While I normally work out of our Chicago office, I am fortunate to be working in Panama for the next few weeks, just in time for the Carnival Holiday. I’m extremely excited to get a taste of Panamanian culture and party with the natives.
Panamanians love to enjoy and celebrate life, and who wouldn’t when you’re living in an absolute paradise. I don’t know about you, but hearing the crash of ocean waves, smelling aromatic plant life and feeling the sunbeams dancing on my face is enough to send me into party mode.
When most people hear the world Carnival they immediately associate it with Rio de Janeiro or New Orleans, but Panama’s celebration is one of the biggest in the world. It takes place 40 days before the Christian holy week; this year it starts on March 4th and ends on March 8th. The word Carnival originates from “feast of the flesh” and is celebrated before the abstinence ordered by the Christian church. Panama’s Carnival began at the end of the 19th century while the country was under the rule of Colombia. Even though Carnival is not an official holiday it is the most celebrated festival in Panama. All work and seriousness stops and the streets are filled with parades, floats, masks, costumes and confetti.
Everything begins with the selection of the Carnival Queen and her attendants. Once selected, the queen reigns over the daily parade and all official activities. The government is very involved in the development of the carnival. They set up large stages where talented performers entertain the energetic massive crowds where you can expect to hear pop, salsa and reggaeton music blasting in the streets. No matter if you’re a pro ballroom dancer or have two left feet, you’ll find yourself possessed by the dance gods causing you to move and shake your hips like never before. And don’t worry about breaking a sweat, a Carnival tradition called “mojaderas” or “getting drenched” means aqua will be coming at you in the form of fire hoses, water balloons and buckets to keep you cool. The obvious and apparent motto of this celebration is live life to its fullest.
Each province carries out its own type of carnival, trying to offer the public a new attraction each year. The most popular location to party is Las Tablas in the province of Los Santos located in the Azuero peninsula. Panama City and Penenome are also great places to partake in celebratory debauchery.
To ensure you are able to keep up with the 4 day event, search out the “sancochodromo”, a site that sells popular Panamanian chicken soup. It was created to cure those with hangovers from the previous day, reinvigorating their spirit and preparing them for another day of festivities. It’s not a Bloody Mary, but I’m sure it does the trick. In the early morning of Ash Wednesday, a closing ceremony is held on the beach headed by the queen. It is known as the “burial of the sardine” and symbolizes the end of the feast.
Hotel accommodations tend to fill up quickly so making plans in advance is crucial to being able to partake in this tremendous experience. Why go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, when you can immerse yourself in a unique cultural experience surrounded by beautiful scenery. And, if you don’t clown around too much, the memories and experiences you have will last a lifetime.
If you would like to hear about Jerrod’s experience at Carnivale last year, you can read it in his Carnivale en Panama blog post.