“Citadelle Henry is a living testimony of the determination of the people to consolidate their right to be sovereign and free, and to decide their own destiny. It is a place of remembrance and reflection, a symbol of dignity and freedom”. – Transcription on a plaque posted at the entrance to Citadelle Henry
Perched high above the ocean within the lush green confines of the mountain Bonnet-à-L’évêque that surround the small farming community of Milot are two of Haiti’s most prized possessions and symbols of freedom, Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Both built in the early 1800s during the reign of Henry Christophe, an important leader of the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s independence, these two UNESCO World Heritage sites are perhaps the most impressive and iconic monuments in all of Haiti. They are definitely worth a visit to grasp an understanding of Haiti’s tumultuous, heroic past which enabled this tiny nation to become the first free black nation in the world.
We set off after breakfast from our hotel in Cap-Haïtien towards Milot. Although Milot is only about 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, it of course took an hour to navigate through the swarms of pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and rough roads to reach Milot, a small town located at the base of the mountain and the entry point for Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Thankfully we had our trusted driver Nixon at the wheel of our six-passenger van steering the way through the madness. Yet of course it didn’t fail that we got lost trying to get our of town and had to hire another motorcyclist to show us the way. It was becoming a common trend!
While the Palais Sans Sousi is located within the folds of the Bonnet-à-L’évêque mountain on the edge of town, the Citadelle Henry is perched high above Milot (over five miles up) on top of the mountain and requires quite an effort to get there. Given the heat and the potential for crowds, we decided to visit the Citadelle Henry first.
Reaching the Citadelle Henry is not for the faint at heart. There are basically two ways you can do it: On foot or on horse. If you go on foot, it is requires a couple of hours to reach the top depending upon your fitness level and the heat. If you go on horse, it is quite easy and only requires your patience dealing with squabbling horse handlers trying to continually negotiate a higher tip for the 30 minute ride up. We opted to ride the horses which ended up being a great decision given the hot and humid weather.