Carnival in Panama

By: Jose Vega

Carnivals is one of the biggest celebrations in Panama, it begins 4 days before Ash Wednesday. While small quiet countryside towns lay dormant throughout most of the year, carnival awakens the inner party spirit and most towns join in the celebration. The biggest part town has been voted to be Las Tablas in the Azueros peninsula.

Officially it’s not a holiday but the whole country basically shuts down!

Las Tablas is divided by 2 areas known as “Calle Arriba” and “Calle Abajo”. Basically the town is geographically divided down the middle to form the two competing sides. Each side chooses their own carnival queen and competes to out match each other with amazing floats, extravagant costumes, music and dances.

An other important factor of a winning Queen, is the amount of firework invested in the parades and the songs their followers sing to make fun of the opposite Queen. The queen will be parading in different outfits and different decorated carts throughout the 4 days. Family members and friends of the Queen spend the whole year before Carnival collecting and saving money for this event! Can you imagine the investment it takes to become a Queen?!?

The followers of Calle Arriba (Upper street) and Calle Abajo (Lower street) are called “Tuna de Calle Arriba/Calle Abajo”. They will do anything possible to help their Queen win, they arrange their own parades and side activities, including live concerts, food stands, games, and fireworks displays.

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The real festivities of carnival started in 1950 when “Calle Arriba” officially began the election of the Tuna’s Queen in a more efficient and compettitive way. Calle Abajo had no choice but to keep up with Calle Arriba and so every year this event became bigger and bigger.

The “Culecos” which are reffered to as trucks with enormous water tanks in the middle of the parades and festivities blasting music and spraying the dancing crowd with water. It’s one big aqua party where kids will walk around with water pistols spraying everyone. Being in the tropics, it’s a great way to stay cool.

The streets will be filled with people who bring their coolers and just find one spot where they will be drinking and partying for the rest of the day.

Activities during Carnival.

Friday before Ash Wednesday: Everything begins with the coronation of the Carnival Queen and her attendants by last years Queen.

Saturday, beginning in the early afternoon thousands of people start to fill the streets. The afternoon and evening consist of a series of events, including live bands playing salsa, reggae, reggaetone, and Panamanian folk music.  The atmosphere is transformed from an ordinary street into an enormous street party where everyone is drinking, dancing and socializing.

, around midday, a parade of thousands of women dressed in Panama’s national costume called pollera parade through the streets.

Monday, does not host a special event, however it is just as exciting as the other days. With streets full of party folks having a great time, small parades takes place and people enjoy the day dancing and drinking.

Tuesday is the biggest carnival celebration and the largest parties in Panama. It is known in English as Fat Tuesday and also Shrove Tuesday. The parades held on this day easily out does the ones of the previous days. Huge decorated floats parade down the streets full of costumed groups from all walks of life.

Ash WednesdayJust before sunrise the carnival queen leads the last parade, a funeral procession known as the Burial of the Sardine. The act signifies the end of the partying and the beginning of the somber and period of Lent during which Catholics fast and sacrifice in preparation for the celebration of Easter. “El Entierro de la Sardina” is typically held on the beach or in the park and it does attract large crowds that stay up all night to see Carnival to its customary close accompanied by a big “Topon” which is a great amount of fireworks on the side of each Tuna.

A bit more of Carnivals in Panama here!

The Queens of Carnaval (Las Tablas, Panama)


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