Carnival Partying, live music and elaborate costumes along El Conde and the Malecón every Sunday, especially the last of the month. Expect to be pelted with inflated sheep bladders and balloons.
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Independence Day A citywide celebration on the final day of Carnival, with a raucous re-enactment of the Trinitarians’ 1844 torch-lit march to El Conde, to the tune of the 1812 Overture, accompanied by live cannon. Afterwards, head to Puerta San Diego where you’ll hear big-name merengue acts.
Last two weeks of March
Son Festival Dozens of events celebrating this popular Cuban musical form that many Dominicans claim as their own. Mesón de Bari posts a list of all events on its wall in early February.
Variable (usually in April)
Semana Santa In Haina, on the city’s western outskirts, you’ll find a Hispanicized version of the Haitian Semana Santa festivities also found in the bateyes. On the morning of Ash Wednesday, go to the Zona Colonial’s Iglesia del Carmen, where a statue of Christ is paraded through the streets, serenaded and draped in money.
Seven weeks after Semana Santa
Espíritu Santo A full week of religious processions and conga drums in Villa Mella, certainly the most spirited and visually interesting of the local festivals.
First Sunday before June 13
San Antonio Large, culturally authentic festival in the rural northern suburb of Yamasá. The Hermanos Guillen pump a lot of money into this festival (including free food and drink for everyone) with the purpose of preserving traditional rural Dominican musical forms gagá, gajumbe and bambulá.
Last two weeks of July
Merengue Festival Loud outdoor concerts on the Malecón by big-name merengueros, plus traditional accordion merengue groups performing at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and merengue-based “folklore” shows at the National Theatre that feature the Vodú-based palos musicians of Villa Mella with the National Folklore Ballet.
Virgen de las Mercedes Syncretic religious ceremony and neighbourhood street party in Mata Los Indios near Villa Mella. Famous for its African-style drumming and music.
San Miguel Fiesta patronal in honour of one of the country’s most important saints, celebrated in Villa Mella and the Zona Colonial’s barrio San Miguel. A large procession carries an effigy of the saint accompanied by drums and gagá band.
Fiesta Oriental The eastern side of the city had the first recorded Dominican Carnival (1520) and in recent years the Zona Oriental now finally has its share of festivities again. This massive Carnival in honour of the barrios east of the Ozama is heavier on the African syncretic elements of Dominican culture than the February event, including traditional local dances like the mandinga and bailan pri-pri, as well as guloya performances from the Cocolos of San Pedro. Runs the length of Av Venezuela and ends up in Parque Mirador del Este.