Panama City Carnival with Kids

Author: Dan Brewer

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We had planned our family trip to Panama City in February to coincide with a week-long break from their school. We chose Panama City as our destination in large part because of all the outdoor adventures we could enjoy. As it turns out, our trip to Panama City with kids coincided with their annual carnival celebration.

We were so excited to enjoy the Panama City carnival during our family vacation, but we had a really hard time getting reliable information in English. So, based on our recent experiences, here is what families need to know about going to the Panama City carnival with kids:

A colorful float in the Panama City carnival parade.

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There was so much more to our Panama City trip than carnival. See where we stayed and what we did in our post on visiting Panama City with kids.

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Two Main Elements to the Panama City Carnival

There are two main parts to the Panama City carnival celebrations which are of interest to families:

1. The Morning Parades – The “Culecos”

One of the most kid-friendly aspects of the Panama City Carnival celebration are the morning parades. Each morning of the carnival celebration, there is a section within the carnival area where many large water tanker trucks (the “culecos”) are parked.

The water trucks are parked on both sides of the street and there are people on top with fire hoses. Everyone in the crowd is dancing along to the infectious and loud samba music, while the people manning the hoses drench the people in the crowd.

One of the FamilyCanTravel.com kids tries hard to get soaked by a culecos water truck during the daytime celebrations of the Panama City carnival.
Our son trying hard to get sprayed by the culecos!

As you can see by the above picture, our kids wanted to get sprayed so bad. They didn’t need to wait long, as the water trucks seem to especially target kids (in a good natured way of course). There were tons of families around, all enjoying this special Panama city carnival experience with their kids.

The combination of the street party, samba music and the water hoses was such a fun cultural experience for our kids. I’m sure they will remember going to the morning parade at the Panama City carnival for a very long time.

Celine Brewer, owner of FamilyCanTravel.com, and her kids are soaked afte rbeing sprayed by a Culecos truck at the Panama City carnival morning celebrations.
We got soaked by the culecos!

Tip for Parents

If you attend the morning parade, be sure to put your phones in a watertight phone pouch.

2. The Evening Carnival Parades

There are Panama City Carnival parades every night of the annual celebration, starting the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. The evening parades culminate on the final Tuesday night – typically known around the world as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.

Tuesday is the final night before Lent begins so everyone is in a mood to have a giant party before they need to start behaving themselves. Despite starting well past their bedtime, we didn’t want the kids to miss this fun cultural experience, so we headed back to Cinta Costera Park.

The Family Can Travel kids eat grilled chorizo while waiting for the evening carnival parade in Panama City.
A pre-evening carnival parade snack!

We arrived at Cinta Costera at 5:30, only to discover they didn’t open security until 6:00 (we were hoping the carnival parade started at 6:00 – wrong!). By 6:30 we made it through the various police and immigration checks and made our way to the parade route.

The Panama City carnival parade didn’t start until 8:20. As you can imagine, it was a long, difficult wait with two overtired kids.

When the parade started, it was worth the wait. The parade floats were very colorful and beautifully decorated, and our daughter was enthralled with the dancing Carnival queens.

A carnival queen dances on her colorful float in the Panama City carnival parade.

The carnival parade was surprisingly short and it was all over in 30 minutes. We didn’t mind as we were planning on leaving soon anyways, so it actually helped us avoid the tantrums from overtired kids who didn’t want to leave.

We had a great time experiencing the Panama City carnival parade with our kids.

A band plays samba music on a truck in the evening parade of the Panama City carnival celebration.
What a party!

Things to Know about Visiting the Panama City Carnival with Kids

We found it very hard to get good information in English about the Panama City carnival celebration, so we hope to make it a little easier on other families who visit Panama City with kids.

Where is the Panama City Carnival?

The Panama City carnival is celebrated in the area around Cinta Costera Park. Even both lanes the adjacent Pan-American Highway are closed to traffic during this time. There seems to be two main entrances to the Panama City carnival area.

If you are approaching from the modern district of Panama City, simply get on the beautiful ocean-front pathway in Cinta Costera Park and walk towards Old Town. You’ll eventually run into some barricades, directing traffic towards the security checkpoints.

Dan Brewer, of the Family Can Travel blog, walks along the oceanfront walkway in the Cinta Costera Park in Panama City.
The oceanfront walk in Cinta Costera Park was beautiful.

If you are approaching the Panama City carnival from Old Town, then simply walk towards Cinta Costera Park. As with the other direction, you’ll eventually run into the security checkpoint.

Panama City Carnival Security

The security is very tight at the entrances to the carnival celebration area, which as parents we very much appreciated. You must bring ID with you to enter the Panama City carnival, so bring copies of your passports in a big ziplock to keep them dry.

Once your ID passes inspection, you’ll then be patted down by security. There’s separate security pat down lines for men and women.

Facilities within Panama City Carnival

Once you have passed security and are in the main carnival area, you’ll find lots of food and drink stalls. Most of the food on offer is simple grilled food on a stick, like chorizo or beef. It all smells so good, that we couldn’t resist. We tried many varieties of grilled meat on a stick and they were delicious!

A food vendor at the Panama City carnival parade grills up some chorizo.
The grilled chorizo was so good!

There’s also lots of port-a-potties.

Panama City Carnival with Kids – Final Thoughts

The carnival celebrations made our family trip to Panama City extra special. If you are lucky enough to visit Panama City with kids during the annual carnival celebrations, we highly encourage you to visit!

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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).