Panama Carnival 2024: 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, but 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
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

Panama carnival 2024 dates

The 2024 carnival celebrations in Panama will take place from Friday 9th February up to and including Wednesday 14th February. This is what the program looks like:

  • Friday 9th February: Coronation of the queen followed by outdoor dancing (evening and night).
  • Saturday 10th February – Tuesday 13th February: Getting drenched by the water trucks (around 9 a.m.). Parade with dancing groups and brass bands followed by fireworks and outdoor dancing (from 4 p.m. onwards, evening and night).
  • Wednesday 14th February: Burial 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 a 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 in 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 passport, either physical or digital, are usually accepted.
Make sure to bring a waterproof holder for your phone and documents and watch them carefully to outsmart pickpockets.

– Water fun (morning)

Two little girls holding waterpistols during the Panama City carnaval parade
Little girl with brightly colored water pistol during carnival Panama
Children playing with water pistols during carnival Panama City

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)

Panama carnival queen on a float
Brass band on a float at Avenida Balboa during the Panama City carnival
Tractors pulling the floats during carnavales Panama City
Panama carnival queen and one of her princesses
Decorated float during carnaval Panama

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 costumes and marching bands competing with those on the floats.

– Gorgeous Panama pollera dresses

Young woman wearing a beautiful handmade Panama pollera
Young woman wearing a beautiful handmade Panama pollera

The men are dressed in a montuno while the women wear a stunning Panama pollera dress, a tortoiseshell 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

Diablos sucios during the carnival celebrations in Panama City
Daddy and daughter meeting a diablo sucio during carnival in Panama

Part of Panamanian folklore 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 the 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 street food at the northeast 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 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 takes place before dawn on Ash Wednesday and 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.

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 advise against staying in Casco Viejo during Panama carnival because getting there at night is unsafe. 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 neighborhood 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 marvelous 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 create an entirely different atmosphere, a bit tamer but just as lively, colorful, and fun.

Visiting places nearby during Panama carnival

Man wearing a flag for carnaval Panama
Comparsas during carnavales Panama

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 families. 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.

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
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

Affiliate links are sprinkled throughout the site content. Clicking on such a hyperlink and booking on the accommodation platform it refers to, may result in a commission for CosmopoliClan at no additional cost to you. As Amazon Associates, we also earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, visit the Disclaimer page.


  1. Greg Jones

    Hi Sarah,

    Great post I enjoyed reading it and all the attention to detail you provided. I have never thought of going to Panama for Carnival but now it is on my bucket list for sure. Thanks.

    Where would suggest going to celebrate NYE 2022 in Panama City Panama?

    1. Sarah

      Hi Greg
      Happy to read you enjoyed reading my article, that means a lot. I have to admit that I’m yet to experience the end of year celebrations in Panama. However, I did do some research for you. It seems that the main celebrations are taking place at the Cinta Costera and also on the rooftop venues in Casco Viejo. Those might be good places to start. I also found this site where you can find some events being posted. If you make it to Panama City Panama for NYE, I’d really love to find out where you ended up spending the evening and if you’d recommend it.
      Have a magical end of year, Greg!

      1. Sarah

        Hi Ravit
        What an interesting occupation you have! Both rivaling streets have their own organizing committee. This seems to be the Instagram profile of the Calle Abajo organizers: and this one that of the Calle Arriba organizers: There’s also this official account: An email address is not listed but fingers crossed that you get to reach the organizers on their social channels and get the chance to document the Las Tablas carnival preparations!

  2. Isabell

    Hello Sarah,
    Thank you for the detailed report..we will be in Panama City this year from February 16th, 2023 to February 19th, 2023 and are therefore lucky enough to experience the carnival in Panama City according to your blog
    but I often read on other sites that the festivities will only start on February 20th. I’m a bit confused now.. can you help me?
    Thank you 🙂 regards

    1. Sarah

      Hi Isabell
      That sounds like excellent timing! I just double checked my sources and can confirm that the Panama Carnival timing mentioned on my blog is correct. The dedicated Facebook page isn’t updated yet but feel free to check the following news articles on Newsroom Panama, Telemetro, again Telemetro and La Prensa.
      We won’t be there ourselves this year but the carnival celebrations take place on the same days of the week every year. So, yes, I’m confident that you’ll get to experience this colorful event during your trip.
      Oh, and I look forward to hearing all about your Panama Carnival adventures so feel free to drop by again once you’ve returned home! Have fun!

    1. Sarah

      Hi Rick. Unfortunately, there are no hotels on that stretch of the Avenida de Balboa. We stayed in the InterContinental Miramar, which is about 2 miles north from the festivities on the same road. Even though we had a room on one of the highest floors, I remember the daily traffic being very loud and I can only imagine how much louder it would have been if the parade would have passed in front of the hotel. Anyway, I’ve been trying to come up with a good alternative for you to enjoy the parade from a more tranquil setting (a rooftop restaurant or something along those lines) but I can’t seem to find anything, I’m afraid… I wish I could have been more helpful and hope you get to enjoy the Carnival in Panama City! Best, Sarah

    1. Sarah

      Hi Liz. Panama Carnival ends in the wee hours of the morning of Ash Wednesday, which is a public holiday in Panama. Many businesses will be closed but other points of interest, such as the Parque Metropolitano and the Biomuseo, will be open. I can’t see any special events listed on that day – not on nor on – but that’s not surprising since most Panamanians need this day to recover from the festivities.

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