Truly there is nothing like it. About 17 miles from Cap-Haitien and five miles uphill – really uphill on a twisty-turny road – is the largest fortress in the Americas. Not only is the fortress amazing in size it is also unique in location. Most forts are built along a waterway to prevent egress by invaders by water. The Citadel is located on a high mountain and intentionally extremely difficult to get to because it was to serve and a place of last resort should they be attacked. Its position at 3000 feet gave it an expansive view of the valley below. It was just one of a couple dozen such mountain top forts in Haiti but the Citadel is by far the largest.
The history of Haiti and the Citadel is unique. The Citadel was built at the behest of Henri Christophe who was a key leader of the slave rebellion that led to the world’s first independent black-led republic in the world having successfully ousted the French. Fearful that the French would try to recapture the island the massive fort was constructed by 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820.
Designated a World Heritage site, the fort also has the largest collection of cannons in the Western Hemisphere many of which still bear the insigna of their European country of origin. The fort was never attacked. Getting there today is part of the adventure. There are four ways: a four-hour hike from Milot at the foot of the mountain, take a vehicle to the second parking lot and hike one hour uphill, ride a horse from the second parking lot or hop in the back a Rhino (a four-wheeler with a small flatbed) for a ride to the top. Getting there is memorable but so it the view and the massiveness of the structure which has many interesting features including a system for water storage and incredible views.