Think back to the month of February. In the United States, it is usually a snow-filled time, punctuated by chocolate candies and red hearts for Valentines Day (and the discounted candies on February 15!) However, in the Dominican Republic, February means celebration! Carnaval rules and each weekend, different cities have their own Carnaval celebration, leading up to Independence Day on February 27. Carnaval, in a nutshell, is a massive parade with Diablos Cojuelos (masked devils), loud Bachata, Merengue and Dembow music blasting, and lots of street food! Many countries have their own Caranaval, and they are each unique. If you are here in February, be sure to check out one of the parades.
To celebrate Carnaval, I went to a friends’ house in La Vega, which is known to have the best celebration. After a delicious traditional Dominican lunch, her cousin brought us to the parade. We walked the streets of La Vega, through the Cuevas (caves) from where the Diablos emerge to “wreak havoc”, past vendors selling cold Presidente beers, street food and snacks, and tried to avoid the Diablos’ whips.
The focal point of Carnaval in La Vega is the Diablos, costumed troublemakers who travel in packs, with colorful disguises and masks, and bells on their feet so you can hear them coming. They carry Vejigas, whips with heavy balls at the end and will hit the unsuspecting bystander. Some of the costumes are very ornate and can be very expensive. Some groups of Diablos even walk accompanied by bodyguards!
To make the most out of Carnaval, I would suggest wearing comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and bright clothing! It’s a fun event, but can be very crowded so don’t bring valuables or a big bag. With a little planning, you can attend with a group tour. We had a wonderful day and I think we really experienced the true Carnaval!