Check Out the Hottest Caribbean Festivals You’ll Only Find on Hispaniola.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic have become world-famous for their passion for festivities and living the party life, which is why it’s so important to go through a list of the biggest festivals on La Hispaniola.
The Guloya festival
Held in the province of San Pedro de Macoris every 1st of January, the Guloya Festival is a celebration of independence for the Guloya migrants that arrived in La Hispaniola in the 1900s from the British Lesser Antilles, seeking a life away from persecution in the newly formed Dominican Republic.
Festival participants use a distinguishing and unique costume with long feathered hats, which are used in their one-of-a-kind dance ensembles practiced since before their arrival.
Also held on January 1st, Fete Gede or Day of the Dead is a celebration that pays homage to Haiti’s ancestors and lost relatives, whom they try to contact through Voodoo rituals carried out by Shamans known as Houngans, allowing themselves to be possessed by the lost loved one.
Like many people worldwide, Mardi Gras has largely been considered exclusive to the town of New Orleans in Louisiana, however, its origins go way back to the European Middle Ages where Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) was first held in the French House of Bourbons, a byproduct of lavish Roman festivals that would last for weeks.
In Haiti, Mardi Gras festivities began around 1804 and are celebrated on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday throughout the entire nation as an official ending to the Kanaval processions.
The Presidente Beer and Brugal Rum Festivals
The Presidente Beer and Brugal Rum corporations are the kings of alcoholic beverages in all of the Dominican Republic, not really leaving much space around for any major competition and holding the title for putting together the largest gathering of Latin music artists in the Caribbean.
The events are flooded with models and kiosks where Brugal employees prepare specialty drinks like Cuba Libres, Mojitos, and Frozen Daiquiris at a discounted price, while Presidente Beer stands to sell thousands of beer cans out of huge ice-filled tanks for the summer parties.
Indigenous Heritage month
Whether it’s Carnaval in the Dominican Republic or Kanaval in Haiti, February is the one month out of the year when the Hispaniola as a whole unites in song and dance to celebrate their wealth of heritage.
From Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo, and Samana to Cap Haitien, every department or province on the island gears up for weekly processions where locals dress up in elaborate and intricate tribal costumes, representing gods and tribes of the 5 Taino Chiefdoms that had once ruled Hispaniola.
Semana Santa / Rara Festival
Even though Holy Week or Spring Break is celebrated in many countries across the world, no other place can do it like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with an awesome variety of spectacular beaches, rivers, and islands to choose from.
You’ll find foods like grilled or roasted meats, exotic fruits, and sweets on almost every street corner for sale, whilst locals also prepare homemade Holy Week delicacies like Habichuela con Dulce (sweet beans) or Poisson Creole (Creole Fish) with white beans and Salad Russe (Russian Salad).
The Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival (PAP Jazz) in Haiti, and the Dominican Jazz Festival held on the North Coast in Puerto Plata, are events with an incredible amalgam of international and local jazz talent, pouring out the best of their skills on an 8-night musical trip in the months of January and August.
In Haiti, film is used as a means to not only entertain, but also educate and raise awareness on various social issues, and the Jacmel Film Festival on Haiti’s southern coast is the perfect platform, hosting the event annually since 2004 and garnering international attention.
Although social issues are present, Dominican film is mostly concentrated on comedy and humor which the public also prefers, however, the Global Film Festival in Santo Domingo has changed the dynamic with the inclusion and endorsement of international film societies such as the FIAPF community.
Carnamar Oceanic Festival
Similar to San Pedro de Macoris, Rio San Juan features a unique and separate Carnaval called “Carnamar” (Mar meaning sea), which is a marine wildlife-themed 4-day celebration of its Atlantic coastal shores in the famed Laguna Gri Gri, where locals dress up in Tribal Taino / Sea creature costumes and dance upon a floating platform on the water as is tradition.
Festival de Merengue
Merengue is the ultimate musical representation of the Dominican people as nation worldwide, captivating the soul with an assortment of Brass, Winds, Piano, and Accordion tropical melodies that’ll have your hips swaying and dancing in no time.
The main annual festival is held at the Capital City of Santo Domingo, featuring the biggest names in the genre, where you’ll spend the weekend listening and moving to Merengue Groups along the boulevard known as the “Malecon de Santo Domingo”.
Don’t forget to pack your best dancing shoes.