Festivals in the Dominican Republic

Dancers in elaborate Carnaval costumes adorned with flowers and feathers.

Carnaval in Santo Domingo. Photo courtesy of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism.

Map of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo

While Carnaval (February, various dates) lasts all of February throughout the Dominican Republic, it all climaxes with a pre-Lenten celebration in Santo Domingo. Representative diablos come from each town to create a colorful parade of masks and costumes. Floats and dancers parade down the Malecón, culminating in a riotous party that lasts until dawn.

Semana Santa (dates vary; usually in April) is the holy week for both Christianity and Vodou leading up to Easter Sunday. The party stretches all across the nation with loud music, dancing, and barbecues. Hate crowds but want to see Santo Domingo? This is a great time to visit the capital city. The metropolis is a ghost town with many locals going on vacation to beach resorts and mountain retreats.

Bookworms amble through the gates of the Plaza de la Cultura Juan Pablo Duarte annually to attend the Feria Internacional del Libro Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo International Book Fair, April–May), which lasts two weeks. The cultural event is 12 years running and has over 650 international and national exhibitions from more than 20 countries, boasts over 40 pavilions, and is one of the most well-attended fairs in the country.

The Santo Domingo Jazz Festival (every Thursday in June) is a jazz aficionado’s dream. Every June, Casa de Teatro, a small theater in the Colonial Zone, hosts performers from around the world. The 2009 festival boasted a hot lineup from the Dominican Republic, the United States, Argentina, Cuba, Spain, and France in an outdoor concert series bursting with melodies, changing tempos and rhythms, and passionate improvisations.

The Feria Internacional de Arte (FIART, May) was new to the Dominican Republic in 2009. This annual festival in Santo Domingo has more than 35 participating art galleries.

The festival of Espíritu Santo (first or second week in June) is celebrated all over the island, but the most amazing festivities are in Santo Domingo’s Villa Mella. Listen to the playing of African congo drums and watch the religious processions.

The Merengue Festival (July in Santo Domingo, October in Puerto Plata; dates vary slightly each year) takes place along the Malecón in both cities with amateur DJs spinning merengue all along the seaside. Live music is played and beer is sold to huge crowds of dancers. These festivals are both national favorites.

Día de Restauración (August 16) celebrates the Dominican Republic’s independence from Spain (Restoration Day) with parties all over the nation. In Santo Domingo, it is celebrated around Plaza España.

The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival (November) takes place in the small town of Cabarete, on the Atlantic. The festival is internationally known and gives participants music, dancing, and events under the stars.

On New Year’s Eve (December 31) the year is sent out with a bang and a large party on the Malecón (of course), with more than 250,000 people dancing in the streets to the tunes of multiple live bands. Plan way ahead for this holiday. The hotels near the Malecón book up fast with locals as it is next to impossible to get a taxi.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Dominican Republic.

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