Panama Carnival 2021: Ultimate guide to this colorful event

Like many countries around the world, especially in Europe and Latin-America, Panama upholds the carnival tradition. This festivity has its roots in catholicism, when remaining foods and alcohol were consumed right before the start of the 40-day lent leading to Easter. The Panama carnavales may not be as famous as the legendary carnivals in Rio de Janeiro or Baranquilla, they’re still colorful and full-on fun. Here’s everything you need to know about the Panama carnival celebrations and how to make this festive event the perfect addition to your Panama City travel itinerary.


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Panama Carnival is a colorful explosion of fun. Check out when it's held, where to go and what to expect. #travel #panama #panamacity #celebrations #party #carnival #carnaval


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Panama carnival 2021 dates

On 12th October 2020 I was informed that, because of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Panamese Ministry of Health has decided to cancel the 2021 carnival celebrations.

The 2021 carnival celebrations in Panama will take place from Friday 12th up to and including Wednesday 17th February. This is what the program looks like:

  • Friday 12th February: Coronation of the queen followed by outdoor dancing (evening and night).
  • Saturday 13th February – Tuesday 16th February: Getting drenched by the water trucks (around 9 a.m. in the morning). Parade with dancing groups and brass bands followed by fireworks and outdoor dancing (from 4 p.m. onwards, evening and night).
  • Wednesday 17th February: Burrial of the Sardine (around 2 a.m., well before sunrise).
Carnival Panama is the most colorful event in Panama City Central America

Saturday is when the kids carnival parade is held (at least it is in Panama City). Monday tends to be the tamest day of Panama carnival. It’s when locals catch their breath between the weekend parties and Shrove Tuesday when the celebrations reach their peak and the parade is more extravagant. Make sure to arrive early enough in the afternoon to secure spot near the parade.

What to expect from carnival in Panama City

– Where the Panama City parade is being held

Carnaval in Panama City takes place on the Cinta Costera park, which connects the historic center of Casco Viejo with the skyscrapers in the modern district. The parades are mostly held between Avenida 3 de Noviembre, near the fish market (mercado de mariscos) and Calle 33 Este and loop anti-clockwise.

– Security checkpoint

The first thing you’ll notice when attending Panama carnival is the police presence. Before entering the festivity zone, you’ll need to pass a security check and pat-down. Men and women are split in two lines. Copies of a foreign pasport, either physical or digital, are usually accepted.
Do make sure to bring a waterproof holder for your phone and documents and watch them carefully to outsmart pickpockets.

– Water fun (morning)

The day parades feature giant water trucks (culecos) that keep the crowd cool by spraying water. But there are more water threats (mojaderas) to look out for: water balloons, hoses and even buckets all add to the fun. No need to add a water pistol to your vacation packing list, you could just as easily buy a water pistol from one of the stands and join in.

– Decorated carnival floats (late afternoon)

The Panama carnival parade features beautifully decorated floats (topones) with brass bands (tunas) and drums (tambores) playing salsa and the Carnival Queen, accompanied by two Princesses. In between the floats, you’ll see groups of dancers (called comparsas) wearing the most colorful customes and marching bands competing with those on the floats.

– Gorgeous Panama pollera dresses

The men are dressed in a montuno while the women wear a stunning Panama pollera dress, a tortoise shell comb (peineta) and sparkling, beaded hair accessories made of crystals, pearls and shells (tembleques).

Did you know that it can take around 8 months to make a Panama pollera? This gorgeous dress always features native designs such as birds, flowers and garlands on a crisp white background. The colorful wool pompons and ribbons give the pollera a festive touch. This national costume is so iconic that Panama even holds a yearly Pollera Day on 22nd July.

– Dirty devils or diablos sucios

Part of Panamanian folkore are the dirty devils (diablos sucios), with their beautifully crafted but scary masks. Centuries ago, these devils were a tool of evangelization, scaring non-Catholics into complying with Catholic religion. Back then, the devils danced until the sweat made the costume colors run off, making them look dirty. Hence, the term dirty devils. In addition, they also carried an animal bladder which served as a percussion instrument so that they smelled dirty too.

At first, our kids were too scared to even look at the diablos sucios from a distance. When she realized it was just a mask, the youngest decided that she wanted a picture with one while the eldest safely kept a distance.

– Streetfood

Don’t expect a variety of food and drinks during Panama carnaval. You’ll find some stalls with streetfood at the north-east corner of the park, mostly selling barbecued meat such as grilled chicken, chorizo sausages and hot dogs.

– Partying until dawn

Carnival in Panama means four days of dancing and partying

When the sun sets, you’ll notice that most families with kids start to leave (as did we). The music intensifies and the crowds head to one of the Cinta Costera stages featuring dj sets. The party continues in the Panama City’s bars and clubs.

– Burrial of the sardine

This funeral procession, during which costumed mourners carry a tiny coffin with a symbolic sardine, is part of Spanish heritage. It symbolizes the end of the celebrations and the start of Lent.

Where to stay for carnival in Panama City… and where not to stay

If you want to experience carnival in Panama City, then we’d highly recommend staying close to the Cinta Costera, the stretch towards the San Francisco district in particular. We stayed at the Intercontinental Miramar, which is located on a quiet part of this road and involved a 30-minute walk. Location-wise, this was a perfect choice.
Should you prefer the comfort of a vacation rental, then check out these condos:

Another popular place to stay in Panama City is Casco Viejo, the Old Town. It’s a gorgeous district and should be on top of your list of places to visit in Panama City. That being said, we would personally advise against staying in Casco Viejo during Panama carnival because getting there at night is not safe. Cabs are hard to come by during the festivities (the same goes for Uber) and there’s no metro to the Old Town. So, you’ll most likely need to walk, which involves crossing two neighborhoods that you should really avoid after hours: Calidonia (bordering the Mercado de Mariscos or Fish Market) and Santa Ana. The other neighborhood that’s a no-go at night is El Chorrillo, just south of Santa Ana, but that one’s not on your route.

Other cities to celebrate carnival in Panama

Panama City’s carnival celebrations are relatively new. Years ago, it was more a collection of neighbourhood parties and street events. Other cities in Panama have a decades-long carnival tradition

– Las Tablas carnival

The ultimate Panama carnival takes place in the town of Las Tablas, where the battle of the queens guarantees the most intense carnival mood. Two rival streets – Calle Arriba (Up Street) and Calle Abajo (Down Street) – each crown a queen. During the entire carnival period these queens, each with her own floats and bands, give their all to wow the crowds with a marvellous show. On the morning of Ash Wednesday, the winner is announced.

– Bocas del Toro carnival

Bocas, located along the Caribbean coast, is known as the party capital of Panama. A town with this reputation takes carnival to another level. Bocas is also the place where dirty devils carry actual whips, so make sure to behave. 🙂

– Penonomé carnival

A different kind of Panamanian carnival can be found in Penonomé. Here, the parade doesn’t take place on the streets but on the water. The floating parades creates an entirely different atmosphere, a bit tamer but just as lively, colorful and fun.

Visiting places nearby during Panama carnival

Panama carnival is considered the most important holiday period in Panama. Most locals traditionally head to other towns in the country to celebrate carnival with their family. They make it a mini-vacation, combining the Panama carnival with a visit to the beach or a national park.

This also means that roads are congested on Friday, for the exodus, and on Wednesday, when they return home. We highly recommend avoiding out-of-town activities, such as visits to the Miraflores Locks, the Rainforest Discovery Center and the Monkey Island and Indian Village, on these days. Also note that some excursions may not take place as scheduled. Our hotel concierge moved heaven and earth to find a Gamboa tour company to agree with transportation during the Panama carnival period. Then again, activities taking place in the city are usually less crowded than usual.

Have you experienced carnival in Panama before? Or is there another carnival celebration you’d recommend in Central or South America? Let us know in the comments.


Dreaming of planning a new vacation in these uncertain times? The AXA Assistance USA Platinum travel insurance includes a CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) option which allows you to cancel your trip without any explanation, up to 2 days before departure. Conditions apply. Click here to learn more.

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Panama Carnival is a colorful explosion of fun. Check out when it's held, where to go and what to expect. #travel #panama #panamacity #celebrations #party #carnival #carnaval


This article contains affiliate links. Clicking on such a hyperlink and/or making a purchase to the website it refers to, may result in a commission for CosmopoliClan at no additional cost to you. It allows us to dedicate enough personal time and energy to this blog. For more information, visit the Disclaimer page.

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