Santo Domingo Carnival is known for debauchery, alcohol, fancy dress, dancing, and kissing…
It involves very early starts, long days, and a lot of stamina. But while most outside media coverage focuses on the glitzy Malecon where the bachata schools parade in frisky feathered outfits, there’s a lot more to it than that.
If you’re planning to travel to Santo Domingo to join in the celebrations, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about the Carnaval in Santo Domingo.
Tours, Excursions and Activities
Scroll down for 35 things I wished I’d known before doing Santo Domingo Carnival.
Dominicans are known for their creativity and sense of humour, and this is reflected in many of the carnival outfits, such as these ones at Carnaval in Santo Domingo.
Although Santo Domingo officially kicked off on Sunday February 24, the warm-up began back in January and people have been partying for weeks
If you’re doing carnival for the first time, be prepared for the early starts. Some of the best “blocos” — or street parties — start at 7 a.m. and everyone is ready to go, drink in hand.
The blocos look like this, complete with huge shuddering sound systems.
Despite what you might expect, most carnival-goers are not actually dressed like this.
The feathered outfits can mostly be found at the Malecon, where the official parade of the schools happens. But this isn’t the best bit of Santo Domingo carnival.
Learning Bachata is as hard as it looks. It’s understandably tempting to give it a go while you’re visiting, but unless you’re really gifted, the chances are you’re doing it all wrong.
Sexy dance style, Bachata dance style comes from the Dominican Republic where the music also was born. The early slow style in the fifties from where everything started was danced only closed, like the Bolero. The Bachata Basic Steps moving within a small square (side, side, forward and side, side, back) are also inspired from the Bolero but danced slightly different in Bachata and danced with syncopations (steps in between the beats) depending on the dancer’s mood and the character of the music. The hand placement will vary with the dancers position which can be very close to semi-close to open.
Fancy dress — or “fantasia,” as it’s called in Republica Dominicana — is still important, but with a little eccentric twist.
Dominicans are known for their creativity and sense of humour, and this is reflected in many of the carnival outfits, such as these ones in Vegano, which happens in the La Vega neighbourhood.
This year over 450 blocos will parade across the city. There’s one to suit every fancy dress or music taste. There’s even one dedicated to Devil.
If you’re starting early and want to last, it’s advisable to chill in the evenings, unless you’re headed off to the Malecon.
Before you do Santo Domingo Carnival, it’s worth knowing a few things about Dominican culture, too. Dominican beer is weak, which is actually a blessing in disguise during Carnival, when most people are drinking it all day long
Carnaval time nightlife in Santo Domingo doesn’t have to be expensive,Colmado will be filled with people downing Presidentes on a weekend night. Bachata will be blaring and it’s usually a pretty fun time. I almost always pre-gamed at a colmado before partying in the Dominican Republic.A bottle of rum in the colmado might only cost your $10-20 USD. A beer at the colmado might only run you $2 USD
You NEVER hold your salgado with your bare hand. It always needs to be eaten wrapped in a napkin. And you always drink a can with a straw, unless it’s beer of course.
In Santo Domingo, your choice of beach says a lot about you. Boca Chica and its wide white sandy beaches are truly breathtaking, but it’s touristy…
…And by night it gets a little seedy.
Zona Colonial, below, a section on Malecon , has historically been the Colonial-friendly area.
A little further up near Juan Dolio is my favourite spot in Santo Domingo, popular with the young crowd. The iconic backdrop of the nature, Juan Dolio, the glistening turquoise water, and a clear sky makes for paradise on a blazing hot 40 degree summer day in Santo Domingo .
Don’t be intimidated, though, if the beach looks more like this. If it’s a hot day, people pack on to the beach and form a sea of red parasols. It’s completely acceptable to use up every inch of sand and shimmy up close to your neighbours. It’s a good opportunity to make friends.
In Dominican Republic you NEVER take a towel to the beach, though. Even the tourists learn this pretty soon. You need to purchase a “canga” to lie on, which can double up as a sarong later. The Dominican flag is a popular choice.
Dominicans take their Baseball very seriously even down at the beach. Men and women play keepie uppies at the front of the beach and it makes for great people watching. Be warned, though — if you want to join you’d better have skills.
The sea is extremely rough in Santo Domingo, even in the shallows. I’ve seen countless grown men and women get taken out by the current while they’re in less than knee deep. As a foreigner, it’s easy to lose your bikini or shorts, which is always a great source of entertainment for the locals.
On a hot day, the beach shower offers a safer way of cooling down.
Many men wear a sunga — speedo-like trunks — and red is a popular colour.
Women’s beachwear is just as skimpy. It doesn’t matter your age or size, everyone wears the same tiny bikini bottoms. And tan lines are desired rather than avoided. They’re kind of like a status symbol.
You can buy literally anything at the beach, and you won’t even have to get up from your seat. This means bikinis, cangas, beer, crisps, samosas, meat on a stick, and hot cheese on a stick — I particularly recommend the latter.
You’ll be told to avoid the shrimp skewers, for obvious reasons.
The best thing you can buy on the beach is a “caipi” — Dominican’s speciality cocktail.
Still, even if you stick to the caipivodkas, the hangover in the heat can be pretty brutal and there are some situations that only an ice cold “Água de coco” — or coconut water — can fix. These come in very handy during Carnival, and can offer a new lease of life when you thought you couldn’t do one more day of partying.
Young couples apparently often break up about a month before Carnival and get back together about a month later. It presumably avoids any complications.
Whether or not it is true, it would make sense in theory, as there’s lots of kissing during Carnival — but it’s all pretty light-hearted.
“Love motels” are also a thing in Dominican Republic. They provide a convenient place for couples — most of whom still live with their parents — to go for quality time.
In Dominican Republic, you should always make time for a “saideira,” or “one for the road.” Below is a “chopp,” a draught beer which is by far the best way to drink the local stuff. Knowing that word will get you far.