Carnival in La Vega
Concierge.com's insider take:
If you're in the Dominican Republic during Carnival (every weekend in February and on the 27th, a national holiday, whenever that may fall) the only way to avoid it is to stay cloistered in an all-inclusive resort. Just about every decent-sized city on the island has some sort of celebration, though schedules may vary. The most famous by far is in La Vega, near Santiago and within day-trip distance of the north coast and the capital. Weekend nights are spent partying in the streets, at both official Carnival events with over-the-top sound systems and big time Dominican artists, and unofficial parties at rough-around-the-edges spots like outdoor bars or—believe it or not—gas stations. Teams spend months preparing elaborate costumes called “diablos cojuelos,” devils with artfully grotesque masks. But the real danger is in the famous “vejigas”—dried cow bladders or their synthetic likenesses—that the devils carry as whips as they roam the streets every Sunday. Anyone can be a victim, so follow the key rule, implemented only in saner, more recent years: no whipping anyone who's on the sidewalk. (Corollary: no mercy for anyone who's in the street.) “Vejigazos,” as the blows are known in Spanish, are generally applied to the buttocks and sting badly, but rarely cause anything but bruises; a few days later, all that's really left is a great story.