Updated in 2022.
Las Tablas, Los Santos, Panamá.
Las Tablas is where tradition meets a week-long fiesta.
It’s hands down the epicenter of Panama’s biggest annual event – Carnaval.
Las Tablas is bursting with rich history and culture. Carnaval gets crazy, but Los Santos’ capital city has a laid-back feel to it the rest of the year. The city boasts small-town living with quick access to white sand beaches. Las Tablas is perfect for a nomad or expat looking for a stress-free and affordable lifestyle, friendly locals, and a rich cultural heritage to submerge in.
Located 4 hours from Panama City in the Los Santos province of Panama, Las Tablas is a charming small town known for its yearly Carnival celebration.
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CULTURE IN LAS TABLAS
Las Tablas is a city oozing in Panamanian folk: art, music, gastronomy, architecture, culture, and literature. The only Panamanian president to serve three terms, Belisario Porras, was from Las Tablas.
The annual Carnaval is held over five days in February. The city is split into two competing factions, “Calle Arriba” and “Calle Abajo”. Thousands of locals, expats, and visitors from all over
Panama fill the streets to see the carnival queens, parade floats, fireworks, and marching bands. Dancing, music, food, and booze are a plenty while large water trucks spray partygoers so it’s best to go prepared to get drenched.
In July, Las Tablas host el Festival Nacional de la Pollera. Thousands of women wear expensive handmade polleras, Panama’s breath-taking national dress.
El Tamborito (national folk dance), la Cumbia, la Mejorana, and la Murga, are all folk musical genres produced here.
NOMAD & EXPAT COMMUNITY IN LAS TABLAS
Expats are drawn to this area of Panama for the low cost of living nd beach access. Keep in mind that there is less of an expat community here than in Panama City or Boquete. To live here, you’ll need a little Spanish to get by.
Las Tablas has all the amenities you need including hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores. Though it still gives off small town vibes and has plenty of local fondas (cheap restaurants). Las Tablas even has fast food chains available.
The infrastructure is strong with great internet and good power grid, and excellent cell service.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAS TABLAS
Las Tablas has no organized real estate market, your best bet is by word of mouth, networking, and classified ads in sites like encuentra24 where gringo pricing isn’t an issue.
If you find a neighborhood you’d like to live in, knock on doors. Ask around.
In Las Tablas, there’s a bulletin board outside the local grocery store where people put up information about buying, selling, renting, etc.
Craigslist is also popular but is aimed directly at the gringo market. That translates into higher prices. Do not, under any circumstance try to rent a place out during Carnavales, prices increase at least ten-fold during this time.
BEST CAFES & COWORKING IN LAS TABLAS
There are quite a few cafés in Las Tablas for digital nomads and people looking to qork remotely. Most cafés also have Wi-Fi making them ideal for getting work done while sipping on a cup of joe.
My Latin Life recommends:
RIF Café: Boasts $1.25 coffees and a coworking space for digital nomads.
Empírico Café: Good quality of coffee and friendly staff.
DAY TRIPS & THINGS TO DO IN LAS TABLAS
The city’s main park is Parque Belisario Porras. Young and old gather under the trees and on the benches filling the air with laughter and chatter. With colorful hammocks, food vendors, and tiendas (stores) all around, this is the pulse of the town.
You can also visit the Baroque-style church, Iglesia Santa Librada, which stands on the corner of the park.
Opposite the central plaza, delve into Panamanian history at the Museo Belisario Porras. The museum is set in his former home and contains small artifacts and memorabilia from his life.
Playa Venao is another popular destination, perfect for surfing and a quick day trip from Las Tablas.
The town of Pedasí is definitely worth a visit as well and only a 40 minute drive away.
About 7 km from Las Tablas is Playa Las Comadres, another beach that’s perfect for lounging.
WEATHER IN LAS TABLAS
The temperature in Las Tablas generally ranges from 23°C to 32°C. The wet season runs from May to December. Las Tablas is very dry compared to the rest of Panama, so if you are not a fan of humid weather you will find some respite here.
BEST BARS & NIGHTLIFE IN LAS TABLAS
Even with its small-town feel, Las Tablas is home to several bars and clubs to let loose in. You can also just post up in the nicer restaurants. That might be your best bet. Make sure you try a Ron Abuelo with coke.
My Latin Life recommends:
Bar La Suerte: One of the most centrally located bars.
El Trillo Bar & Lounge: Good prices, very local vibes.
Ceviche’s Bar: Good for sports games.
Mansion Night Club: Full out nightclub. Check their Facebook page here.
Insomnia Bar & Lounge: Possibly closed for good. Really close to Mansion.
SAFETY IN LAS TABLAS
Las Tablas is a safe city by Latin American standards. You should not run into any serious issues in this small town. Las Tablas is safe aside from the occasional petty theft. It’s also common for farmers to have their cattle stolen. The water is safe to drink, however it’s always best to buy bottled water as you adjust.
Air quality is good for the most part.
COST OF LIVING IN LAS TABLAS, PANAMA
You’ll need around $1,000 USD/month to live in Las Tablas, Panama. If you live simply in Las Tablas, it is definitely possible to do so on $1000/month. Remember that most families live on less, but we recommend this as a minimum figure. You can rent an entire house to rent for around $350, even less if you decide to just rent out a room in a family home. Groceries will run you for about $150-200 per month. A good option for Wi-Fi is Claro’s, the internet provider. They also have portable Wi-Fi plans that provide a small modem you connect to your laptop for instant internet access. Depending on speed and capacity these range in plans from $16 to $25 a month.
HOW TO GET TO LAS TABLAS
From Panama Tocumen Airport head to the Albrook Bus Terminal. A taxi could run you about $30. Once you’re at the terminal you can find a direct bus to Las Tablas. It’ll take about 4 hours and the cost is $9.70.
If you choose to rent a car at the airport, simply use google maps or waze and you should have no trouble getting there. Beware of speed limits, police officers on motorcycles, with radar pistols, along the motorways make speed controls.
Las Tablas is only a 3 hour driver from Coronado.
MUST DO IN LAS TABLAS
Carnaval is the must do activity in Las Tablas. If there’s any time of year you want to be in Las Tablas, it’s Febuary and March for Carnaval. It’s worth being around Las Tablas for its carnival celebration, which takes place each year 4 days before Ash Wednesday (so, in February or March). It is slightly more laid-back than the carnaval in Panama City. Take in the local culture before heading to Pedasí.
RENT AN APARTMENT IN LAS TABLAS
Apartment rentals in Las Tablas are reasonable. $400/month is a good figure to set your minimum budget. You can find an entire house to rent for around $350, even less if you decide to just rent out a room. It’s a small town so there won’t be too much on Airbnb but there’s a few hotels in town.
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IS LAS TABLAS A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE?
We consider Las Tablas to be an underrated expat destination. The town is small, but charming, the cost of living is low, the locals are friendly and it is close to the coast. The only issue may be that the town is small — an active expat may find him/herself bored rather quickly. But, if a laid back lifestyle is exactly what you’re after, check out Las Tablas.
Las Tablas offers a laid-back lifestyle without compromising your comfort. The people are friendly, life is affordable, and the city is well suited to digital nomads and travelers. The city has decent Wi-Fi and infrastructure. Beaches are nearby. I could definitely post up in Las Tablas and be happy with not much more than a pick up truck and a surfboard.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10
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