Festivals & Events
Festival de Merengue
Merengue band, Puerto Plata
Photo: mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
The Santo Domingo Merengue Festival is two weeks of celebration dedicated to the Dominican Republic’s national dance, the merengue.
For two weeks each summer (from late July to early August) the world’s top merengue dancers dance to the world’s best merengue bands all over this gorgeous Caribbean city. This fortnight-long festival fills the capital with the rhythms of merengue, bachata, bolero, reggaeton, salsa and more. Most of the action happens on the Malecón, but visitors can attend related events across the city.
Band playing at Festival de Merengue, Santo Domingo
Photo: dpa / Alamy Stock Photo
The biggest dance festival in the Dominican Republic
The merengue is considered part of the national identity of the Dominican community. Since 2005, it’s had its own national public holiday - National Merengue Day on November 26 - and in 2016 this dance was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
There are dozens of festivals to explore across the Dominican Republic, but not many that are as big a deal nationally as the Festival de Merengue. This festival is a celebration of Latino identity but more importantly, Dominican identity. The Festival de Merengue plays a pivotal role in exploring the various aspects of Dominican life as a cultural practice.
Each year in Santo Domingo, as well as other towns on the island, the streets are flooded with a sea of color, laughter, dancing and pure joy. Buildings are decorated, people are dressed up and the atmosphere of the city is phenomenal.
The event first originated back in the 1960s with a simple idea of organizing a week to celebrate the friendship between the Dominican Republic and neighboring Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island 240 miles east of the DR (and an unincorporated territory of the US). At the time, the director of the Department of Tourism agreed to this ‘Friendship Week’ and so the tradition was born.
The result? A massive, mind-blowing festival full of color, art, music, and joy. A few years later, festival organisers decided the event should become independent and dedicated entirely to Merengue, the national dance of the Dominican Republic. The huge street displays, colors, floats, and flowers return every year bigger than before.
When is it?
Two weeks each summer (from late July to early August).
Where is it?
Most of the festivities are held on the Avenue Malecón, a stone esplanade that follows the Rio Ozama river as it winds through the center of Santo Domingo. The beautiful riverside Avenue Malecón is the same place the National Carnival Parade leads the party every February. Head toward the Malecón and you can’t miss the huge colorful displays or the Merengue music blaring, mixed with the sounds of people dancing and cheering in the streets.
There are various events throughout the Festival de Merengue including huge dance displays, live music and of course the parade. Look out for famous Merengue “musica” bands, art displays, craft stalls, food fairs and plenty of games to enjoy.
Concert crowd at Festival de Merengue, Santo Domingo
Photo: dpa / Alamy Stock Photo
What is Merengue anyway?
Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, and is similar to the Haitian dance called the Meringue or Mereng. In the DR, the modern Merengue danceform crystalised during the 1940s and 50s, building on older latin dance styles and incorporating lyrics popularised in the late nineteenth century. The core, non-negotiable musical accompaniment is a “merengue musica group” made up of a three-piece band including a güira (a traditional Dominican percussion instrument), tambora and accordion. However, you will likely see more instruments in today’s Festival de Merengue. The music is quick tempo, slightly aggressive and dancers swing their hips in a rapid but fluid motion to the quick beat. Some say it’s called the Merengue because it’s light and airy like the confection, but no one knows for sure.
The original lyrics to merengue musica are based on sexual encounters and other taboo subjects so expect a bit of heat and raunchiness.
Should you go?
Absolutely! The Festival de Merengue is a one of a kind experience that is sure to blow your mind. The Festival de Merengue is a festival for anyone looking to get moving - a chance to break away from our restrictive lives, get lost in the moment, meet strangers, dance the night away and be reminded of how wonderful life can be. The Festival de Merengue is the Dominican Republic and its people unleashed through the sounds of music and laughter.
If you’re planning to visit the Dominican Republic in late July or early August, you simply can not miss this.
How to get involved
If you love dancing, the FDM is a brilliant opportunity to learn this unique Dominican danceform. You’ll also be able to watch or join in performances of other quintessential Caribbean styles like reggaeton and son, as well as salsa, tango, lindyhop, swing, rumba or the Cuban-born cha-cha-cha or mambo. You can pick up Merengue in half an hour, but it takes years to master.
Tourists can join open Merengue workshops staged across the capital during the weeks of the festival.
Free musical performances of son and merengue held every Sunday in the Ruinas de San Francisco, Santo Domingo Colonial City, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m..
Written by Andrew Miles.
Published January 2022.
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