carnivalCarnival will be the most busy time of the year in the beach community including Rio Mar.
Carnival, or “Los Carnavales” as described by most Panamanians, has been celebrated nation wide since the early 1900’s. Each year for the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the country shuts down to party; enjoying parades, live music and fireworks. Among the highlights of carnival is the crowning of a new queen.

Typically the town is split into an upper and lower section (calle arriba y calle abaho), crowning their own rival queen. Each section boasts being better than the other, having a better party and the more the beautiful queen. During carnival, the competitive emotions of the towns run high.

Being crowned queen is a tremendous honor, not only for the young woman being crowned but also for her family.

Elssy Vasquez Barrera, from the small town of Parita in the province of Herrera, was a carnival queen in 1981. Today she lives in Coronado, and continues to participate in Carnival annually as part of the Parita Carnival organizing committee.

Elssy spoke with us about some of the responsibilities of being queen. 

“The queen is the ambassador of the town for the year. She has to organize activities, be present at important events and raise funds for the following year’s carnival.”

Elssy told us that when she was growing up her mother was an organizer of the Parita Carnival and had a big influence on her desire to be queen. 

These days most towns have planning committees, like the Partia carnival committee that Elssy is a part of. These committees are responsible for the bands, floats and costumes. Elssy explained that in the past carnival was more of a family endeavor. It was the family of the queens that took on the committee’s role, preparing and paying for everything from floats to fireworks.

Carnival has adapted over the years, receiving more support finically from the government. Though, in many small towns the festival continues to be a community effort.

While the processions differ slightly from place to place, Elssy explains a schedule is typically followed.

Carnival begins with the coronation on Friday night, when last year’s queen crowns the new queen. Saturday morning till night, the culecos (water trucks) musicians, dancers, street vendors and floats are in action! For the next three days the festivities continue, and the queen is paraded through town morning and night, each time in a different dress on a different float.
Tuesday night is the last night of carnival. It offers the largest fireworks and the wildest parties. Ellsy tells us that Parita is unique in that it has a large “plaza colonial” where people can gather to appreciate the fireworks.

On Wednesday in the early hours of the morning, the parades of the upper queen and lower queen meet and end the rivalry between the regions and the carnival parties. The close also marks the beginning of Ash Wednesday and the start of Holy Week.

During carnival celebrations queens can wear upwards of 10 different dresses over the 5 days, each as elaborate as the next. Seamstresses spend weeks preparing these outfits. One of the dresses worn by the queen during carnival is Panama’s national dress, the pollera.

The elaborate dress often referred to as the most expensive dress in the world, can be adorned with gold and crystals. Some polleras can cost upwards of $80,000. The queen typically wears the pollera on Sunday night.

Today, Parita is much like it was in 1981 when Elssy was Queen. It is one of Elssy’s favorite places to take in “Los Carnavales” with her family. While the crowd may not be as large as nearby Las Tablas, the small colonial town offers for the perfect backdrop to one of the country’s biggest parties.

Courtesy of PlayaCommunity