The Dominican Republican’s African heritage is reflected in the wildly colorful masks and costumes that are brought out and into the streets for the annual El Carnaval de la Vega celebrating the pre-Lent season, one of the oldest and most popular Dominican traditions. The El Carnaval de la Vega dates back to the time when the first European settlers arrived in the 1500s.
Beginning as a religious activity to celebrate the time just before Lent, El Carnaval de la Vega’s theme revolved around the victory of good over evil. In recent years this festival has evolved to include the celebration of Dominican independence, which falls on February 27 every year. During the entire month of February, carnivals are celebrated on weekends and have spread to include most provinces, but El Carnaval de la Vega remains the biggest of them all.
For El Carnaval de la Vega, all the stops are pulled: Music, costumes, food, drinks, and more all add up to a colorful and vibrant celebration of the island’s traditions and folklore. Some of the activities that take place during the festival include a choosing of Miss Carnaval Vegano in a pageant; the crowning of the king of the festival; an opening parade; a concert every Sunday with popular singers; and a closing parade.
La Vega, where the festival is held, is the largest city and municipality of the central Dominican Republic and the third largest of the whole country. The area was settled by Europeans when Christopher Columbus built a small fort near what is today the city in 1494. Intended to guard the route that interior gold deposits were carried along on their way out of the country, the fort was managed by keepers who eventually allowed a Spanish settlement to grow around it. In 1562, the town was destroyed and completely buried by an earthquake.