The Gringo’s Guide to Carnival

With Carnival 2015 just around the corner, the country begins gearing up for the most celebrated week of the year. This year, the celebration begins on the night of Friday February 13th and lasts until the night of Wednesday February 18th. Whether you intend to join in the festivities, or avoid them all together, it is a good idea to prepare yourself. If you have never experienced Carnival Panama-style, we recommend it. After all, it is the largest carnival celebration in the world after Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.  Having a good plan is the key to having a good time.  If your aim is to avoid the crowds, do your shopping ahead of time and avoid the Pan American highway. If you are joining in the festivities this year here are few handy tips from some Carnival 2014 survivors:


1. Choose where to party wisely

While Las Tablas offers the largest, most elaborate party in the country, it is not the only option. Almost every town in Panama celebrates carnival in some way and in each town the customs and crowd may differ.  Keep in mind, wherever you choose to party there will likely be music, dancing, drinking and water involved.

The Penonome celebration draws less of a crowd. The town’s parade is also a unique experience, in the evening floats take to the river with the carnival queens in tow. The culeco tradition (tradition of getting wet) is very much alive here, whether you are partying in the streets or the river bank.

In Pedasi local customs come to life on front porches as friends and family gather to play tipico (popular folkloric music usually including an accordion. Floats and the carnival queens make their rounds, water trucks are plentiful, and the town radiates with culture.

2. Leave your valuables at home

Regardless of where you choose to party it is a good idea to leave jewelry, expensive electronics, and passports behind. If you are a tourist you should always carry a photocopy of your passport, if you are a resident a license, cedula or immigration card will do. It is also a good idea to have a phone on you, but don’t bring your brand new IPhone 6. In Panama you can buy a cheap cell phone for between $10 and $30.

3. Drive smart

While the police have been showing more presence each year, it is important to stay alert when behind the wheel and be aware of other drivers. If you plan to spend carnival in the interior it is a good idea to drive in a day before the festivities and return early Wednesday morning to avoid the brunt of the traffic.