SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Carnival in the Dominican Republic expresses the island's joyous culture, positive energy, and zest for life. Each year in February and early March, Dominican Carnival showcases the vibrancy, spontaneity and creativity that make this centrally located Caribbean country's annual festivals unlike any other.
From capital city Santo Domingo's annual Carnival parade along the Malecon to Punta Cana's energetic festivities, to Puerto Plata and La Vega, Carnival atmosphere takes over this sunny island nation each winter.
"Carnival is a meaningful festival that embodies Dominican Republic's deep sense of hospitality and graciousness, passion and liveliness, and pride and appreciation," said Magaly Toribio, marketing advisor for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. "Dominicans excitedly and exceptionally come together as they personify their beloved country and all that it encompasses. Onlookers are invited to participate in the public parades and become a part of the Dominican spirit that makes our country so special."
The Dominican month-long celebration is a pre-Lenten custom influenced by European and African roots that date back to the colonial period in 1520, when participants used the festival to escape from religious pressures. February 27 is the peak of the party as it marks Dominican Independence Day.
Every celebration features vibrantly-dressed participants parading down streets to the beat of merengue alongside embellished floats and spirited dancers. No two costumes are the same, some using animated fabric with accessories ranging from mirrors to rattles, ribbons and bells. The masks are unique, too, and are made from papier-mâché, feathers, coloured gourds, plantain leaves, satin, taffeta, ribbons, tiny dolls, and whatever else the participants want to add. Much like the apparel, different celebrations are held throughout the large country's many regions.
Dominican cities well-known for their crowd-pleasing carnival parades include capital city Santo Domingo with a large event along the malecon, its seaside boulevard. Eco-rich Puerto Plata on the north coast and the glamorous Punta Cana on the glittering east coast also have their own very special parades.
Less-traveled towns like Rio San Juan, Constanza, Montecristi, Samana and Higuey also offer authentically Dominican parades. In Santiago, local artisans contend in a mask-making competition, the fierce rivalries driving each other's urge to create a masterpiece. While the town of La Vega commits its entire effort to two different festivities called 'popular carnival' and 'social carnival', to better accommodate the thousands of visitors wanting to join.