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El Carnaval Panameño

Calle Arriba Pedasi 2014

What is Carnaval?

culecos Las Tablas Carnaval 2017
culecos Las Tablas Carnaval 2017

Carnaval is the four-day traditional celebration that takes place immediately before Christian Lent (which starts on Ash Wednesday), and is celebrated each year from Friday night through the morning of Ash Wednesday in February or March of each year. Each year a massive budget is spent on elaborate floats and costumes, water trucks, and security. People save up money, pawn household goods, and quit their jobs to have enough money and time to enjoy Carnival.

Most of Panama City leaves for the big festivals in the culture-rich Interior (Azuero Peninsula). The most popular festivals in Las Tablas, Chitre, and Pedasi feature massive parties and are televised nationally. All businesses shut down for the holidays. Streets get closed down. Hotels fill up a year in advance.

Las Tablas Carnaval 2017
Las Tablas Carnaval 2017

Everyone wears bright colors and carry their money and phone in a plastic case that they wear around their necks, as during the day, water trucks (culecos or mojaderas) emerge on the streets with water hoses. Kids load up their water guns and buckets with ice water. Discotecas (dance halls) set up stages on the street featuring performances by national and international artists. Local music (músico típico) is played by accordions, drums. Big parades of floats carrying the queens and princesses, a brass band, and fireworks occur day and night, for ~3 hours starting 12pm and 12am each day. Vendors set up street stalls, where food and trinkets (hats, clothing, water guns) are sold. The dancing, drinking, and festivities continue day and night. Kids and babies can be seen out even past midnight! On the morning of Ash Wednesday, all the remaining fireworks are burned in a massive (and extremely loud!) bonfire (quema de cohetes), after which Lent begins and meat is given up in favor of fish.

Sunday Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017
Sunday Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017

The town splits down the middle, and people are passionate in their support for Calle Arriba/Abajo based on where they reside in town. Each queen and royal court ride a big float up and down the streets (paseo), lit by fireworks and followed by a brass band (murgas) to rally supportive cries for their respective queens.  A crowd of supporters (tunas) follow and dance behind the floats.

Many villages feature two queens – one from Calle Arriba (uptown, or above the main street) and one from Calle Abajo (downtown, or below main street), who battle it out (Topón) over who will reign supreme during the four-day festivities. They compete in attire, floats, amount of money spent, fireworks, band, and a final mock battle. The queens are groomed from childhood having ridden the floats as princesses (Royal Court or corte real) and fundraise tens of thousands of dollars to adorn their floats. They are typically between 18 and 22 years of age. Many (if not most) study or reside in Panama City but must have ties to the village which they reign. The tunas of each queen are headquartered in different parts of the town. Calle Arriba is headquartered near the church square (Pedasi) and near La Bolivar Street (Las Tablas). Calle Abajo is headquartered near the elementary school (Pedasi) and near Punta Fogon (Las Tablas).


Las Tablas Carnaval 2014
Las Tablas Carnaval 2014
Pollera Tuesday Carnaval Pedasi 2015
Pollera Tuesday Carnaval Pedasi 2015


Carnival is said to have origins in the 18th century during the 3-century Spanish colonization. During this era, the festival was deeply colored by European practices of throwing water and flour, using masks, costumes, and musical instruments like violins, and Spanish items like guitars and polleras (cultural garb). From 1900-1950, the participants of each tuna would meet at beaches, ravines, or rivers to eat, drink, dance, and socialize. From the 1950s the Las Tablas Carnival established the queens of Calle Arriba/Abajo and the first street band and water trucks were introduced, and carnival became a large national event. From the 1980s, discotecas arrived to set up street parties in caged areas blasting Panamanian music (musico tipico) and modern hits.

Calle Abajo Pedasi 2014
Calle Abajo Pedasi 2014

When is it?

Court Real Las Tablas 2014
Court Real Las Tablas 2014

2017: February 24th – 28th
2018: February 9th – 14th
2019: March 1st – 6th
2020: February 21st – 26th
2021: February 12th – 17th
2022: February 25th – March 2nd
2023: February 17th – 22nd
2024: February 9th – 14th
2025: February 28th – March 5th
2026: February 13th – 18th
2027: February 5th – 10th
2028: February 25th – March 1st
2029: February 9th -14th
2030: March 1st – 6th


Schedule of Activities

Friday – Coronation

Murgas Las Tablas
Murgas Las Tablas

The festivities start around 12am. Fireworks will go off, the floats will start mozying down the streets, and around 12:30am or so the 2 queens will become visible. Coronation starts ~12:30am-1am. The official events start winding down around 2-3am at which time the discotecas turn up their music and the drinking/dancing continues until morning.


Theme: disguise. Queens come dressed in costume.

street food carnaval panama
street food carnaval panama

Daytime: from 12pm the culecos (water trucks) will start spraying water. Eager kids will fill up buckets and water guns with ice and head out to town where they will “attack” anyone who is still dry! Most cities host foam & water parties, and discotecas will keep the stages (featuring national and international musical artists) going all day long. The tunas will emerge around 12-12:30pm and will parade until 2:30pm.

Nighttime: From 12am the floats emerge again carrying the queens. The parade and fireworks wind down around 2am and the dancing/drinking continues until morning (5am).



Man watches Las Tablas Carnaval
Man watches Las Tablas Carnaval

Theme: coronation. Queens come out in their coronation dresses and their cars are adorned with a coronation theme.

Events same as Saturday.



Parade ends in Las Tablas
Parade ends in Las Tablas

Theme: luxury. Queens dress in a giant disguise and is a gala day.

Events same as Saturday.


Tuesday (Shrove/Fat Tuesday)

Daytime: same as previous days.

Pedasi Carnaval 2017
Pedasi Carnaval 2017


  • 7pm (arrive at 6pm) – (Pedasi) the queens and ladies of the town will emerge in fancy polleras and men in traditional attire (straw hats, white linen shirts, black pants, leather sandals).
  • 12-1am : The parades wind down (Pedasi).
  • 2am : Quema de Cohetes (Pedasi).  All the fireworks that did not get used will be lit in a massive bonfire.
  • (Panama City) El entierro de la sardina (burial of the sardine) : a New Orleans style funeral with costumes, music, dancing, and fake tears.
  • 5am : Quema de Cohetes (Las Tablas)
  • 6am: (Las Tablas) The firefighters put out the fire (takes about 30 mins) and el último Topón (the final showdown) commences between the two rival tunas. As the sun comes up, the brass band amps up the noise and the two queens meet in front of the Church of Santa Librada amid huge crowds.  A mock battle will commence where the queens will “fight it out” face to face by trash talking – throwing out props like money, gold fans, cockroaches, handcuffs, and figures of scorpions to taunt and take a personal jab at either the opposing queen or her family. For example, in 2016, the queen of Calle Abajo told Calle Arriba that she is “little and ugly,” with the insult accompanied by a tape measure. Each will declare herself the winner of Carnival.
Fireworks Pedasi Carnaval 2017
Fireworks Pedasi Carnaval 2017
Pollera Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017
Pollera Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017

Dress Code

Bright colors. During the daytime, dress to get wet. Put your phone/money in plastic cases.


Where to Go

The Big Three

Pollera Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017
Pollera Calle Arriba Pedasi 2017
  • Las Tablas
  • Chitre
  • Pedasi

The others (less crowded and more local)

  • La Villa de Los Santos
  • Santo Domingo
  • San Jose
  • La Palma

    Fireworks Pedasi Carnaval 2017
    Fireworks Pedasi Carnaval 2017
  • Tonosi
  • Capira
  • Lajamina
  • Parita
  • Ocu
  • Guarare
  • Penenome
  • Aguadulce
  • Santiago
  • Panama
  • Chiriqui

The Aftermath


A village festival on the Friday-Sunday after Carnival. In Pedasi on Sunday, a bull will run through the church square around noon.

Semana Santa

Calle Arriba Pedasi 2014
Calle Arriba Pedasi 2014

6 weeks later, the country again closes for the Easter holidays. Business holiday starts on Thursday, and goes through Easter Sunday. Be aware as all of Panama City heads for the beaches (from Coronado to Cambutal) and traffic jams easily cause 3-4 hour delays in and out of the city. No alcohol is sold anywhere on Good Friday.



Supermarket Runs

Supermarket runs

There are several supermarkets in the area, ranging from minisupers to megastores. The best shopping is done in Chitre (1.5 hours away) with a variety of fresh produce available. But there are ways to get groceries more locally.

  • Meats -> for variety: Poll Mart (Chitre), for cheapess: Xtra (Chitre)
  • Veggies -> for organics: Azuero Organic (Playa Venao), for variety: Riba Smith (Chitre),  for fresh/cheap: Supercarnes (Las Tablas), Pollmart (Chitre), Veg truck (Playa Venao), Xtra (Chitre)
  • Fish -> Xtra (Chitre), local fishermen (Pedasi), Riba Smith (Chitre)
  • Baked goods -> Riba Smith
  • Toys/School supplies -> Poll mart
  • Booze : for import wines & beers: Riba Smith (Chitre), for cheap domestic beers: Xtra (Chitre) is probably cheapest but Supercarnes (Las Tablas) is great too
  • Bulk shopping: Pricesmart (Panama City)
  • Side note: Chicken = Toledano has by far the best chicken and eggs. The chicken is moist, the eggs are a healthy orange. They are sold at Riba, Xtra, but if you’re able to, best to buy in bulk at Pricesmart.


Largely grouped –


Riba Smith : Come here for: Imports, rare items.
They carry everything from tofu, imported beers/wines, kale, chia seeds, arugula, cold cuts, cheeses, pate, salmon, everything. They also serve good coffee and ice cream, as well as sandwiches. They have their own recycling center if you want to take your recyclables here. One drawback is that the meats & vegetables are pricey, even though they are not always fresh.

Super Pollmart  : Come here for: meats, veggies, kids’ knick knacks, frozen items.
The meats are good quality (esp the pork) and have a very wide variety of cuts available. The vegetables are great too – occasionally they have some exotic types. On the second floor is a wide area featuring school supplies, kids’ toys, baby items (cribs, toilets, clothes, bottles, etc), home electronics, party supplies, etc.

Xtra : Come here for: fish, vegetables.
The frozen fish selection features a lot of local catches – snapper, clams, etc. There is also a great vegetable selection (cheap!) and is the only supermarket that doesn’t require you to weigh ahead of time as they can check out directly at the cashier.

Las Tablas

Supercarnes : Come here for: vegetables, general knicknacks.
I am impressed with their vegetable selections lately! There are a variety of fresh and wonderful items – plump eggplants, paprika, lettuce. There’s also a section that sells auto parts, kids’ toys, hair products.


Chinos :

Chinos are local minisupers. They are everywhere in Pedasi ranging from small to medium-sized. They sell household items (pots, pans), groceries, auto parts, water/sporting equipment, shoes, etc. Very basic (and some bootleg/cheapy) stuff. They also sell cell phone prepaid cards and can change out your propane tank. The veggie truck also makes a stop at Aires del Mar so if you miss the truck, you can get your veg fix here. They are useful as they carry most of your daily needs, but for weekly/biweekly groceries I generally make the trip to Chitre as they carry a wider range of products.

Playa Venao

Veggie Truck : Comes Mondays and Thursdays from Chiriqui to Pedasi/Playa Venao. They bring crates of vegetables and fruits to supply the local hotels but also available to purchase directly (sold by weight).

Azuero Organic: A new initiative at Eco Venao that features organic products from their permaculture garden as well as semi-organic products (i.e. minimal insecticides) from their farming partner in Chiriqui. A wide variety of products such as moringa, noni, cherry tomatoes, kombucha, radicchio, etc. Delivery is available to the area for $2 or pick up at Eco Venao (12pm/1:30pm – 6pm).



Fruit stands : Pop up between Las Tablas/Chitre. During dry season (Jan-Mar) there are also trucks selling watermelons and pineapples in the middle of Chitre and Las Tablas for ~$1-2 each. The best is buying an “agua de pipa” which are chilled young coconuts with a hole drilled at the top. A straw is inserted to drink the cold coconut water straight out of the coconut! These are sold for $1 and are a wonderful beverage to have on the road.


Bulk shopping

Pricesmart (Panama City – Via Espana, Tumba Muerto. Capira): Membership is $30 per year but more than makes up for it. If you travel to the city often, it’s easy to load up your car for the ride back. Sometimes items like diapers, toilet paper, detergent, cereal, milk, etc are better bought in bulk!


Asian items

Chino (by Super 99 in Chitre)

Foodie or Mini max (Panama City, @ Bal Harbour shopping center in Obarrio)


Mediterranean items 

Super Kosher (Panama City)

Riba Smith carries a few items