You don't have to go all the way to Brazil to experience a Latin American Carnival. Carnival in Panama is celebrated the same revelry and abandon as New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. Celebrated in Panama since the early 1900's, this big party begins in the four days before Ash Wednesday. All work and seriousness stops and the streets fill with people dancing and drinking and with parades of colorful floats, glamorous queens. masks, costumes and confetti. Be prepared to get sprayed by the water canons, a carnival tradition. The largest celebrations take place on the Cinta Costera in Panama City and in Las Tablas.
Las Tablas, a provincial town about l30 miles west of Panama City, is considered by many the best place to celebrate Carnival. The atmosphere is more folkloric and enlivened by an intense, traditional rivalry between "high street" and "low street" for the fanciest costumes and most creative floats.
Panama City Carnival schedule
Friday before Ash Wednesday: Everything begins with the selection the Carnival Queen and her attendants. The queen then reigns over the daily parade and official activities.
Many city hotels sponsor related gastronomical and dancing events..
Saturday: Panama City carnaval celebrations are now held on the "Cinta Costera" that is the park area on Panama City's bay next to the beltway. Beginning early afternoon it fills with people intent. Events include a queen coronation and live bands playing salsa, reqgae, Panama folkloric music and lots of people. It's a friendly atmosphere, where people dance, carouse and socialize. Except for the last event on Shrove Tuesday evening, celebrations are mainly indoors in the evenings in discos, bars and hotels of all classes and goes on until dawn.
One Panamanian Carnival tradition are the, "mojaderas" or "getting drenched" in water. By fire hose, water balloon or bucket you come being prepared to get good and wet. It's part of the fun and in the hot tropical sun, a welcome respite, so take precautions with your phones, watches, etc.
Sunday: Sunday at midday there is a large, beautiful "pollera" parade. Polleras are Panama's national costume and thousands of women and girls deck themselves out in this lovely national dress to march by groups in the parade or simply promenade.
Monday: More of the same with a small parade and the streets filled with revelers.
Shrove Tuesday: This is the biggest Carnival celebration day. On the Cinta Costera, there's a huge New Orleans style parade withdecorated floats and costumed brigades from all sectors of society. The party finishes in the early hours of the morning.
Carnival is always scheduled for the weekend before ash wednesday, in 2013 Carnival in Panama will take place between February 9-12
Panama City lodging has many places to stay in all price ranges, but it will be high season so its best to make reservations in advance..
Las Tablas has few hotels and unless you book months in advance they will be full. The best way to enjoy Carnaval in Las Tablas is to stay with Panamanian friends.
If partying in an exotic and friendly place is something you enjoy, you won't want to miss Carnival in Panama!