Masaya, Nicaragua’s Festival of Costumed Dogs

The single funniest, strangest, and cutest religious ceremony/party I have ever experienced takes place every year in Masaya, Nicaragua.

The Sunday before Holy Week, Nicaraguans travel to Masaya from all over the country to have their dogs blessed at the Mass of San LΓ‘zaro (Saint Lazarus). The celebration consists of an early mass, a day-long street fair complete with food, alcohol, and dancing, and a contest for Best Dressed Dog.

That’s right: these dogs are wearing costumes. Once a year, this little church in a little town in Nicaragua is filled to bursting with hundreds of costumed dogs and their partying owners.

It is exactly as strange and amazing as it sounds.

San LΓ‘zaro in Masaya: Religion, Parties, and Puppies

Randi and I just happened to be staying in nearby Granada during the weekend of the Saint Lazarus festival so we took a day trip to Masaya to check out the celebrations. We met our first participant on the bus ride there:

st-lazarus-dog-nicaragua
not a great picture but you get the idea

As soon as we were within a few blocks of the main festival our doggie experience expanded. The streets were full of excited people and their furry friends.

the streets leading up the Saint Lazarus festival

We were awestruck when we reached the main square of the festival. Unfortunately we arrived too late to witness the actual blessing-of-the-dogs ceremony but the Saint Lazarus celebration was still in full swing. The church was the centerpiece and there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd spilling out from every entrance to the building. Hundreds of Nicaraguans were pushing and shoving their way forward to be closer to the ongoing mass.

this was about as close to the mass as we could comfortably get

Turn around, though, and the view was entirely different. A full-tilt party sprawled into the streets surrounding the church. Brightly colored carts sold fried meat and dog-shaped candy; hollering vendors advertised beer and ceremonial candles; traditional Latin bands competed for attention with tinny speakers blaring the day’s pop hits; children ran back and forth between carnival games, Ferris wheels, and colorful booths of candy. It was madness.

a beautifully latin combination of religious celebration and party

And of course, hundreds of costumed doggies were dispersed casually throughout this cacophony.

CAN YOU IMAGINE THE PURE JOY OF THIS EVENT?!?!

The Town of Masaya

It took quite a while for us to tire of the celebrations. Once we had, though, we moved on to exploring the rest of Masaya. Masaya is a charming town even without a fabulous festival of fancy fluffers. The town is most famous for its artisan market, a large building housing artisanal crafts from all over Nicaragua. Though it was fairly touristy it was fun to walk around and peruse the various goods produced in Nicaragua.

We left the town extremely satisfied with our day. Masaya is worth a visit at any time of year but it’s especially excellent if you can align your visit with the Saint Lazarus festival! Where else in the world will you find such an audacious and joyful combination of religion, music, food, alcohol, and fanciful doggies?


Enthused about Nicaragua and/or pups? Check out more of my Nicaragua posts here!

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