Uruguayan writer Jose Cantero has stated that when the carnival spirit is unleashed, festivities abound.
His statement perfectly describes Dominican carnival, the country’s most popular and traditional holiday which dates back to the Spanish colony. Back then, on the eve of the Catholic celebration of Lent, the residents of Santo Domingo would disguise themselves according to the traditional European customs of the period. The carnival celebrations took place three days before Ash Wednesday when, according to Christian believes, the holiest of Catholic rituals begins.
In the Dominican Republic, carnival officially begins the last weekend of January in the city of La Vega, situated approximately 1.5 hours north of Santo Domingo. In the country, carnival celebrations are closely tied to February 27, which is National Independence day. The close ties between the official and popular holidays take to the streets to the rhythm of carnival dances, floats, parades, masks where both young and old actively participate in the celebrations.
The traditional costumes used during carnival are a mixture of African, Indian and European cultures. The devil’s costumes originated as a way of ridiculing the Spanish colonizers.
Carnival in Santo Domingo
In the First City of the Americas, carnival begins with the coronation of King Calife, a traditional figure that appears dressed in black coat tails. The city’s beautiful seaside boulevard becomes center stage for the carnival parade, which takes place the last Sunday in February.
Carnival in Santiago, the Country’s Second Largest City
Situated two hours north of Santo Domingo, in the very heart of the country, carnival celebration in Santiago is just as colorful but with its very own distinct characteristics. This year the carnival will feature a contest to promote the country’s typical music. In Santiago, carnival parades are held every Sunday in February
Thousands of Dominican and foreign visitors visit the La Vega carnival, perhaps the most iconic of all local festivals. The parade of the devils, dressed in beautiful handmade costumes, is a true expression of European medieval traditions. The devils take to the streets with animal skin balloons, which they use to strike carnival participants. Celebrations are also held every Sunday in February.
The town of Bonao, situated one hour north of Santo Domingo, takes its name in honor of a Taino chief. The Tainos were the original inhabitants of the island. Again, carnival celebrations are held every Sunday in February.
Situated in the country’s northwest region, during carnival celebrations the town’s iconic devils “Los Toros” (The Bulls) take to the streets to provide color, music and flavor to the festivities. All carnival celebrations are held every Sunday in February.
This small centrally-located town features a truly colorful carnival celebration because of the wide variety of “devils” that participate in the Sunday parades.
The north coast’s most important city has managed to bring in to the local carnival the various traditions brought to the island by the Spanish and Africans, mixed with the traditions of the Taino Indians. Carnival celebrations in Puerto Plata begin the second the second Sunday in February.
“Rio San Juan”
Also on the north coast, this small oceanfront town celebrates carnival by providing locals and visitors with open-air concerts. Concerts are held every Sunday in February.
Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean’s most important tourism destination takes place in the town’s main boulevard in Puntacana Village. The carnival parade takes place on Sunday, March 4, at 4:00 p.m., with the participation of local carnival groups as well as representatives from such neighboring islands as Aruba, Curacao, and Puerto Rico. An impressive delegation from Haiti also participates.