dominican republic festivals

It’s always a good time to celebrate in the Dominican Republic. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Culture + Style

Festive Dominican Republic: Colorful Celebrations to Check Out Every Year

If there’s one thing Dominicans are known for, it’s their deep love of music, dancing, and celebration. While you can witness this passion any time of the year, a handful of annual events — from February to November — bring out the crowds and offer a vivid glimpse into the country’s culture and festive spirit.

Carnaval Dominicano

dominican republic festivals
Expect colorful traditional costumes at the annual Carnaval. (Photo: Lebawit Lily Girma)

Carnaval dominicano kicks off in February, and is the most anticipated event of the year. Every Sunday until the first weekend of March — well past Ash Wednesday — colorful parades take place across the country’s 31 provinces.

With characters drawn from local folklore, you’ll have a fun time figuring out the costumes and the stories behind them. Carnaval’s primary character is the diablo cojuelo, or the limping devil, prancing around in a shiny outfit, with a grotesque mask and a shiny cape — a mockery of Spanish medieval knights.

Look out for the devil’s whips and cover your buttocks. Other carnival costumes honor the country’s African and Taíno heritage – Los Pintaos de Barahona represent the Maroon community of the southwest, and the Indios recall the days of the Taínos, the first inhabitants of the Dominican Republic.

The most popular carnival parades are held in La Vega, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Plata. Punta Cana hosts a two-day carnival parade inside Punta Cana Village, steps from steps from Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village.

The most vibrant carnival parade of all is the final Desfile Nacional in Santo Domingo in March, when the country’s 31 best carnival groups descend on the Malecón. It’s a spectacle you could watch comfortably from the Sheraton Santo Domingo, but it’s more fun to join in the dancing and take selfies with the revelers.

dominican republic festivals
Feel the rhythm. (Photo: Lily Lebawit Girma)

Independence Day

The Dominican Republic celebrates its independence on February 27, with parades around the country’s major provinces. But the largest and most colorful celebration takes place in Santo Domingo, with a three-hour military parade along the city’s historic Malecón.

It’s an impressive display of patriotism. Members of the naval, military, and special forces come out chanting in uniform, while the tanks roll by. Marching bands fill the air with music as they stomp down the boulevard, and helicopters fly over the Caribbean as crowds cheer loudly.

The parade usually begins around 3 in the afternoon; line up with the crowds and don’t worry about drinks or snacks: mobile vendors set up along the boulevard, and will even deliver beer your way. The parade ends at dusk with fireworks over the Malecón, and the night often continues with a merengue concert at Plaza Juan Barón.

Jazz Festival

Is the combination of jazz, water sports, and beach time tempting enough? If so, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is a solid bang for your buck. The week-long event takes place in November in three coastal towns on the north coast of the DR: Sosúa, Puerto Plata city, and the kitesurfing hub of Cabarete.

Local jazz artists are featured, as well as talents from around Latin America and Europe. The festival ends on the beach in Cabarete, where you’ll find plenty of adjacent late night bars and clubs post-concert.