Dominican Carnival – let me start with telling you a bit more of the origin of this event that is one of the most popular ones in the Dominican Republic.
We might not measure up to the big Carnivals in Rio or Las Vegas, but we Dominican look back of a long tradition and make it definitely fun for everyone.
Not only do spectators and visitors enjoy the rhythmic sound of the music, colorful and well elaborated customs and amazing dance shows and performances, the passion of the people itself, presenting each region of our beautiful country proudly year after year and they seem to enjoy it just as much as those who come to celebrate with us.
History of the Dominican Carnival
February and March are very important months in the Dominican calendar.
Not only do we celebrate on the 27th of this month our Dominican Independence Day, you can find on all weekends in the bigger cities of our island Carnival parades with live music, dozens of performance groups that present breathtaking shows.
The tradition of celebrating Dominican Carnival dates back to the early 15th century when christian slave owners allowed their slaves to get the “wild” out of their system.
Not sure that this really worked 🙂
Originally locals would dress up as Moors and Christians and used these days to get away from the rigid religious traditions that settlers had brought from the old world.
Colony live was boring and hard work and alternation in every days live was more than welcome.
By the late 1700s it had become a fix date for this major celebration, that gained even more popularity after the Dominican Republic gained their independency from Haiti.
Until now the biggest Carnival processions can be visited in Santo Domingo, La Vega and Monte Cristi.
What do some of the Carnival mask and customs mean?
One of the main character of the Dominican Carnival is the Diablo Cojuelo– a limping Devil character.
If you ask Dominicans, they tell the story that this devil was banished to earth because of his childish pranks he would play on others. When he hit the earth he hurt his leg, causing him to limp.
Most of the times, performers present this character by wearing a mask and a satanic suit.
Dressed up with whistle and bells they swing a whip through the air that makes you wince because of the loud bang every time it hits the ground.
A “Vejiga” – an animal bladder filled with air, mostly they use goat bladder, is used to hit people in the streets.
I personally did not like this part. So with a big smile and a “por favor que no!” ( please don’t) you should be able to avoid this too, unless you enjoy being punished.
Roba la Gallina -the story goes back in time when people, most of the times man would dress up as woman to steal the farmers chicken. That’s why you see at the Dominican Carnival often a man dressing up as a woman who just stole a chicken.
This character is one to entertain the crowd and often carries a large purse with candy inside for the children waiting along the parade.
It all started around 11 years ago, when 5 of woman brought up the idea to organize their own Carnival here in Punta Cana.
Today this group is 30 woman strong and the group of is calls itself the “Musas de Punta Cana”.
Together with Grupo Punta Cana and their founder Frank Reiniri they organized a committee that evolve fantastic ideas of customs and themes to present a spectacular event every at the beginning of March.
You can still see him crowning the new Carnival King and driving him personally to his stage.
He is a true character that loves to get close with the crowd and many locals are looking forward to meet him and have a chat or two with him on public events like this one.
This year’s theme was the protection of the local coral reefs and the endangered Ridgeway’s Hawk, a species that theFoundation Punta Cana is trying to reproduce and protect from being extinct.
You can tell, bringing the Carnival all the way to Punta Cana has been a success.
When years back only close to 2000 visitors came, they counted 2018 over 20.000 guests. If you want to join the Punta Cana Carnival you should reserve the date always in the first week of March. This years warm up party started Friday March 2nd and the actual Carnival parade on Saturday 3rd.
An international delegations from Aruba, Curacao, Haiti, Saint Martin and even Venezuela has been invited and presented beautifully their countries.
An exquisite selection of the very best performing and artistic groups from the Dominican Republic were present and made this day super special.
Well organized performing groups presented amazing customs and shows on the boulevard close to the international airport Punta Cana and Sheraton Hotel Punta Cana.
The entrance is free and you have a fenced off walk way, from where you can watch the spectacle.
But if you want to sit and party a bit more you can purchase tickets to one of the many stages with sponsors like Brugal Rum, Coca Cola, Claro or Grupo Punta Cana ahead of time online or if you are lucky you can purchase left over tickets right at the entrance of each stage.
Usually a few drinks are included and special animation or some small finger food.
Prices vary from US $ 25.00 – 40.00 / person
The best way to get to the Punta Cana Carnival?
If you drive on your own, I do recommend to use the big parking area of Blue Mall Punta Cana and then just walk a few minutes over to the event.
Your car is save here and you avoid the hassle with finding a spot closer by. I can guarantee your there is none.
Be prepared to drive here a bit earlier since this road is used also by all the transport companies from and to the airport and a huge traffic jam is most likely to happen.
The event starts around 3 pm, but if you get there by 1:30 -2 pm you have plenty of time to stroll around and find the right spot to watch the show.
There are plenty of other local transportation that are available for guests staying in resorts in Uvero Alto, Cabeza de Toro or hotels in Cap Cana.
Taxis are a good choice and do not cost that much if you share with a group of people. Prices range from US $ 40.00 – US $ 60.00 one way for 4 people, depending where you are staying.
Make sure you arrange a transport back in time, since you otherwise have to wait a very long time to find one that is available.
Local tour operator that have their representatives in almost all the Punta Cana hotelsoffer organized tours including bus transportation for their guests, entrance fees for a stage and maybe some drinks included and a set time to get back.
If you like to plan ahead of time and don’t feel that comfortable to do it on your own. This is probably a good option for you.
You won’t be starving or getting thirsty home!
There are plenty of stands offering all kind of drinks and refreshments, ice cream and sweet treats.
There are many local food trucks that have amazing finger food at really affordable prices.
Outback’s Steakhouse Punta Cana for example had specials on hamburgers for 250 Dominican peso what is about US $ 5.00. Another local favorite of ours is Nam Nam. They do have a small restaurant in Bavaro, where we like to get our fix when we feel hungry and want homey and tasty food. At the festival they have been present with a small food stand giving out delicious sandwiches and burgers.
On each stage you have some of the drinks included from water to special lemonade, special Dominican Rums and whiskey as well as really tasty cocktail specials.
Make sure you hydrate yourself, it is hot and in the heat of the event, with all the dancing and walking you want to avoid issues.
Is it safe to go on the Carnival?
We felt really safe this year. In the past this event was over shadowed by some individuals pocket stealing from guests, by bumping into them and taking money and easy to access cell phones, the organizer have improved tremendously the security question.
Over 12.000 private securities, guards and police man checked bags and pockets on the entrance for weapons and unwanted items on the area as well as they displayed a constant presence close to the fenced off areas. We never felt this safe like we did this year.
So leave important belongings in the hotels safe, take only what you need and put it in pockets and bags that you can easily secure. I wouldn’t go with a back bag for example.
We notices that this year the Dominican Red Cross and civil defense had tents on strategic points to offer immediate medical assistance when needed.
Last minute tips to make the most out of your Carnival experience in Punta Cana
Arrange transport ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving
Take cash money with you to purchase drinks and food, but leave all valuables back home or in your resorts in Punta Cana
It is okay to go alone or as a couple, but even better if you gather a few friends and have fun as a group. It is easy to connect to likeminded people since we are all here to have a great time.
Even though most hotels offer night shows and entertainment during Carnival season, you should put the Punta Cana Carnival on your list of things to do. It is a unique event that shows of our culture and creativity and you will be going home with incredible memories of a fantastic spectacle
Don’t worry if you have not brought any customs or Make up. Along the roads street vendors offer silly masks and lights, wigs and funny stuff that you can purchase to get into Carnival mood and party in style.
Overall I hope I could show you that it is a fantastic event, to enjoy more of our Dominican culture and that it is definitely worth putting the Dominican Carnival on your list of things to do in Dominican Republic.
If you have been on one of the parades and took some amazing pictures, please do share them with us using our hashtag #OutbackadventuresDR