On a whim last weekend, immediately after a road trip to the beach, I decided to head north to experience carnival in Cotui. I’ve wanted to see that particular one for a long time, because it’s said to have some of the most creative costumes in the country, inspired by the DR’s Spanish and African origins.
The northeastern town of Cotui is about an hour drive from Santo Domingo. Though small, Carnaval Cotuisano dates back to the 1950s, including its banana leaf and paper inspired costumes. The parties began in the local clubs and later evolved into street parades. The themes also evolved, with animal themed masks to represent devils.
Cotui is particular known for its carnival group Los Platanuses, whose costumes are made of dried banana leaves and masks out of painted gourds; Los Funduses with costumes made from plastic strips; and Los Papeluses with costumes made out of shredded paper.
Over 500 years old, Cotui’s original costumes won the national carnival prize in 2005. This year the northeastern region, which includes Cotui, is the highlight of the annual national carnival parade, scheduled for March 5, 2017.
The Drive to Cotui
The drive northeast from Santo Domingo was wonderful–up Autopista Duarte, then the Carretera Maimon-Cotui (17), along winding roads with views of rolling hills and distant verdant peaks classic of the mountainous Cibao region. There were no major issues getting there; we only spotted one stranded truck on the way with a flat tire.
On that Saturday afternoon around 2:30pm, locals of all ages were already trickling into Parque Cotoy, and along the adjacent main parade road, Calle Sanchez. Music was blasting from the various “cuevas” or carnaval group tents, and costumed individuals walked around and posed with spectators, ready to show off.
The event seemed a bit all over the place for a while, and then around 4:30pm–in classic Dominican timing, after the sun begins to cool–the parade took shape down Calle Sanchez (more precisely, the groups would appear west of Calle Mella just before the park, then walk up or east and make their way around to parade down Calle Sanchez).
Costumed devils with animal-themed masks, Platanuses, Papeluses, all were present (including an odd Islamist themed group, wielding fake guns–don’t ask).
After a couple of hours, we headed back to the capital.
This Sunday: The Desfile Nacional (National Parade)
The majority of regional carnival parades have now ended. The national parade–or Desfile Nacional–is coming up this Sunday March 5, 2017, and will close out carnival season.
The best groups from each province will parade down Santo Domingo’s Malecon one last time, and compete for national prizes. Don’t miss this final big show of culture from around the Dominican Republic. It starts around 2pm next Sunday, March 5, 2017.
A former corporate attorney, Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel writer, photographer, and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for US-publisher Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic. Originally from Ethiopia, Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–fluent in four languages, she has lived in eight countries besides the U.S., including Belize, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Her articles and photography focusing on culture, adventure, and sustainable travel in the Caribbean region have been published in AFAR Magazine, CNN, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, and others. She is the recipient of the 2016 Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.