While we were in Panama City doing research on where we should go next, we found out that we would be in the country for Carnival. We both agreed that we definitely had to go and according to some news articles Las Tablas has the second biggest Carnival after Rio, so we set our sights on getting ourselves to Las Tablas. Apparently hotels are sold out a year in advance for Carnival but for some crazy unknown reason we managed to get a room at a family run hotel only 2 blocks from where the festivities take place! We paid a ridiculous rate for the room but how often does a person get a chance to go to Carnival?
We caught the bus in Panama City in the morning and arrived in Las Tablas by late afternoon. The bus station was packed with Carnival revellers all on their way somewhere in the country to celebrate with their friends and family. Surprisingly we didn’t even have to wait for a bus, we walked in to the station and got on the bus to Las Tablas right away – more luck than good management we figure!
This is by far THE craziest four day party we have EVER been to in our entire lives! It’s the most celebrated event in the country and it’s held every year for the four days before Ash Wednesday. In Las Tablas during Carnival, people divide themselves in two groups called Tunas (I kept seeing banners that said something about tunas in spanish but I could never figure out what they were talking about until I looked it up). One tuna represents Calle Arriba (high street) and the other represents Calle Abajo (low street). They choose their queens and then the party goes crazy! The competition between these two streets is fierce and is based on whose costumes and floats are the best.
The Carnival Floats were nothing short of spectacular, we’ve never seen such elaborate floats ever!
Each float had it’s own band playing Carnival music!
The fireworks every night and during the day were unbelievable and each group would try to out do the other. I have to admit I have never seen fireworks during the day before.
A unique thing about Panama’s Carnival are the ‘Culecos’, huge water trucks with people standing on top spraying the crowds with water and tossing out goodies like t-shirts, hats, and even tiny bottles of vodka! Most Panamanians bring big coolers filled with ice and their favourite beverages but these coolers block every available space and if you get caught in a moving crowd of people and don’t manage to get around the coolers you could actually be trampled – that freaked me out! The Panamanian people are super friendly and it really shows that they love a good party.
Look at all the beer cans, it’s a crazy party!!! Thankfully they had people cleaning all of this up.
We may have contributed a few beer cans ourselves…
One of the most enjoyable parades of Carnival happens on day four, the last day of Carnival. The Queens along with many locals wear their ‘Polleras’ – the traditional dress of Panama. This was so beautiful to see!
Traditionally, Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday when a sardine is buried at the beach marking the start of fasting for Lent.
It was most definitely a crowded, chaotic, crazy, loud, and wet party. It was an experience that neither one of us will ever forget! We’re so glad that we could take part in this Panamanian celebration.
Here is a video of our four day Carnival experience!
Where we stayed: Hostal Mansion Juliana 👍