelle.
The downtown area is full of French colonial architecture -- it looks like New Orleans may have looked in the past. There is a wide promenade, Bouleved du Carenage, along the bay offering a nice view and sea air. A number of restaurants line the Boulevard. The downtown has shops and restaurants, but most cater to locals.
The Cathedral and Grand Place downtown are also rather impressive.
The nearby town of Milot is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sans Souci Palace and the Citadelle Henri Christophe, both built by King Henri Christophe. The palace ruins are impressive, as is the Citadelle, a massive castle that has been renovated and is really pretty amazing to see.
To the north of the city are a few beautiful beaches.
The walled Labadie (or Labadee) beach resort compound is located six miles to the city's northwest, and serves as a stopover for Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Major Royal Caribbean Cruise ships, including the largest and most luxurious, dock weekly at Labadie.
The resort is connected to Cap-Haïtien by a mountainous road that was recently paved. Royal Caribbean has built a pier at Labadie capable of servicing the luxury-class large ships, completed in late 2009.
People not on cruises can visit the beach too for a small fee.
From Labadie, one can catch a water taxi to Paradis, a secluded beach located in a nearby cove. There's a tiny tiki bar and locals will catch and grill seafood for you if you ask. Rates vary, generally 1000 gourdes and up (bargain with them!)
Cormier Plage is another beach on the way to Labadie with a really nice and large beachfront hotel, restaurant and bar.
In addition, Belli Beach is a small sandy cove with boats and hotels. Labadie village could be visited from here.
The Boulevard du Carenage is a nice walk.
Marketplaces dot the city with frenetic hustle and bustle. Sidewalks are crammed with vendors selling everything from charcoal to second hand bicycles fresh from Miami by boat. If it's avocado or mango season, do yourself a favor and buy some.
Most of the restaurants are also good for drinking places, but there are a few bars too.
General warnings about Haiti are true also for Cap-Haïtien, though the city is, on the whole, safer than Port-au-Prince.
Drink bottled water, even at restaurants and hotels, and use hand sanitizer before eating.
A tap-tap to Milot will cost around HTG 15 ($.45), but taxis are probably a bit safer, or at least less stressful. Some of the hotels offer jeep tours for USD$80. The Citadelle Laferriere and ruins of Sans Souci Palace are very impressive and worth a visit. You can hike from the palace up to the Citadelle, but it's very steep and a lot of work. The Government of Haiti recently built a ticket stand and marketplace for vendors at the foot of the trail to the Citadelle, and there you can hire a guide (recommended) or rent donkeys. You'll need to be in good shape if you don't take a donkey.
A taxi to the airport from the town will cost around HTG 100, or $2.50. On leaving, you will be required to pay taxes of $60 in cash dollars, although some of the smaller regional airlines don't charge this. There is no ATM at the airport.
Buses are available to Port-au-Prince from Sans Souci Tours and leave at multiple times during the morning and early afternoon.