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