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What are the Most Popular Dominican Republic Festivals and Celebrations?


Experiencing the Dominican Republic festivals first hand is the first step towards understanding the customs and culture of this exceptional nation of the Caribbean. As you step into the country, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the vast number of events available to you.

Don't worry. I have listed the most popular celebrations you can enjoy at almost any time of the year. You won't run out of activities while you stay there, that's guaranteed.

January

Guloya festival, January 1 (San Pedro de Marcorís)

One of the first celebrations of the years is the Guloya festival. Large crowds from the nearby towns get together to make a small parade through the streets of Miramar in San Pedro de Marcoris.

To the tunes of drums and flutes, the participants dressed in tribal-like costumes march while dancing and singing their lungs out. Although it used to be much more popular, the event is still deeply ingrained in the hearts of many Dominicans.

Santo Cristo de Bayaguana, January 1 (Bayaguana)

Another delightful festivity is the Santo Cristo de Bayaguana. People from all over the country gather every bull they can find and take it to the festival. This event involves a procession of bulls (yes bulls) as they are walked by the townsfolk and offered to the church as a sign of good faith and thanksgiving. The animals are later sold, and all the profits are used by the church to continue its works.

You could say it is the Dominicans' version of Thanksgiving day with a twist. Singing, and lots of foods are part of the celebration as usual. The festivities begin on December but end on January 1.

Our Lady of the Highest Grace or Virgen de la Altagracia, January 21 (Higuey)

Without a doubt, one of the most important celebrations in the Dominican Republic is the Nuestra Señora la Altagracia or Our Lady of the Highest Grace. Hundreds of devoted Dominicans walk in pilgrimage for several days to finally arrive at the Basilica in Higuey to pray and pay tribute to the country's patron.

Inside the massive cathedral, visitors can find a 500-year-old painting of the Virgin Mary hanging on the wall. It is honored by thousands every year and is one of the most cherished treasures of the Catholic faith in the country.

Juan Pablo Duarte day, January 26 (Most Towns)

Juan Pablo Duarte was one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic and fought bravely to secure the Dominicans' independence from Haiti. The citizens of the country rejoice on this day as they deliver flowers to the tomb of their beloved hero while marching the streets.

Santiago and La Vega are two of the towns where you can experience the best celebrations on this day, but even then, they still pale in comparison to the biggest party in the capital. In addition to the typical merengue music, you may be lucky to grab a few native snacks near the statue of the popular founding father at the Altar de la Patria in Santo Domingo.

February

Virgen de La Candelaria, February 2 (Santo Domingo)

Another festivity dedicated to the Virgin Mary is the Virgen de La Candelaria. One of the activities includes a small procession taking place at the Barrio San Carlos in Santo Domingo to honor the Virgin.

Independence Day, February 27 (Most Towns)

Coat of arms

Dominicans commemorate two independence days. One from Haiti and the other from Spain. On this day, which often marks the end of the Carnaval, is celebrated the country's independence from Haiti. Music, dancing, singing, parades and even battle re-enactments are part of this mayor festival that blends perfectly well with the already present parties of the Carnaval.

Cabarete Sand Castle Festival, February - March (Cabarete)

One event often overlooked, but interesting nonetheless is the Sand Castle Festival in Cabarete. For ten days, masters in the art of sand-sculpting get together to reshape the beach of the popular coastal town and turn it into a canvas filled with jaw-dropping sandy art. You won't believe your eyes as this isn't your typical castle done by your five-year-old.


March

The Battle of Azua, March 19 (Azua)

The battle of Azua commemorates the defeat of the Haitians by the Dominicans. This event is of particular significance as it marks the moment when the DR regained its independence from the Haitian rule. As you would expect, the locals don't waste a moment to eat and dance to the beat of the lively merengue music.

April

Easter, April (Most Towns)

Attending Mass and celebrating the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, once Easter arrives, are among the most important features of ending Lent. The Holy week is a time where people all over the country visit the different churches and take part in the religious activities with respect, devotion and faith.

May

Fiesta de la Santa Cruz, May 3 (Most Towns)

Another celebration that involves a cattle procession to a local church is the Fiesta de La Santa Cruz in El Seibo.

Feast of San Felipe, May 3 (Puerto Plata)

If you have a profound admiration for the Dominican culture, you shouldn't miss the San Felipe feast. There is merengue for you to dance at the Malecón, plus the usual dose of snacks.

June

Puerto Plata Cultural Festival, third week of June (Samaná)

Traditional African dances, merengue, and folklore are just a small sample of what you will see at the Puerto Plata Cultural Festival. Local artisans bring their best pieces to display their crafting skills and to show the beauty of the Dominican culture.

Punta Cana Food and Wine Festival, June (Punta Cana)

Food-lovers will have a great time at the Punta Cana Food & Wine Festival. At this event, you will have the chance to experience high-end cuisine in one of the top vacationing spots of the Caribbean.

100k of the Caribbean, June (Cabarete to Samaná)

More than a party, the 100k of the Caribbean is a race covering several towns (Sosua, Puerto Plata, Cabarete, Las Terrenas and Samaná). Of course, once it is over, it is the perfect moment to eat and dance to the tunes of the must-be-present merengue.

Feast of San Pedro Apostol, June 29 (San Pedro de Marcorís)

In San Pedro de Macorís, you can see a lot of guloyas dancing and acting on the streets while wearing their colorful clothing. The Cocolo festival to honor San Pedro Apóstol is one of the occasions the guloyas use to show their artistic background and tradition.

July

Feast of Santiago Apóstol, July 24 - 26 (Santiago)

The people from Santiago have a feast to honor Santiago Apóstol on July 24 to 26. It is said, he played an essential role in the battle against the Moors in Spain while protecting the Christian faith. Like in almost every other celebration, the echoes of merengue need to be heard all around the town until the late hours of the night.

August

Festival del Merengue y Ritmos Caribeños, August (Santo Domingo)

Not sure if you have noticed, but there are several merengue festivals in the DR. As the birthplace of the popular rhythm, Dominicans make sure it gets the attention it deserves. The Malecón in Santo Domingo is where top musicians put their skills to good use. Bachata, salsa, and other well-known rhythms also make their way into festivities to please the demanding crowd.

Restoration Day, August 16 (Santiago and Santo Domingo)

The Restoration Day is the second independence day for Dominicans. This time is to commemorate their freedom from Spain. It is one of the top celebrations in the country distinguished by huge parties thrown around the Plaza de España in Santo Domingo and Santiago. Waving flags, dancing, and marching on the streets are all part of the event enjoyed by millions.

Festival of the Bulls, August 14 (Higuey)

The Festival of the Bulls in Higuey is a bit similar to the one of Santo Cristo de Bayaguana. Large crowds gather on the streets carrying small figures of the Virgin Mary as they pray the rosary. However, the event is not limited to praying. There are lots of cattle and cowboys running around having a blast to the tune of the typical merengue. You might think is a bit strange seeing Dominican cowboys, but it is quite a sight.

September

Virgen de La Merced, September 24 (Santo Domingo, Mata Los Indios)

Another patron saint festivity is the one for La Virgen de La Merced or Our Lady of Mercy. It is very popular in one of Santo Domingo's Barrios called Mata Los Indios.

Feast of San Miguel, September 29 (Santo Domingo)

Don't miss the dancing and unique cakes at the Barrio San Miguel, Haina, and Villa Mella in Santo Domingo during San Miguel's festival.

October

Feast of San Rafael, October 24 (Samaná)

Witnessing the almost forgotten dance of the Bambulá is a rare treat that you should take advantage of at the patron saint festivity of San Rafael in Samaná. In addition to the exotic dance, you can take part in the procession through the streets and the merriment later at the Malecón.

Festival de Merengue Típico, October (Puerto Plata)

It isn't a secret that Merengue is an essential part of most festivals in the Dominican Republic. The Merengue Típico Festival taking place in Guananico is specifically dedicated to honoring this music genre that brings so much joy to the world. In the festival, you will have the chance to check out its pure form (as there are several variations of the rhythm) and how the locals dance until their feet hurt.


Patron Saint Feast of Santa Teresa de Ávila, October 14 - 15 (Elias Piña)

Another patron saint with a festivity is Santa Teresa de Ávila. There is a religious procession through the streets.

November

Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, November (Santiago, Puerto Plata, and Cabarete)

Jazz-lovers will have a great time in November with the DR Jazz Festival. Renowned local and international performers play for several days bringing joy to the people gathered across Puerto Plata, Santiago, and Cabarete. If you are really into Jazz, you should book a reservation for the experience of a lifetime.


Colonial Festival, last week of November (Santo Domingo Colonial Zone)

What is the Colonial Fest? It is an event where local artisans and other artists gather in the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo to exhibit their latest work. Be it delectable dishes or small wooden figurines, everything on display is worth admiring.

December

Patron Saint Feast of Santa Barbara, December 4 (Samaná)

A big patron saint celebration in the city of Samaná is the one of Santa Bárbara. There is a small religious procession on the town's streets to honor her.

New Year's Eve, December 31 (Everywhere)

Well, New Years isn't exactly exclusive to the DR, but there isn't a lack of partying because of it. Dominicans love all festivities and welcoming the New Year is no exception. La Avenida del Puerto and the Malecón in Santo Domingo are the ideal spots to set off some fireworks and dance to the rhythmic tunes of the all time favorite: Merengue.

Park of Lights - Brillante Navidad, Christmas season (Santo Domingo)

Christmas season is accompanied by all kinds of festivals. During this time of the year, the Parque Iberoamérica gets illuminated by millions of lights in multiple shapes building the perfect atmosphere to feature music performances and share an unforgettable time with your loved ones.

Now that you know what are the most amazing Dominican Republic festivals, book your trip, and see for yourself all that this breathtaking country has to offer.



References:

http://www.lacult.unesco.org/docc/guloyas_and_guloyitas.pdf https://patroncatholicsaints.blogspot.com/2010/09/our-lady-of-altagracia.html http://www.divainternational.ch/the-black-madonna-virgin-of-candelaria.html http://casadecampoliving.com/february-27th-is-dominican-independence-day/ http://www.catholic.org/lent/holyweek.php http://www.suncaribbean.net/rd_info_turistica_SI_educacion_fiestaP.htm http://www.godominicanrepublic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/dr-anual-events-
2015-2016-en.pdf http://www.lifestylecabarete.com/index.php/lifestyle/community/502-restoration-day




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