Posted by: Alex MacGregor | June 28, 2012

Citadelle Laferrière

The Sans Souci Palace lies at the bottom of a seven-kilometer road to get to the main attraction: The Citadelle Laferrière.

Seven kilometers up. Seven kilometers down. A couple thousand feet gained, then lost again. All in the tropical heat.

Needless to say, few people actually walk it. A rough road can get you most of the way to the top in the comfort of your car–not an option for those of us who arrived by taptap. For those without a 4WD car, you have three options: walk, ride a moto-taxi (motorcycle, which terrifies us), or ride a horse.

Our tentative plan was to walk. But those guys who rent the horses can sense the slightest bit of indecision. They followed us for a couple minutes, purely on speculation that “the lady” would want a horse.

Well, we decided one horse was probably a good idea. After all, my knee was hurting that morning, and we could just take turns riding it if we got tired.

So Caroline hopped on a horse and took off. Now, these horses don’t gallop the whole way or anything, and they require a guy to lead them and “encourage” them (using a whip), and our guide would be walking too. I figured I could keep up with the other guys.

I was dead wrong. Five minutes of hiking and Caroline was long gone while I was panting, sweating, and seriously doubting I could keep this up for two hours. Those guys were able to walk at a brisk pace up a seven kilometer grade, and I wasn’t. So I relented. Two horses it was.

The road up to the top is absolutely beautiful. Riding through banana plantations, kids waving–an absolutely great time. You also get some people aggressively selling crafts and so forth. But it’s less of a problem once you’ve got a guide.

The Citadelle comes into view. The greatest fortress in the Americas, sitting atop a high mountain.

A lookout post.

Finally, we’re at the top. The walls of the fortress are impossibly high.

After dismounting, my horse gets a snack.

In a way, the crazy thing about the Citadelle is that it was built at all. Haiti 200 years ago was newly independent and the northern part run by the somewhat-crazy Henri Christophe. Petrified of a French invasion or a war with the other kingdom to the south (whose capital was Port-au-Prince), he built this fortress.

Every brick, every stone, every ounce of mortar requiring huge effort to get to the top of the mountain. It took 20,000 laborers over a decade to build.

The draw bridge. It’s all designed straight out of a “how to build a medieval castle” textbook. Once the enemy penetrates one layer, you make it even harder to get through the next.

Everything about it is unnecessarily huge. How many floors of cannons do you really need, pointing off the 100′ high tower?

Each cannon is intricately carved.

The lighting was not so good for taking pictures of the incredible view, but awesome for capturing the mood of the place.

The governor’s palace, should a retreat to the castle be necessary.

The magazine, where all the gunpowder was kept. It’s said that someone was smoking near the magazine, and was swiftly put to death as punishment.

It’s also said that after the architect who designed the Citadelle gave Mr. Christophe the plans, thereby expecting payment, he was swiftly killed.

Every cannonball requiring tremendous effort to get to the fortress. And it never saw battle.

After a while, it was time to turn back and head down to Milot for a tap-tap back to Cap.

You can start to feel like Frodo Baggins after a while, with so many guides and stuff. It can get a little out hand sometimes.

We walked back down. Riding a horse is general is not very comfortable, and works all sorts of muscles that never otherwise get worked. Going down steep grades for a couple hours–we’d rather just walk.

An enchanting place, but, for the time being, it sees only a trickle of tourists a day (probably a dozen on the day we went). Maybe someday Haiti will come around and the Citadelle will find its place among the amazing sights this continent has to offer. Maybe then they’ll build a cable car or something to get up there. Until then, you’ve just got to work for it.

UPDATE: Just a few weeks after we visited the Citadelle, Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, also paid it a visit. According to reports of his trip, he was quite angry about the state of the Citadelle (which is clearly apparent in our pictures). Personally, I have to disagree with the president that the Citadelle looks neglected and in a state of disrepair. I was expecting much worse, given the Tripadvisor reviews that said it was full of trash. Instead, I saw ongoing and recently completed restoration projects and an authentic, clean building. It is my humble opinion that if President Martelly wants to grow tourism in Haiti, the starting point should be in accommodations, which we found to be 5 to 10 times more expensive than in places like Central America–this is what really gives Caroline and me pause about returning.


  1. The Citadelle looks amazing. Awesome pictures! The cannonball piles are pretty neat too.

  2. […] you really feel like you’ve earned it once you eventually reach your goal (a secluded beach, a famous fortress, or a cheap meal that doesn’t make you ill). We had already extended our stay once, though, […]

  3. […] you really feel like you’ve earned it once you eventually reach your goal (a secluded beach, a famous fortress, or a cheap meal that doesn’t make you ill). We had already extended our stay once, though, […]

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  6. Great reading thiis

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