Carnival 2022 in Panama Canceled for COVID

Carnival 2022 in Panama Canceled for COVID

On January 27, 2022, the Ministry of Health of Panama issued a Executive Decree #6 effectively canceling the 2022 Carnavales celebrations (carnival). The decree prohibits concerts, parades, dances (outdoor and indoor), house parties and other traditional activities like rodeos and the “culeco” water spraying celebration (pictured in the featured image). This is effective from February 25 to March 6, 2022.

This decree was passed in the midst of Chinese New Year celebrations, la Fiesta de la Virgen de la Calendaria in Bugaba and the Feria of Chorrera; each of these events attracting crowds of thousands of people. Photos and videos of these street parties circulated social media and WhatsApp groups in Bocas del Toro. “Why these events but not Carnavales?” was the sentiment. With Carnavales representing one of the most important dates of the tourism calendar in Bocas del Toro, the community was disappointed by the decision. Others support the restrictions as a necessary measure for the good of Public Health.

Chamber of Commerce Statement

The Chamber of Commerce of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago released a statement requesting the government to consider some flexibility for the measures in Bocas del Toro. The group cites four reasons in a recent statement released after their January 31, 2022 meeting:

1. The community has more venues than before, less people in each venue and more outdoor spaces than Panama City, David, etc.

2. Businesses are willing to enforce mask laws and the vaccination requirement for mass gatherings

3. Since the January 27 decree was announced, hotels have been experiencing mass cancellations

4. With accumulated tax debt from the last 2 years, the island’s tourism based economy needs these days to be able to keep recuperating.

The letter goes on to cite a favorable level of vaccination in the community and a sharp decline of cases, after a recent holiday surge.

Commentary From Fuerzas Vivas

*For the full interviews of Tony Taylor and Jose Luis Fernandez, visit our YouTube channel.

Tony Taylor who represents two civic groups: Fuerzas Vivas and Sociedad Civil. Taylor informs us that these civic groups are in favor of the decree. Taylor owns, operates and rents taxis. His observation from the way his business has gone is that  this tourism season has been steady and he feels it will be the same with or without Carnival in Bocas. “We are in favor of tourism,” says Taylor, “It gives life to the island.”

He mentioned a recent Bocas TV report which stated that there are 44,000 residents in the Bocas del Toro province unvaccinated and that is part of the reason that the groups are in favor of the decree. Those who are in favor of the decree also point to the recent holiday surge after Christmas and New Years celebrations when the community’s active COVID case count reached an all-time high of 336, though it is worth pointing out that the cases have been relatively mild, with few hospitalizations and one recent death reported to The Bocas Breeze editorial team.

Tony says his groups are in favor of an “orderly and relaxed tourism;” surfing, going to the beach, strolling around Bocas Town, enjoying the bars and restaurants, however Fuerzas Vivas and La Sociedad Civil are in favor of the decree canceling Carnival. They are against a regular Bocas del Toro style carnival, with large celebrations in the street.

Flexibility for the Island 

We also interviewed Jose Luis Fernandez of the Chamber of Commerce. He says the chamber is not completely against the decree, especially when it comes to parades or the big group activities. They would like some aspects of the decree to be reconsidered and especially in the case of a community so dependent on tourism for its economic recovery such as the islands of Bocas del Toro.

The group is worried that the decree with restrictions spanning 10 days is too long and too strict for what may be necessary. The Chamber of Commerce is in favor of enforcing the current biosecurity measures; masks, limits of people at events, vaccination requirements for mass gatherings. While they are in favor of canceling Carnival, the group find it unnecessary to impose extra restrictions merely because it is the time of year that is normally Carnival.

In the interview, Fernandez echoed the sentiment of the Chamber of Commerce’s statement that the incidence of COVID in our community is low after the recent holiday surge. At the time of the interview there were 26 active cases in the community and at the time of this article was published, there were seven active COVID cases in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

He mentions that along with New Years, Carnival is one of the other important dates in the Bocas del Toro tourism season and that every business is still working to recover debts from the pandemic. Announcing the restrictions has already caused a lot of cancellations in hotels. He wanted to make clear that this is not just about business owners and their investments, that the decree also threatens the local economy in general, which a majority of the working population depend on the tourism sector.

Comparing Opposing Viewpoints

While Taylor and Fernandez have quite a different opinion of what the presidential decree will mean for the outlook of business on the islands in the coming weeks, they seem to sort of agree on one point: to keep the current COVID health measures in place and a similar style of tourism that has been fruitful for the community’s economy. They both believe that canceling the regular carnival celebration is the right call and to maintain the type of tourism that we have now without adding any extra restrictions just because it is the time of year that Carnival celebrations normally would take place.

People Are Still Coming to Enjoy the Beach, Surf, Dive and Bocas del Toro Lifestyle!
At the time of this publication, live music, DJ and party related activities are prohibited from February 25 to March 6, however there are still a lot to do in Bocas del Toro during this time of year. The surf is amazing, you can explore the islands on boat tours, charter a sailboat, go diving, enjoy the gastronomy of the island and many more activities. Check out our advertisers for our favorite options on accommodations, restaurants, tours and more in the links below. Stay tuned to our Instagram and Facebook everyday for promotions on things to do in Bocas del Toro, with or without a traditional Carnavales this year.

Hotels, Hostels, Lodges, Bed & Breakfasts, Resorts and Apartments in Bocas del Toro

Restaurants, Delivery Services, Bars and Clubs in Bocas del Toro

Tours, Recreation and Wellness in Bocas del Toro

Professional Services and Specialty Stores in Bocas del Toro


What do the readers of The Bocas Breeze think about the cancellation of Carnival and the related restrictions on festive activities? Join the discussion on our YouTube, Facebook and Instagram channels. 

The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

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