Gonaïves may not be much to look at, but travelers keen on understanding Haiti's history will definitely appreciate a stop in this large, political city. On January 1, 1804, it was here that Dessalines signed the act of Haitian independence, creating the world’s first black republic. Just outside Gonaïves, the town of Dessalines is surrounded by historic, mountain-top forts that defended the city throughout the 1800s. In more recent years, Gonaïves has also played a revolutionary role – riots here in 1985 showed the writing was on the wall for ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, while the rebel capture of Gonaïves in 2004 marked the beginning of the end for Aristide.
Souvenance and Soukri – the two biggest Vodou festivals in the country – are two more reasons travelers might opt to base themselves in the area. People from all over Haiti congregate near Gonaïves to take part in these marathon ceremonies.