In a place as romantic as Puerto Rico, love is most definitely in the air in February. But even Valentine’s Day takes a back seat to the Ponce Carnival, the island’s biggest, most colorful, and most traditional festival. And for those who loce classical music, February brings a chance to enjoy top-quality performances around San Juan. The Ponce Carnival is Puerto Rico’s Caribbean shout-out to Mardi Gras and its more famous cousin in Rio de Janeiro. A festival that has been held for over 200 years, it’s the epitome of all things boricua, and an annual testament to Puerto Ricans’ capacity for whimsy and revelry.

When and Where:


The carnival dominates the historic downtown area in the city of Ponce. The celebration takes place in February, in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The vejigantes are the undisputed stars of this show, but what, exactly, are they? In a word, they’re demons. More to the point, the vejigante is a figure straight out of a centuries-old folklore that blends African, Spanish, and Caribbean cultures. The name originates from vejiga, which means “bladder” in Spanish.
As detailed in this excellent summary, the traditional vejigante costume requires three basic components: mask, cape, and suit. The mask is the most iconic and colorful of these essentials, and even it has rules and regulations: I have yet to see a vejigante mask without a conflagration of teeth and horns.

1000px-Vejigante_mask.svgLike Mardi Gras, the carnival has its roots in Catholicism. The vejigantes, armed with their vejigas (inflated cow bladders), go around whacking children and other innocents, ostensibly to beat away any evil spirits that are lingering around them. However, given that they are known to target attractive women, these spiritual motives might be suspect. The festival ends with the Entierro de la Sardina, or “Burial of the Sardine.” This mock funeral, complete with dummy-laden coffin, is in honor of the coming season of lent. Coffin and dummy are set on fire, to symbolize the burning away of the sins of the flesh. In addition to marauding costumed vejigantes, expect a lot of traditional bomba y plena music, plenty of eating and drinking, and a chanting, boisterous crowd. There is also a parade for the King and Queen of the Carnival, and the aforementioned “Burial of the Sardine.” It’s Puerto Rico’s biggest party, and it’s family event; you’ll see mini vejigantes all over the place.


A young beauty queen (Joymar Ramirez Villadares) at the Ponce Carnival parade on February 18, 2007.

YearQueensChild Queens
2000Luzmila del Carmen Pagan OcasioGlorimar Batista Rivera
2001Luz M. Barrero RodriguezStephania M. Rivera San Antonio
2002Karen Marie MolinaChristal J. Ponce Roman
2003Robelyn Caraballo RamirezJennifer M. Rivera San Antonio
2004Mirayda Rodriguez MunozLayla N. Velazquez Rivera
2005Anabeliz Alindato FigueroaChristal M. Velz Carlo
2006Pamela Sierra RiveraAida I. Garcia Munoz
2007Vilmarie Reyes FloresJoymar Ramirez Villadares
2008Christal J. Ponce RomanMarisabel Montalvo Ruiz
2009Alisheanne Santiago CollBetimar Alcala Cintron
2010Xiomara Ramirez RodriguezNaomi Mercado Corder
2011Solymar Feliciano MonteroGabriela Bonilla Duque
2012Chrystal N. Gonzalez RiveraSullymar Rangel Maldonado
2013Stephanie Echevarría LlanesDayivette Díaz Rosado