Cabarete is well known for its party scene which every year culminates into the biggest party of the island during the festivities of Semana Santa. Dominicans, especially young people from the big cities, join locals and visitors in this laid back beach town and take over the place for Easter weekend for a weekend of full on partying and drinking. This year Semana Santa weekend starts on Friday 3 April until Sunday 5 April.
Time of reflection
Traditionally, Semana Santa is all about reflecting on Christ’s death on Good Friday and rejoicing in his resurrection three days later. The week preceding Pentecost Sunday is called Holy Week, with its literal translation in Spanish being Semana Santa. During this week observers should not eat meat on Wednesday or Friday and Dominicans traditionally prepare Moro de Guandules, which is a typical rice dish with a certain type of beans and coconut milk, with fish and green salad on these days.
The typical dessert during Semana Santa is habichuelas con dulce, sweet cream of beans, which is something everything should try.
On Good Friday several silent processions are organized all over the country carrying Christ on the cross. Also the Dominican village of Callejon in Cabarete will see such a procession which usually starts at the foot of the hill and ends at the church in Callejon.
Especially older people and those living in the countryside still observe these catholic rites religiously.
Long week-end off
In general, Dominicans just enjoy having a long weekend off and whole families or groups of friends will travel usually from the city to either the country side or the sea side to celebrate together. The capital as well as other major cities such as Santiago tend to be empty by Thursday with people going to specific rivers or beaches. Others will go back to their family’s village and celebrate Easter there. A small group will stay behind making use of the peace and quiet to reflect at home.
Cabarete is a popular destination for younger people who tend to come in big group of friends. Especially gay men, who are usually not openly gay throughout the year, descend on Cabarete often in pink tutus or in other interesting fashion statements, highlighting the fact that Cabarete tends to be more open-minded than other places in the Dominican Republic.
Because so many people come to Cabarete for Easter weekend, this is considered absolute high season for all businesses including hotels and serviced apartments. Prices will be higher than normal and everything tends to be fully booked already weeks in advance.
One day of no alcohol or music
Concerts and DJ stages are organized on the beach, trying each to be the loudest. The party starts already on Thursday but there is a 24 hour break starting at Thursday midnight on the dot, when police will cut off the music and close all bars. The party is only allowed to start again on Friday midnight, and it’s prohibited for shops, petrol stations, supermarkets, bars and any other place that sells alcoholic beverages to sell alcohol in these 24 hours. Fines are said to be given to those that do.
The reason behind this prohibition is two-fold. One, to keep people away from temptation and give them the opportunity to stay at home and reflect as is ordained by religion. And two, as Dominicans are not very good at doing what others tell them to do, it is hoped that the alcohol prohibition will limit the amount of accidents related to excessive alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, Semana Santa is well-known for dozens of deaths throughout the country related to traffic accidents and people drowning in both rivers and the sea, all because of excessive alcohol consumption.
To diminish the possibility of accidents on the water and the beach, there is also a general prohibition to kite, windsurf or sail in Cabarete Bay during Semana Santa. Schools can however get a permit to be able to go on the water with their students.
Despite, or maybe because of the prohibition of selling alcohol on Friday, the party kicks off again full-on on Friday at midnight and doesn’t really stop until Sunday. Expect lots of people and lots of loud music, ranging from reggaeton to rap to electronic music. A lot of bars and stages will offer a VIP area for which you need to get tickets in advance. These areas are likely to be less busy but will also mean that you can’t move easily between stages, which tends to be more fun.
For a very Dominican experience be sure to go to the petrol station in Cabarete. As unlikely as the setting might be people will have set up huge speakers with blasting music partying away to bachata and reggaeton till deep in the night.
Some last tips
To enjoy the party of Semana Santa in Cabarete the most, keep the following tips in mind:
+ come to town walking via the beach or take any mode of public transport and leave your own vehicle at home . It will be near impossible to find a parking spot in town and there will be many many motoconchos more than eager to bring you to the party or back home.
+ like with any big event there will be pickpockets so don’t take anything of value with you. Keep your money in your front pocket and when moving through a crowd put your hands in the pocket that has the money. If you are a girl and your outfit doesn’t have any pockets keep your money in your bra and don’t use any purses. Be careful as well on motos as there have been reports in the run-up of Semana Santa of purses being snatched by people on oncoming motorbikes.
+ don’t walk back home on the beach by yourself. It’s much more fun being with your friends in any case.
+ enjoy the experience!