Entering the gates to the Panama City Carnival, we assumed the machine gun-toting soldiers who manned the gate were protecting party-goers. But we soon came to realize they were actually protecting the world outside the gate from the party.
Said to be the second largest Carnival in the world, after Rio de Janeiro, Panama City basically shuts down for a week surrounding the event. Many people choose to go to Las Tablas, a town about 130 miles west of the city, where celebrations are said to be more traditional than the street dance party along the Cinta Costera. But without much of a plan for the day, we stayed in the city.
After initially feeling a little like intruders on the local celebration, we were soon doused with spray foam and confetti and considered ourselves baptized and ready to party. And with beers at 75 cents, party we did. Costumes, music, floats, silly string and spray foam fights, confetti in the air, friendly faces everywhere, Panama showed us a crazy time. A little too crazy at times. While we mainly stuck to the sidelines watching the concert stage, admiring the costumes and floats, and playing foam fights with the children, we somehow got ourselves stuck in a mosh pit of madness as local dudes hurled themselves at each other in a drunken frenzy. It was hilarious, but you also got the sense that, very soon — and excuse my language — shit’s gonna get real.
So while a part of me was a bit disappointed in us that we left while it was still daylight, the headline on the next morning’s newspaper validated our decision: “27 Muertos.” We were in a cab heading for the park when I read it. The driver couldn’t believe we went, and said most of the locals leave not only for celebrations elsewhere but just to escape the chaos. Still, taking part in the day’s festivities, and of course having our wits about us as we always try to do when traveling, made for one of our most memorable traveling days ever.
Watch the video below for proof.