Every Sunday in February the DR awakens all over the country with lively cultural festivities that draw thousands of tourists. Specifically, the oldest and most well-known of these takes place in the city of La Vega, and is known for being hands-down the best in the entire region.
What is Carnival exactly? It is a traditional cultural festival dating far back into colonial times, where residents would dress in elaborate costumes and party through the streets. The festivities became synonymous with beautiful costumes, elaborate masks representing various deities or devils, and specific dance rituals.
Because Carnival is treated like a national holiday, there are often military displays and other festivities occurring all throughout the island, but La Vega is where you can really embrace the variety of cultural influences and history that the celebration represents.
The Dominican Republic’s Independence Day is also tied up in the Carnival celebrations, because that takes place on February 27th. Obviously then, February itself is seen as a time of partying and historical observance all throughout the country.
If you’ve been thinking of settling down in the DR or are even simply interested in taking a look down here, the wild and entertaining Carnival celebrations are just another reason to. There are even tours designed for tourists that highlight Carnival, so if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, there are definitely options. Part of living in the Dominican Republic is embracing the rich cultural history and getting used to big celebrations!
A Brief Look at the History of Carnival
When you look at the evolution of the Dominican Republic as a country you get to see how many cultures came together to make it what it is today.
Notably, there is a lot of colonial and slave influence on the island, and Carnival speaks of this through celebration and imagery.
Here’s what visitdominicanrepublic.org has to say about the cultural significance of the elaborate masks typically seen during the Carnival parades:
Regarding the crafter and flashy masks, on their beginnings, they followed the traditional technique original from Spain but bit by bit they evolved thanks to the contribution of slaves coming from Africa and the free men whom, with their work, gave the place the famous handicraft tradition of the well known ‘Careteros’, the craftsmen who make the Dominican masks. These are elaborated with papier machê, feathers, newspapers, banana leaves, a painted pumpkin, top of little bottles or clothes, among many other recyclable materials which are harmonized and complement in a process made up by sequential steps and which, sometimes, turn to more advanced procedures and materials.
This gives you a bit of insight into the colonial influence of the country and where traditions like Carnival came from.
Now what was once a more somber festival has morphed into a multi-week revelry that occurs every Sunday of the month and even incorporates the very independence and liberation of the country itself.
Food and Fun in La Vega
La Vega itself is at the heart of the Dominican Republic, its 3rd largest city and located roughly in its center. Carnival isn’t the only thing La Vega is known for.
If the DR is someplace you’ve been thinking of visiting, and you can make a stop at La Vega, you won’t be disappointed.
Chez Vero, a traditional and international Italian restaurant in La Vega, is heralded as one of the best places to grab food on the island. Nearby hiking and natural attractions are a huge part of La Vega tourism, with various nature trails, waterfalls, forest lakes, and historical religious sites to explore.
La Vega is also home to the impressive Cathedral of La Vega, one of the biggest Catholic Churches in the country. Even people that aren’t religious visit the church just to witness its amazing design and size.
Regardless of what you are looking for, there’s no reason not to partake in the Carnival festivities in La Vega. There’s definitely something for everyone.