LAS TABLAS, south along the peninsula’s coast from Chitré, was founded in the seventeenth century by refugees fleeing by sea from Panamá Viejo after Henry Morgan and his band of pirates sacked it. The settlers dismantled their ships to build the first houses, hence the town’s name, which means “the planks”.
Though you wouldn’t believe it if you turned up at any other time of year, this quiet, colonial market town hosts the wildest Carnaval celebrations in Panama. For five days in February the place is overwhelmed by visitors from all over the country, who come here to join in the festivities. The town divides into two halves – Calle Arriba and Calle Abajo – to fight a pitched battle with water, paint and soot on streets awash with seco, Panama’s vicious firewater. Less raucous but just as colourful is the fiesta of Santa Librada in July, which includes the Festival de la Pollera, celebrating the peninsula’s embroidered, colonial-style dresses. Produced in the surrounding villages, they are something of a national symbol.
In addition to its few sights, Las Tablas is also a choice spot to experience the extremely festive atmosphere of a baseball match (Jan–May) at the Estadio Olmedo Solé.