Festivals and Events in Panama City
Find out about the main festivals and events taking place in Panama City...
Panama has two independence days (Días de Independencia). The country was initially claimed by Spain in 1501 and remained part of Spain for 300 years. In 1821, Panama joined Colombia, then finally became a sovereign nation in 1903. Independence from Spain is celebrated on 28 November, while independence from Colombia is celebrated on 3 November. In addition to these two official independence days, there is another day dedicated to The First Call for Independence from Spain which is celebrated on 10 November.
Carnival (Carnaval) in Panama begins four days before Ash Wednesday and the entire event is called Los Carnavales, referring to the days over which it takes place. Celebrations begin on the preceding Friday night and last all weekend. The Monday of Carnival is not an official public holiday although most local businesses are closed and streets are blocked for parades.
Shrove Tuesday is an official public holiday and the biggest day of the celebrations, with parades and dancing in the streets. There are many live concerts by national and international artists all over the country during Los Carnavales as well as a parade along the Cinta Costera with decorated floats, balloons, and people in costumes. Las Tablas has a similar celebration which is popular with locals and visitors.
Panama City and Las Tablas have the biggest and most organized celebrations in the country, but even small towns celebrate in some way. Many businesses, especially hotels, restaurants and bars, have promotions and special offers on food and drinks during Carnival, but most of the holiday is spent outdoors during the day, moving inside at night and continuing until dawn.
On Saturday, there is a coronation ceremony for the queen of Carnival on the Cinta Costera. This area has stages for live salsa, reggae, and Panamanian folk music. Due to Panama's tropical weather and location on the equator, a popular and welcome tradition is mojaderas, meaning "getting wet". Whether by fire hydrants, fire hoses, water fountains, buckets or water balloons, getting wet is expected and is a part of the festivities.
On Sunday, there is a parade of polleras at noon. The pollera is the traditional national costume of Panama and women and girls of all ages dress in these costumes to take part in the parade.
Monday's celebrations are similar, but on a smaller, less organized scale. Most Panamanians take Monday off, although some companies have made strict rules against this.
There are a few aspects of Carnaval that are particular to Panama, for example the sancocho vendors. Sancocho is a traditional Panamanian dish and is a chicken stew that usually comes with corn, potatoes or yucca and rice. It is a filling dish ideal for people when they are drinking, and is said to be a hangover cure.
Another aspect of the festivities that is unique to Panama is the prominence of gay culture. Panama has a fairly large gay community, but it is not generally acknowledged in the country. For this reason, there is no gay pride week and Carnival tends to be known as an unofficial gay pride celebration.
Panama City and Las Tablas are extremely busy during Carnival and hotels are generally fully booked weeks in advance. If planning to travel to Panama for Carnival, hotels, holiday rentals or other accommodation should be booked by the beginning of February at the latest.
- For further information on Carnival in Panama: Click here
- For official Carnaval dates up to 2020: Click here (in Spanish)
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
The week preceding Easter Sunday is called Semana Santa. The Friday of Holy Week is Good Friday, and is an official public holiday. Many Panamanians go away for the day or for the weekend to celebrate this long weekend.
Martyrs' Day (Dia de Los Mártires) is a Panamanian holiday on 9 January commemorating riots that took place over three days in January 1964 over sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone.
A Panamanian flag was torn during a conflict between Panamanian students and Canal Zone police officers, which led to riots and the death of 21 Panamanians and four US policemen.
This marked a turning point in the debate of if, when and how to turn the Canal Zone over to Panama and pull US presence out of the country entirely.