Rincon, Puerto Rico

Most Frightening Trip Ever – Hatillo, Puerto Rico

Hatillo, Puerto Rico

The most frightening trip that I have ever experienced was when we drove through Hatillo, Puerto Rico, on December 28. Unbeknownst to us, this day marked the Hatillo Mask Festival or Mascaras de Hatillo. Though this is merely an annual event, it got out of control.

Car Rental Scam

Our day started out poorly. First of all, we weren’t the only ones that had to wait over two hours for our confirmed car rental. Also, after finally securing our car, no one mentioned that we were on a toll road and that we should have bought a pass to avoid significantly inflated charges. Most importantly, we felt like the entire process was a scam.

After eventually loading our luggage in our SUV, we had planned on the typical two and one-half hour drive to Rincón. Instead, the trip took us four and a half hours, and one of those hours was the most frightening in my life. To make matters worse, we had our twelve-year-old son, seventeen-year-old daughter, and eighteen-year-old niece in our truck.

It all began after we were cruising west along Puerto Rico’s northern coast. As we caught glimpses of the ink blue Atlantic Ocean through the windows of our green Ford Explorer, our excitement for our vacation grew. Little did we know that our happiness would be short-lived.

Hatillo Costumes

When we approached the seaside town of Hatillo, we hit traffic congestion and a confusion of color, and cacophony pierced our eyes and ears. We heard sirens incessantly scream, and horns blare. Plus, we saw most everyone wearing garish, fluorescent clothing in hot pink, hot orange, lime green, red, blue, yellow, and more.  Some donned capes and colorful sombrero hats made out of shiny floral sheeting. Initially, though somewhat annoyed with the slow traffic, we enjoyed the sights.

In addition to their brightly colored clothing, some donned grotesque masks, including devil masks, that added to their anonymity. Furthermore, many of them rode in the back of colorfully painted trucks and parade floats decorated with synthetic material. Most importantly, we watched them guzzle, what we assumed, was liquor and beer. Furthermore, we later learned that our assumption was correct.

Hatillo Mask Festival Chaos

As we entered Hatillo, we sat in gridlock. Bedlam raged. With rigid faces, we watched groups of men stagger in the streets near our car. Most tilted their cups and bottles straight up and swilled the contents.

I worried that the drunken gangs would notice our teenage girls in the backseat. In light of the chaos, we closed our windows, locked our doors, and peered out the windows. With wide eyes, all three children in the backseat slumped down. We sweated because we were foreigners with nowhere to go. Unfortunately, we became their target.

We feared for our safety

About ten men swarmed our SUV, shook it, and shot it with Silly String. I felt anxious that they would overturn the truck. Metal boomed, as they pounded their fists on the hood, roof, and windows. Suppose they shattered the glass?

Police, who were outnumbered probably one hundred to one, ignored the pandemonium. Though we could see them hold conversations on the next street, they didn’t see or want to see us.  We felt that if the crowd became violent, that they would probably ignore that too. Also, with so few of them, we believed that they wouldn’t be able to help much.

For at least an hour, our jeep crept along at about two miles per hour. During that time, we scoured the streets looking for an escape route. We cringed and gaped as we watched the crowd become louder and drunker. We saw some of the men fall in the street.

Eventually, we spotted a cross street about four blocks ahead. Without coaxing, my husband drove over the curb, and on the sidewalk, and we passed the gridlocked cars. When we turned on the open road and accelerated, we opened the windows, high-fived, and laughed from relief.

Mascaras de Hatillo or Hatillo Mask Festival

We learned that the locals were celebrating the Hatillo Mask Festival or Mascaras de Hatillo. Though the festival is legitimate, it appeared to me, that for some, it was an excuse to get drunk and terrorize people, especially those that look like foreigners.

Mascaras de Hatillo, Puerto Rico
Mascaras de Hatillo, Puerto Rico (Photo credit: enlacepr) License

Hatillo Mask Festival commemorates the time when King Herod ordered his soldiers to kill all the little children after the birth of Jesus. Herod had hoped that his plan would prevent Jesus from becoming king. Apparently, the gaudily clad men represented these soldiers searching for the children.

I suspect that our experience in Hatillo was out of the ordinary. With that said, I believe that if we had visited the lovely seaside town Hatillo on another day, we would have found it charming instead of alarming.

Travel Tips

Unless you plan to attend the Hatillo Mask Festival on December 28, avoid the area.

Car Rental Scam

All things considered, since several people waited for confirmed cars for hours, I believe that the car rental employees scammed us. Plus, I think that the Puerto Rican officials may bank on naïve tourists cruising through the toll lanes without a pass so that they can levy heavy fines on rental cars.

Therefore, if you rent a car in Puerto Rico ask about a toll pass.

In retrospect

Though we had encountered a rough start to our vacation, when we arrived in Rincon our vacation had begun. Our entire group agreed that we would return to Rincon, but we would never drive through Hatillo during the Hatillo Mask Festival again.

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46 thoughts on “Most Frightening Trip Ever – Hatillo, Puerto Rico

      1. it’s a shame you had a poor experience. My family is from Hatillo and as a child when I visited it was a great experience for me. I tell many stories of men in masks riding horses through town only remember a time of festivities. Not sure what you saw.I guess living in New York seeing someone drunk is not scary.

  1. Yikes! Remind me to always google the dates of my trip and destination to ensure no surprises. I’m sure you and your family were terrified!

      1. You should stay home if unusual things frighten you. I went through that town yesterday on my way to and from Aguadilla and encountered the festival going both ways. Beautiful and fascinating! A little bizarre but unusual and so colorful!

      2. I am happy that you had a good experience and didn’t have drunks swilling whiskey surrounding your car that had your children in the back seat. I wonder how you would have felt if you were in gridlock and a bunch of guys stood around your car banging their fists on the hood and windows and there was nowhere to go and the police had no control.

    1. We were in gridlock and there was no moving anywhere to park. I suspect that we were targeted because we looked like tourists with an SUV filled with luggage.

      1. you are so wrong I your thoughts. Thus a festival only held in Hatillo. I am not from puerto Rico and never had any problems my family and I have enjoyed the festivities. Lighten up lady please! I guess you have been deprived of fun.

      2. I didn’t mean to insult you, but my story is true and the twenty something’s were swilling alcohol and some were staggering.Also, we were trapped on a back street in gridlock with guys banging with their fists on our hood, windows and doors, and we had children with us. However, since then, I have seen videos where it looked like a nice festival. Maybe we were in a bad place at the wrong time. When we finally arrived at Rincon, we loved it. Thanks for reading my post and commenting. I respect your opinion.

  2. Memorable, though – as terrifying as it was, it sure makes a good story! Still, v. scary.

  3. You captured the terror so well – I was holding my breath the entire time (bet you were too!). Happy you’re safe and alive enough to tell the story! 😉

  4. I live in the country and “town” is actually a small community. I go to the city, but it doesn’t take much for me to start looking for safe places to get out of the crowd. I’m glad you made your escape! 🙂

  5. Wow, just watched the video. I was considering going to the festival with my family but not now, it just seems to scary and different from parades at home

      1. And Rural America is no different to us, aside that Puerto Ricans won’t commit hate crimes, and knuckle drag America will…You didn’t need a passport did you? ‘Merica!

      2. Thank you for your comment. Our family was surrounded by drunks beating on our car and we were frightened especially because the police had no control. However, I suspect that this was an anomaly, so I didn’t mean to make a blanket statement about your upstanding citizens. Also, according to this article, and several others, you might be mistaken about Puerto Rican hate crimes: http://remezcla.com/culture/puerto-ricos-new-hate-crime-law-may-no-longer-protect-lgbtq-citizens-or-anyone-else-really/

  6. deverian de evitar ser tan ridiculos y de faltarle el respeto a la gente de mi pueblo ese festival se selebradesde1948ven mi pueblo y conmemora la matansa de ninos por el rey herodes ,el dia de los inocentes en otros paises y estados lo selebran haciendo maldades y destruccion,en primer lugar antes de viajar empapese de lo q sucede en el pais q visite nosotros los puertoriquenos y en especial la buena gente de Hatillo no somos criminales ni delincuentes y le aseguro q si hubiese tenido algun problema cualquiera de esos muchacos hubiese dado todo por darle la mano gente como usted es la q le hace dano a nuetra isla en los viajes la ignorancia es un problema brega con esa . att TRAFICANTES DE HATILLO por si acaso grupo de mascaras traficantes

  7. Are our kidding me? it was a parade! not a gang affiliation! you sound like a jerk and you are culturally insensitive. you got stuck in some traffic with loud music and people in costumes drinking and having a good time, Maybe you should stay home and not go anywhere EVER if that was the scariest experience of your life. LOL

  8. My family and I were there in Hatillo the same day in 2008, in Hatillo, and posted a video on YouTube (#1 if you Google it). Wasn’t so scary in the town itself along the parade route. But it’s really not much of a festival; just a day long parade of decorated vehicles (“floats”), each one using sirens and car alarms trying to make more noise than the others. Not recommend for the sane (the YouTube covers it), but there are a few crafts booths in the center of town if you’re stuck there.

    1. The partiers were swilling alcohol when they surrounded our jeep and banged on the hood. The place was chaos and the police had no control. It was scary. Thanks for reading!

  9. Wow that sounds absolutely terrifying, glad it turned out ok. I don’t think I have ever had an experience like that. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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