Caribbean Carnivals Pt 2 : Carnaval in the Dominican Republic

by Moraima Capellán Pichardo

Carnaval in the Dominican Republic - La Vega

Let’s talk Dominican carnival. But wait, make sure to catch up on PART 1 (ADD LINK), which details the roots of and how carnival is celebrated throughout the Caribbean.

Growing up, carnaval dominicano, as it is known here, was a joyful time of culture and pride. During my personal sabbatical back to my birth country, I was most excited about experiencing these celebrations again.

Celebrated during the month of February, the Dominican carnival has a complicated start. Just like other carnival celebrations in the Caribbean and in Latin America, the tradition originates from the Roman Catholic religion and was brought over by European colonizers.

Today’s celebrations represent the mixture of European, Indigenous and African cultures to make the overall Dominican identity. Dominicans are very proud of our heritage and carnival season is the time of year where we showcase our folklore and spirit.

carnaval in the Dominican Republic - oldest carnival La Vega

What to expect 

February is an important month in the Dominican Republic. Not only is it carnival season but the month culminates with the national celebration of Independence on February 27th.

The parades and parties happen in every major city every Sunday during the month of February. The city of La Vega, hosts the most iconic and oldest carnival in the Caribbean. Other cities to explore are Santiago, Bonao, Barahona, and Montecristi. Santo Domingo, the capital of the DR, hosts a military parade and carnival parade that brings together the largest comparsas (troupes) of the island.

Costumes

Each city has different traditions and costumes with a unique identity but a few staples remain. The general costumes are called Diablos Cojuelos or Limping Devils—the story goes that this playful devil was banished from hell by the devil himself because of his hardcore pranks.

Dominican iterations of the Diablo Cojuleos involve elaborate, detailed costumes and their favorite weapon a vejiga. Vejiga or balloons are traditionally made with a dried cow’s bladder and are used to hit passerby’s and spectators.

When you attend any carnival celebration you must be aware that you run the risk of being hit by the Vejigas or whips. It’s all in the thrill and fun of the festivities!

After the Diablos Cojuelos, the Lechones of Santiago are iconic. Los Lechones or piglets are masked devils with the face of a pig and usually carry whips instead of balloons.

The various costumes throughout the Dominican Republic take months to prepare and are the highlight of the carnaval Dominicano. Tip: You are less likely to get hit if you point your camera at them!

cabarete carnaval - carnaval in the Dominican Republic

Cabarete Carnaval

The carnival celebrations in Cabarete are a recent addition and usually occur after the national festivities have finished during the first few weeks of March. The Academia de la Costa, a martial arts school and community center in Cabarete organizes the Cabarete Carnaval.

Tomas “Papo” Soñé, co-founder of the Cabarete Carnaval, and lead instructor at the Academia de la Costa explained that the carnival was started as a way to bridge the growing expat community in Cabarete with the local Dominicans. As a growing carnival, the festivities in Cabarete not only bring different comparsas from the island but spectators are allowed to walk the parade with the troupes.

Cabarete Carnaval might be the only the carnival celebration were the masked devils are prohibited from whipping spectators making it ideal for families and children.