STUFF TO SEE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
It is no surprise, given the country’s rich and varied history, starting with the original Taino Caribbean people and followed by invasions from the Spanish, French and even the Americans in 1965, that the Dominican Republic has such an incredible array of cultural and music festivals and celebrations on offer, year-round.
MUSIC AND DANCE
For Dominicans, music and dance are vital ingredients for a good life and so when they decide to put on a party, you can guarantee that it will be an almighty spectacle. Combine that with religious syncretism, a history of slavery, emancipation and going even further back, roots in Voodoo and Changó, you can begin to get a picture of just how varied and entertaining their festivals and parades are.
We want you to know where and when these festivals take place so you don’t miss out on some of the very best things to do in the Dominican Republic. We’ve put them more or less in date order, so you can plan a trip to travel around the island and join in the fun.
Bear in mind that getting around in the Dominican Republic is pretty easy; coaches or buses (Caribe Tours and Metro Tours) travel South and North, East and West between all major cities and there are smaller, more localised mini-buses or taxis, called gua-guas and carritos respectively, which flit between towns and offer very affordable transport. It’s safe to get around too, just follow the usual precautions you would use in any city in the world; Dominicans are super-friendly and helpful and many speak English too.
NEW YEARS EVE PARTIES IN THE DR
New Year’s Eve all cities, especially Santo Domingo, Santiago and Cabarete – Dec 31st/Jan 1st
We may as well start with the very beginning of the year: All major towns and cities on the island will enjoy bringing in the New Year. In the capital, Santo Domingo, revellers head to The Malecón (which is Ave. George Washington). Bordering the ocean, this wide avenue will host music of all genres with dancing and fireworks continuing through the night. On the north coast, the surf-beach town of Cabarete has one of the most popular parties, with live bands on the beach and fireworks + a party to last the whole night.
Guloya Festival San Pedro de Macorís
When January 1st
This is a festival not to be missed if you are looking for one of the most colourful and vibrant on the whole island. The Guloya Festival is held to celebrate the start of the new year and more importantly, the considerable cultural influence of the Cuban immigrants who founded this town when fleeing from their own country’s War of Independence in the 1800’s. UNESCO has listed this spectacular festival as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Patrimony of Humanity’.
Where: Major cities and towns
When: October through January
Did you know that many of the Major League Baseball players in the United States are Dominicans? Baseball to the Dominicans is as important as their music and dancing and is a vital part of local culture. All towns will have a baseball ground of some description and the larger stadiums are funded and maintained by wealthy benefactors. Since the 1950’s all 30 MBL franchises have a training academy in the Dominican Republic. The natural athleticism of Dominicans unsurprisingly leads to their success first at home and then often in the US leagues.
If you want to spectate at one of these high quality and lively matches, then head for the professional league (L.I.D.O.M.) baseball teams, based in Santo Domingo (Estadio Quisqueya), San Pedro de Marcoris (Estadio Tetelo Vargas), La Romana (Estadio Francisco Micheli), San Francisco de Macoris (Estadio Julián Javier) or Santiago (Estadio Cibao). Lower league teams can be found in Puerto Plata and most larger towns throughout the island.
Día de Duarte
When: January 26th.
Juan Pablo Duarte is revered as the founding father of the Dominican Republic, and his birthday, January 26th, is celebrated with carnivals all over the island, including (of course) music and dancing in Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata, San Pedro de Macorís, Samaná and La Romana.
Where: all across the island
When: The whole month of February, especially February 27th.
February 27th marks the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day. After years of emancipation by several different occupying forces, you can understand why the Dominicans celebrate their freedom every Sunday in February, right across the island. You will find Carnivals in most of the towns each Sunday in February; Santo Domingo, Santiago, La Romana, Punta Cana, La Vega, Bonao, Río San Juan and Puerto Plata will all hold celebrations. Each region has its own carnival characters, for example, Lechones will be in Santiago and Taimáscaros in Puerto Plata, but also ‘Comparsas’ and other Dominican folklore characters in each parade. If you want to wait for the big one, be sure to be in Santo Domingo on the 27th of February, on the Malecón, when the winners of each regional carnival meet and compete in one huge parade. Cabarete on the north coast now also hosts a great carnival parade.
Cabarete Sand Castle Festival
When:February for 10 days
Cabarete beach is transformed for 10 days in February for the annual sandcastle competition. Forget your bucket turrets and shaky ramparts; these sandcastles are real works of art, worthy of any art gallery exhibition. What a crying shame that they will all be destroyed once the competition winner is announced!
Barceló Desalia Festival
Where: Punta Cana
Organised by the famous Ron Barcelo (the rum company), this is the 2nd largest electronic dance music festival in the Caribbean and is held in Punta Cana during February. Approximately 5000 revellers will dance to some of the biggest names in this genre of music.
Semana Santa (Easter)
Where: whole island, particularly Cabarete
The majority of Dominicans these days are practising Catholics, so the Religious significance of Easter is huge. Santo Domingo sees the biggest religious parade on Good Friday with a mass at the main Cathedral on Easter Saturday.
However, once Good Friday has been celebrated quietly and respectfully, most Dominicans actually head for the beaches (especially young people) for the party of all parties. The surf town of Cabarete is the pick of the bunch and is worth avoiding over Easter weekend if you are not into noise, music and dancing. If you are, then you will enjoy a spectacular concert right on the beach and streets packed full of excitable revellers. This party lasts from late Friday night until Monday morning!
Where: Cabral only
When: weekend after Easter.
In Cabral, during Easter week you will find the Cimarrón Festival, lasting for 3 days, the following weekend after the Easter holidays. The festival celebrates much older traditional African practices, mixed with the traditional burning of the Judas doll, as well as Cachuas, who hold whips whilst wearing beautiful papier mache, multicolor masks with horns, set to impersonate the colonial master as well as the abused slaves of old. It’s a very traditional festival; not very ‘touristy’ as it is not on the regular tourist routes, but that’s not to say you won’t be welcome to go along and enjoy this celebration of history and culture.
San Juan Bautista Festival
Where: only in San Juan de Managua
This festival offers a perfect example of how religious syncretism defines the Dominican people: Celebrating both Changó, a god revered in the ancient religion of the West African Yoruba people, along with Saint John the Baptist. This festival, as with all Dominican festivals, has enough music and dance to keep you entertained all day and all night.
Where: only in Santo Domingo
When: Dates vary, normally May or June.
Housed in a baseball stadium in the capital, Barbarella is organised by Presidente (the best beer in the Dominican Republic) and is the biggest electronic music event in the Caribbean.
Puerto Plata Cultural festival
Where: Puerto Plata city
When: during July (normally).
In this fiesta patronal, you will enjoy a variety of concerts and parades where you can dance to merengue, salsa, blues and jazz and watch demonstrations of African tribal dances, all taking place around the ancient San Felipe Fort. You’ll also enjoy arts and crafts exhibitions near the Central Park which showcase the work of many local artisans.
Festival de Merengue
Where: Santo Domingo
When: July or August,
Puerto Plata in late September (dates can vary).
Merengue originated in the Dominican Republic and is a joyous music genre, suiting the Dominican character perfectly. Legend has it that this close form of the dance (couples holding each other tightly whilst their hips flow and move to the fast rhythm) began when slaves were chained closely together to work in the sugar plantations and were unable to separate to dance. As a result, the Merengue dance is incredibly sexy and dynamic. If you want to go to one of these stunning festivals, take a dance lesson in this fairly simple dance style so you can join in. The dance is energetic and somewhat frenetic, but it’s also beautiful to watch as a Merengue specialist will keep their upper body in a smooth majestic rhythm while their hips do all the work.
In Santo Domingo and also in Puerto Plata, all along the Malecóns in either city, you will see Merengue bands and dancers showing the very best way to enjoy this wonderful music.
Fiesta Patria de la Restauración
Where: All cities
When: August 16th
Celebrating the day the Dominican Republic finally gained its independence from Spain, this nationwide festival will lead to parades, street festivals, concerts and food festivals in all major towns.
Dominican Republic Fashion Week
Where: Santo Domingo
Dominicans love their fashion and the capital city has some great shopping on offer. During October, top designers will display their latest designs on the catwalks.
The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival
2018 dates are; Punta Cana August 24/25,
Santiago Oct 27
Santo Domingo Oct 28
Sosua Nov 1st
Puerto Plata Nov 2nd
Cabarete, November 3rd and 4th
This amazing Jazz festival will leave you breathless. From humble beginnings, the festival is now huge and heavily funded by major sponsors. There are several locations to enjoy not just the best jazz musicians of the Dominican Republic, but also guest appearances from Jazz stars from all over the world. If you can only manage one location, we especially recommend Cabarete for the best venue, as the festival there lasts two days and often has the best head-liners. The stage is right on the beach, so there’s no need to interrupt your sun holiday to enjoy the music. You can see more information on this amazing yearly festival on their website: https://drjazzfestival.com/
Merengue Típico Festival
Another chance to enjoy a traditional Merengue festival, this annual event is held in a smaller town, close to Puerto Plata. If you want a truly authentic musical experience, this is it.
I hope we have given you a taste of the amazing array of festivals, parades, carnivals and music festivals on offer year-round in the Dominican Republic. Don’t stay inside your all-inclusive hotel and ‘enjoy’ mediocre food and watered-down drinks; get out and about and travel cheaply and easily around this stunningly beautiful and diverse country. The people will LOVE to see you at their parades and festivals; they are proud of their amazing and varied culture and will enjoy sharing the celebrations with you.
So as you can see and read, the Dominican Republic has more to offer than just a water sport holiday. Combine your surf holiday with any of these festival to get sport and culture on your holiday to the Dominican Republic.
That’s why the saying is:
“The Dominican Republic has it all”
We hope to welcome you to our Surf retreat in the Caribbean