Our Expertise Unlocks The World

Carnaval In Panama: The Country’s Biggest Event Of The Year

Nothing Gets Between A Panamanian And His Carnaval

Our 17-year-old son Jackson wants to go to carnaval this year.

When he made that statement recently, I realized he had a point.

Carnaval 2017 will be our ninth in Panama… yet we’ve never actually experienced the event.

To tell you the truth, we’ve often scheduled travel outside the country to coincide with carnaval week. These are four or five days I’m very happy to avoid.

Our first driver in Panama, Alberto, was the first to try to explain to me the importance of carnaval in this country.

“A Panamanian family will save all year for their carnaval celebrations,” he told me.

“If carnaval comes and they realize they don’t have enough for the party they want, they’ll sell whatever they can think of to raise more money. I’ve known people who have sold their refrigerators so they had more cash for carnaval,” Alberto continued.

“‘What are you going to do after carnaval is over?’ I’ve asked them.

“They’ve just laughed. Who cares, right? Nothing gets between a Panamanian and his carnaval… ”

A Panamanian web designer who worked for me years ago put it this way:

“In November, we have our independence days,” he said.

“Then in December is Christmas,” he continued.

“That’s all just the lead up to carnaval. Carnaval is the most important event of the year.”


Businesses close, and everyone takes off work. Do not come to Panama during carnaval and expect to do anything but join the party.

Panama City is deserted, as everyone heads to the beach and small towns in the interior known for their carnaval celebrations.

Panama’s most famous carnaval is staged in Las Tablas, in the province of Los Santos. Las Tablas’ population increases 10-fold over carnaval week. The small town is literally overrun with revelers who rent houses, rent rooms, even rent driveways and back patios. If they’re unable to organize a place to crash, they sleep where they fall.

Many don’t sleep at all. The streets of Las Tablas are bursting, bouncing, banging with drinking, singing, dancing partiers 24 hours a day for four days running. Music booms, fireworks explode, and men atop the culecos (water trucks) use fire hoses to spray down the entire scene with water from time to time.

Children buy confetti from street vendors and toss it at passers-by. They come armed with water guns and aim and fire at will. Note that the liquid in these water pistols is not always water. It pays to keep your mouth closed when walking through a crowd of carnaval kids with water guns.

And make sure your valuables are stored in a waterproof bag. Otherwise, your passport could end up looking like it went through a cycle in the washing machine.

Sounds like fun, right? Our 17-year-old son seems to think so. He and his friends are headed this year to carnaval in Las Tablas, he says.

This mother is dreading it.

Kathleen Peddicord

French Course Online