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Carnival in Panama; It’s All About Music, Dancing, Costumes, and of Course, Getting Wet!

Last Updated on February 17, 2023 by Retire in Panama

Carnival has a deep cultural significance throughout Latin America and the Caribbean; Panama has become one of the biggest and best Carnival destinations. Carnival in Panama has been celebrated since the early 1900s in style similar to New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. This party is four days long and is celebrated the four days before Ash Wednesday every year.

As things often change in Panama, please use this article as a reference, not a schedule of events.

Three of the best locations to celebrate carnival in Panama are Cinta Costera in Panama City, Los Tablas in the center of the country, and David or Dolega in Chiriquí Province. All seriousness and work in these places come to a halt. The streets fill with music, dancing, drinking, parades, glamorous costumes, and water tankers spraying down the crowds in carnival style.

A large majority of Panama’s population is Catholic. Ash, Wednesday in Catholicism, is the first day of Lent, the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the desert before returning to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter.

La mojadera (begin sprayed by the water trucks) is a popular and fun tradition here in Panama, intending to soak you down in the tropical heat. The end of February and the beginning of March are the hottest, rainless months here in Panama. Up in the cooler highlands, the big Carnival parties are not held much; there is more of a laid-back, backyard friends and family atmosphere over those four days.

In Panama City, the Friday before Ash Wednesday, the Carnival Queen and her attendants are selected. The queen reigns over the parade and official activities. Then Saturday morning, the crowds spill into Cinta Costera, the several-kilometer park along the Pacific in the center of town. There will be bands playing salsa and reggae, lots of Panamanian folklore, and dancing in the streets. Make sure you put your cell phone in a zip-lock bag, as you will get wet!

Carnival celebrations in Las Tablas are the most recognizable in the country. Here, people divide themselves into groups called tunas, one tuna representing the Upper Street (Calle Arriba, which is the La Placita area) and the other tuna representing the Lower Street (Calle Abajo, the Punta Fogón area). They then elect their Queens, and the party begins.

On Saturday morning, there are water, blue dye, and shaving cream fights in the central plaza between the two tunas and the two tunas parades. At night there are dancing, fireworks, and street performances. After these festivities, each tuna returns to its base and parties till the early morning.

A lot of people leave Panama City during Carnival time. There is a mass exodus on Friday afternoon, with people with family in other parts of Panama heading to visit for the 4-day event. Panamanians are real family people who like their time off with them.

In the western province of Chiriquí, there are three places where Carnival celebrations occur. Dolega, David and Las Lajas.

Now back to Panama City, while not as crazy as Los Tablas, the events continue on Sunday. After noon, there is a beautiful poller parade. These polleras are Panamanians’ national costume, and hundreds of ladies and girls dress up in the national dress and March in the parade.

The party continues throughout the country Sunday evening.

On Monday, you will find smaller parades throughout the country, with the festivities carrying on.

On Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, there is another massive parade on the Cinta Costera, New Orleans style, with beautiful floats and costumed marchers for all areas of Panamanian society.

Book your hotels early if you plan to take in some Carnival celebrations, as it is high season in Panama. If you are considering the center of the country, maybe Los Tablas or Penonomé, then book rooms in Santiago and drive to these locations, as there are few hotel rooms available. In Chiriquí, David would be the best location for hotel rooms,

To check out Panama’s great people and culture, book a Retire In Panama Tours today.


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