Photo Journal

Gonaïves - The City of Independence

Place d'Armes town square in Gonaïves

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

Located on the coast of Haiti’s Artibonite department, Gonaïves is a charming historic city affectionately nicknamed "The city of independence"

A great starting point for your exploration of Gonaïves is the Place d'Armes - a large public square in the center of the town where Haiti's independence was proclaimed on January 1, 1804.


Here, you'll find two iconic monuments that are closely associated with the city: Cathédrale Du Souvenir (the Cathedral of Memory) and l'Obélisque (the Obelisk). These structures are a testament to Gonaïves' rich history, including its important role in Haiti's fight for independence.

busy haitian city street with lots of traffic

Traffic in Avenue des Datte

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

In addition to its historical landmarks, Gonaïves is a vibrant and lively city. Its streets, such as Avenue des Datte, buzzing with activity and offering a glimpse into the daily life and culture of the city.

city street with bus and ice cream vendor

Street life in front of the town hall

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

You'll notice a wide range of neighborhoods and urban landscapes as you explore the streets. From chaotic areas filled with motorcycle taxis, colorful taptap busses, and haggling street vendors, to peaceful and quiet quarters, this city offers something for everyone.

historical monument with statue of jacques dessalines

Statue of Jean Jacques Dessalines on Place d'Armes

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

One of the things that makes Gonaïves so unique is its rich history. Its public squares and landmarks are a reminder of the city's past, and the stories that are inscribed in every brick and paving stone.

public city square with boy on bmx bike and boy with football

Kids playing football on the public square of Raboteau

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

But Gonaïves is not just a city of the past – it's also a city of the future. Its young people, playing and laughing in the city's parks and playgrounds, are a reminder of the hope and promise that lies ahead.

edge of a lake with two vernacular wooden houses and mountains

The salt marshes of Morne Lapierre

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

To truly experience the beauty of Gonaïves, it's worth venturing outside of the city. One of the highlights is a trip to the stunning salt marshes of nearby Morne Lapierre. Here, the salty waters glisten in the sunlight, creating a breathtaking landscape. The high salinity of the seawater and the constant exposure to the sun make this region one of the best places in the country for the production of sea salt.

busy city street with market activity and motorcycles

The busy market square in Gonaïves

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

The market square is another must-see for any visitor to the city. It's a vibrant hub of activity, where the various aspects of daily life intersect and come together. The square itself is a chaotic and colorful mosaic, filled with the sounds, smells, and sights of the city.

Scenes of street life

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

The pavement is crowded with street vendors, taptaps, and motorcycle taxis, all vying for attention and space. And yet, despite the commotion, there's a sense of warmth and community here. The cheerful faces of the people, chatting and laughing with one another, give the market square its soul and character.

colorful painted building at a vodou community

Entrance of Lakou Soukri

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

Gonaïves is also a major center of Vodou pilgrimage, home to two of the country's largest lakous: Lakou Soukri and Lakou Souvenance. Each year, these lakous attract thousands of pilgrims, tourists, and curious visitors who come to experience the annual festivals and the unique rituals and traditions of Vodou.

courtyard area in a vodou lakou with buildings, trees and girl

Houses in Lakou Soukri

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

The concept of lakou is one of Haiti’s oldest cultural traditions. It’s a place where the faithful live in community, and while daily life at the lakou is not much different from elsewhere, there are certain rules and customs that must be followed in order to preserve the ancestral practices of Vodou.

metal voddou sculpture with symbols and offerings to spirits

A sign at the entrance of Lakou Souvenance

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

Lakou Souvenance is located about eleven kilometers north of Gonaïves. This ancient lakou, over two hundred years old, is a place of great spiritual significance for the Vodou community. Its ancient walls and gates, worn and weathered by time, speak to the centuries of traditions and rituals that have taken place within its boundaries.

old curved trees growing in courtyard providing shade

Towering trees surrounding a pond at Lakou Souvenance

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

For the visitor, a trip to Lakou Souvenance is a glimpse into a world of spirituality and tradition that is unlike anything else. It is a place of great beauty and mystery, where the past and the present come together in a unique and powerful way.

city street lined with tropical trees with traffic and a gas station

Sun rising over Avenue des Datte

Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin

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