Semana Santa in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Burning trash by the beach

People are so nice around here! I’m making the long walk to the grocery store when it starts just dumping rain. I’m soaking wet and this car stops and tells me to hop in, soaking wet, while blocking all traffic. No one even honked! I ask if the couple is sure, and motion to my absolutely drenched clothes, and they don’t even hesitate and tell me “absolutely”, but I just can’t get my useless umbrella closed. I jump in with the thing still open, dripping all over their car, but I’m really grateful for the lift! Luckily, we were all going to the same place. How nice is that!?! So, when I found out that I would be in the most popular place on the entire island for Semana Santa (Holy Week or Easter Week), I was very excited. I had been in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica for Semana Santa last year and it was a lot of family get-togethers on the beach followed by some community Earth-day cleanup. However, I started chatting with my neighbors and they got me worried…

Flower Ladies at Carnaval
We had a great time watching the Carnaval Parade!


There were stories of mayhem and utter chaos. Parties so big that the beach just couldn’t contain them. All night revelry with speakers cranked and the bass thumping as loud as you can imagine, combined with loud motorcycles and quads. Grocery stores would be sold out, but you couldn’t get to them anyway because of bumper to bumper traffic. They spoke of leaving town for the week. Will it really be that bad!?!

Right before the holiday, I stocked up on food and booze. I didn’t have to worry about traffic because I walk everywhere, but I didn’t want to deal with crazy packed stores. I made a huge vat of chili so I wouldn’t go hungry and collected extra drinking water just in case. It was like preparing for a hurricane except I didn’t have to bring in my outdoor furniture or board up the windows!

Amazing headdresses at Carnaval
Look at these amazing costumes!

Then I waited… and waited. There were a few extra people on Saturday and Sunday. More families were having picnics on the beach. One of the restaurants was setting up a large stage for a band. Signs were going up advertising a surprising number of different Dominican beers. People kept talking about how crazy it was going to be… but when… and how bad?


Before I get into that, let’s take a moment to discuss another festival I experienced here. Just a few weeks prior to Semana Santa, I went to see Carnaval here in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. There was a ton of confusion about the date and time of the parade. I searched all over social media for any mention of it. I even tried contacting my manager of my apartment to see if they knew anything. Everyone, absolutely everyone, had a different date. To add to the confusion, some people insisted it had already happened, while others said it wouldn’t happen until much later in the month.

Amazing costumes at Carnaval
More great costumes during the Carnaval Parade!

Not only that, I found two different posters advertising the event with two different dates. So weird! The Instagram account for Las Terrenas events, which hosts the parade, finally posted an official advertisement (with prize amounts for the best costumes) the day before the parade. I’m in! I let all my neighbors know so they could watch as well. It really looked like a fun time.

An hour before the parade was to start (everyone… and I mean everyone!… said it always started late… sometimes by many hours), I headed out with my neighbors (and the dog Mojita) to town. It was a fun walk on the beach chatting about Canada and the US and the doggo that follows me around. We even met up with some other Canadian neighbors. I (of course) had a plan of heading to a specific bar to watch the parade… and (of course) it was closed when we got there. Sigh.

Amazing costumes at Carnaval
I’m unsure who won the various prizes for best costumes but there was some wonderful competition.

To the bar!

Lucky for us, we found an even better bar with a magnificent view of the parade route and delicious, reasonably priced drinks. Mojita made friends with some of the other community dogs at the restaurant. She then used all her charm on a family at the next table for some skritches. She’s a cutie. The restaurant had a communal water dish available for all the dogs and I topped it up.

The Carnaval Parade was short but fun. There were some really wonderful costumes and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We were at the very beginning of the route, so we didn’t have to wait too long for it to start. I really enjoy a good people-watching session. My new neighbors from Canada even paid for my drink! How nice is that!?! After the parade, we all walked along the beach back to our apartments.

Mojita hiding under a table
Mojita did not like all the noise during Semana Santa. She’s hiding out at this restaurant.

The next day, I had a really funny interaction with our complex’s security guard, Oscar. Mojita was leading the way and Oscar didn’t see me behind her (I’m very short). She stopped at the gate to be let in and he said no, and that she’s not allowed into the complex without an escort! I popped around the corner and he laughed and let us both in. He then informed me that when I wasn’t with her, that little doggo would sneak around the back way to get up to the apartments. She’s so sneaky!

Okay, back to the story about Semana Santa

How could Semana Santa be so horrible for the locals when Carnaval was such a good time? I finally found out on Thursday night. That is when the party started… and it started with a bang. Turns out the principal goal of the party weekend that is the end of Semana Santa is to make as much noise as possible, while drinking as much as possible. They bring in massive speakers, or rent them from someone else, and place them on cars along the beach. They even modified cars to be massive rolling speaker systems, crank the volume to ridiculous levels, and then just drive endlessly around town or up and down the beach.

Vehicle for rent for Samaná Santa
This is one of the vehicles you could rent for Semana Santa. It is so loud!

Motorcycles, quads, and even scooters are retrofitted with these weird muffler-attached contraptions that emit the most obnoxiously loud sound. The goal is to drink a lot while doing wheelies up and down the mostly one-way road. I’ve never seen a quad do a wheelie until this weekend. It’s terrifying! And loud! I would have stuck around to watch all the excitement, but my brain just can’t handle that volume of noise… and I’ve been to a lot of concerts.

My apartment is up on this really tall hill and I figured the noise would be minimal. Nope. So much noise. I’m pretty sure that a business renting out those rolling speaker systems rented one of the nearby houses, just outside the complex, and was blaring music 24-hours a day as an advertisement for their vehicles. And the music was the same few tracks over-and-over-and-over again. All day long. All evening long. All night long. I really just wanted to go bring them new music for some variety. I always leave my windows open, but not this weekend! There was a bit of a reprieve during a couple of thunderstorms, but other than that, it was constant. I now see why people leave for the weekend.

Vehicle for rent for Samaná Santa
The entire back-seat is filled with speakers, blaring music at top volume. Crazy!

Worse than Spring Break?

You hear lots of news stories about how many residents of Florida hate all the Spring Break craziness that happens there. I even read news stories that they are instituting new laws for next year to dissuade people from coming at all. This is like that. However, this year in Florida, only two people died during the festivities. Here in Las Terrenas, we had 26 people die in four days! It’s not a big town. Most of those were from motorcycle/quad crashes, often single-vehicle accidents. Of note, however, the deaths in Florida appeared to be from violence, while violence here was minimal. I only heard of one actual fight, and it didn’t involve any weapons.

We also had 212 people get treated for alcohol poisoning. In addition, hundreds of people got hurt… again, lots of accidents. A sponsor of an event being held here bussed up a bunch of people from Santo Domingo. Then they rented vehicles (with no helmets) and drank and drove around. It was fascinating and crazy! I do not recommend. The city put in a lot of effort to keep people safe and happy, including neighboring cities and towns providing equipment and emergency workers, but there is only so much you can do.

Falling Coconuts!
The trees will throw coconuts at you! You could die!

Listen, there are a lot of things that can kill you in the tropics. I always talk about coconuts falling on your head, killing more people than sharks. My uncle found out that is no joke when a large bundle of coconuts came crashing down right behind him while he was out on a run during his visit to this lovely island. That would have killed him! Then I learned about hammocks. Thousands of deaths per year from hammocks! Forget about sharks… or coconuts… I have a brand-new fear! Stay safe, my peeps!

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1 Comment

  1. I can’t imagine that much mayhem in the little sleepy beach town of Las Terrenas. It does sound like some kind of spring break for adults. Amazing.

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