Carnival in the Caribbean is an experience you’ll always remember. The vibrant costumes and joyful festivities represent a time to celebrate life and freedom. Here in the DR, Carnival is a happy celebration of our diverse culture and heritage. If you’re planning on coming to the DR to get a taste of Carnaval Dominicano (as we call it here) for the first time, read on to learn what to expect.
We celebrate the Dominican Carnival annually in February, culminating with the Independence festivities on February 27. This season is a time to showcase our identity, which is a rich melting pot of European, Indigenous and African cultures, of which we are proud.
Every Sunday in February, every major city comes alive with parades and parties. The oldest and most historic carnival takes place in the host city, La Vega. You can also explore the DR’s capital, Santo Domingo, which hosts a military parade and carnival parade that brings together the largest comparsas (troupes) of the island.
Each city has different traditions and costumes with a unique identity. The various costumes take months to prepare and are the highlight of the carnaval Dominicano. The main costumes are called Diablos Cojuelos or Limping Devils, and are elaborate and impressive.
The story behind these costumes is that the Devil banished a playful imp because of his pranks were too much to handle. One accessory, a vejiga, which is made from dried cow’s bladder, is used to whip unsuspecting spectators. It’s all part of the fun, but please keep this in mind, if you don’t want to be hit. Tip: if you point your camera at them, they won’t hit you. Good to know, right?
Another costume, the Lechones of Santiago, are also iconic. Los Lechones or piglets, are masked devils with the face of a pig. The wearers normally carry whips instead of balloons.
Carnival in Cabarete
Carnival celebrations in Cabarete are a new addition, and usually occur during the first few weeks of March, after the Independence festivities have ended. The organizer behind Cabarete Carnaval is Academia de la Costa, a martial arts school and community center in the town. Tomas “Papo” Soñé, co-founder of the Cabarete Carnaval, and lead instructor at the Academia de la Costa, said that they started this Carnival to build a stronger bond between the expat community in Cabarete and the local Dominicans.
The great thing about this carnival is that spectators can walk alongside the troupes in the parades. Best of all, you won’t get hit at a Cabarete Carnaval because the masked devils are not allowed to whip spectators.
See you in February!