The best time to go to Panama
With deserted islands, native outposts, dense rainforests, cosmopolitan cities and two beautiful coastlines to explore, Panama is a place to linger. But it’s best to go at the right time – Panama is just 9º north of the equator, shaken by the trade winds, which means that a tropical soak often accompanies the territory.
Activities play a key role in the decision to travel to Panama. If you want to bask on the golden sands or take a hike in the rainforest, visit it during the dry season from December to April. Surfers prefer the rainy months of April to December when the best waves are unleashed along the coast. Divers and wildlife watchers congregate from August through September, when humpback whales, sharks and orcas congregate off the Pacific coast.
Many locals would say that Panama actually has two climates, one for the Caribbean and one for the Pacific. A visit to the Caribbean coast can be a wet experience any time of the year, although the sun usually shines in the morning and afternoon. The Pacific coast experiences sunny skies (and record prices) during the dry season from December through April, when hordes of sun seekers flock to the southern United States.
Don’t underestimate the impact of the Panamanian vacation; normal life comes to a complete stop for red letter days such as Día de Independencia (November 3), Easter and Christmas. Here’s a monthly guide to what you can expect throughout the year in Panama (but note that due to the impact of Covid, all events are subject to change).
High season (Easter, November holidays, Christmas and New Year)
Best time for the mood
Panamanians go out of their way to have fun during festivals and Christian holidays, so the holidays are always a busy time to visit. Locals flock to the coast in large family groups and the beaches can be crowded; arrive early to set up an area of sand. Plan your trip well in advance for any holiday; hotel prices can be as much as double the normal rate, and transport is often booked weeks in advance.
Panama is hot year round, but temperatures rise even more from December, peaking around Easter, when highs of 90 ° F are common. Plan to be somewhere near the ocean or a waterfall if you are visiting in March or April. Note that Easter coincides with Spring Break, when American students join the tourist crowd, adding to the demand for accommodation and transportation.
Shoulder season (mid-December to mid-April)
Best time to go in dry weather
The best time to visit Panama is during the dry season, but you will have to share the experience. The beaches are inundated with local and international visitors from Christmas to Easter. Savvy travelers mix time spent on the coast with trips to explore the rainforests of the interior. Indeed, it would be reckless to attempt to tour the Darién Gap at a time other than the dry season.
Note that “dry season” is a relative term in Panama. While the Pacific coast – thus Panama City and anywhere south of the Continental Divide – basks under sunny skies, the highlands and the Caribbean coast still receive a few showers. This is the busiest time in the San Blas Islands, but the wind can reduce visibility for snorkelers. With the flood of people seeking sunshine in the winter, expect stiff competition for rooms, transportation, and beach space across Panama. Prices are high everywhere; hotel rates are not far from the peak of the festival throughout the dry season.
Low season (mid-April-early December)
Best time for budget travelers
The rainy season is the quietest and cheapest time to visit Panama, but you will getting wet. There are regular rain showers, some of them torrential, but it doesn’t rain all day, every day, so you will always have a daily dose of vitamin D. Now is the time to travel strategically; in late October and November the rain can be relentless, so it pays to be based somewhere with things to do indoors. On the other hand, crowds are dissipating and prices are dropping to affordable levels across the country. Contrary to the national trend, September and October are the driest months to visit the islands of Bocas del Toro.
The rainy season coincides with the best swells on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, attracting many surfers. August and September are also the best months to visit Parque Nacional Coiba and the archipelago of Las Perlas to observe sharks, whales and orcas. Scuba diving is an activity all year round, including during the rainy season, but land activities can be trickier. During the rainier months, travel can be almost impossible in parts of the highlands and the Darién Gap.
With the dry season and the tourist season at their peak, this is an important month for traveling to Panama, especially to the seaside areas. The weather creates ideal conditions for kitesurfing, with Pacific temperatures at their hottest and constant breezes along the coast.
Key events: Panama Jazz Festival, Panama City; Fiesta del Mar, Isla Taboga
The hot, dry weather prompts tourists to come to the Pacific coast, and the Caribbean coast also receives many visitors. Depending on the time of Ash Wednesday, February can be one of the busiest times of the year as Carnival arrives in Panama City.
Key events: Carnival, Panama City; Festival de Diablos y Congos, Portobelo (either one may fall in March)
Peak season is drawing to a close for sun worshipers, but it’s still a good month to ride the swells of the Pacific and Caribbean. If Easter falls in March, things get carried away for the Semana Santa celebrations.
Key events: Feria Internacional de David, Chiriquí
April sees the end of the dry weather and temperatures begin to drop to more comfortable levels. Crowds flock again for Easter, with Semana Santa processions and crucifixion reenactments held across the country (in March some years). As April progresses, the number of tourists decreases, which means lower prices and less competition for space.
Key events: Semana Santa (may fall in March); Feria Internacional de Azuero, Villa de los Santos
With sporadic and refreshing rain showers, the weather is generally pleasant across the country. May marks the start of the five to six month nesting season for loggerhead and green turtles on the Caribbean coast.
Key events: Corpus Christi Feast, Villa de Los Santos
The humidity is soaring and rain showers are becoming more frequent, with regular thunderstorms. The number of tourists is low, the prices too, and the worst rains are still several months away.
Key events: Virgen del Carmen, Santa Catalina
Although it is the middle of the rainy season, the weather is relatively dry on the Caribbean coast, although you will still see showers most days. July is a rough month for visitors, so hotels offer better rates and there are good waves on the Pacific coast.
Key events: Fiesta de Santa Librada and Festival de la Pollera, Las Tablas
The rainy season continues but nesting humpback whales can be seen in Parque Nacional Coiba and the Las Perlas archipelago, as well as sharks and orcas. In the middle of the month, Panama City celebrates its founding in 1519 with a series of bouncy events.
Key events: Panama Day La Vieja, Panama City; Festival del Manito Ocueño, Ocú
The rain generally subsides a bit, particularly around Panama City. It’s still low season, so a good time to travel across the country, without needing reservations.
Key events: Feria de la Mejorana, Guararé
October 12 is Día de la Raza (Columbus Day), celebrated by all high school brass bands across the country, despite imperial connotations. There are more lively festivals that dot the month, but the rain turns into a downpour.
Key events: Nogagope Festival, Isla Tigre; Feast of the Black Christ, Portobelo; Toro Guapo, Anton
Don’t expect much to do in Panama in November – the whole country takes to the skies to celebrate multiple festivals linked to independence. Panama City is emptying and the beaches are filling up, but there is still a lot of rain, and it can be torrential at times.
Key events: Independence Day
The warming up of the Christmas holidays has repercussions until December. Locals are moving around the country in large numbers and tourists are starting to pour in from elsewhere, especially Americans in search of the winter sun. Christmas itself sees maximum demand and peak prices.