A tropical paradise, Panama is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
The country has an intriguing mix of cosmopolitan cities, dense rainforests, indigenous outposts, and deserted islands.
Travelers from across the world visit Panama throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean there is no optimal time to visit the country.
If you are preparing for a holiday in this transcontinental country anytime soon, this guide on the best time to visit Panama will help you plan your trip.
Panama sits on the isthmus linking Central America and South America, making it a transcontinental country. Panama is bordered by Costa Rica and Colombia.
The famed Panama canal cuts through the isthmus and connects the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
Panama City, the nation’s capital, is dotted with nightclubs, casinos, and skyscrapers. Contrasting Panama City is the Casco Viejo district studded with colonial buildings, and the Natural Metropolitan Park, where one finds the lush rainforest.
Sandwiched between 7° and 9° north of the equator, Panama sits tightly within the tropics and is buffeted by the trade winds leading to frequent tropical rains.
To enjoy warm weather, clear skies, and minimal rain, visit Panama during the high season (Mid-December to March). This is the best time for hiking, canoeing, and participating in many festivals like the Panama Jazz Festival, Flower and Coffee Festival, Carnaval, etc.
For whale watching, turtle watching, white-water rafting, island hopping, and enjoying low prices, visit Panama during the shoulder season (April to September).
To take advantage of the lowest prices and enjoy watching the diverse fauna without disturbances, visit Panama during the low season (October to mid-December).
Panama experiences only two seasons – the dry season and the wet season or the rainy season.
Dry Season: Mid-December to mid-April is the dry season. Locals refer to this period as their summer. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are typical on the Caribbean coast.
Wet Season: May to November is the rainy season. Locals refer to this period as their winter. Heavy rainfall on the northern Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast is normal.
From the tourism aspect, Panama’s climate is divided into:
- High Season: Mid-December to March is the high season with plenty of sunshine, dry days, and pleasant temperatures.
- Shoulder Season: April to September is the shoulder season with short & occasional showers, high humidity, and nearly uniform temperatures.
- Low Season: October to mid-December is the low season with heavy rainfall. November has many national holidays, and many local businesses are closed.
Panama is a tropical country. You can visit any time of the year depending on your weather preferences, things you want to do, and your budget.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the best time to visit Panama:
January is the dry season in Panama. Festive spirit engulfs the tropical country. It is a top tourist season with Panama City having a comfortable daytime temperature of 26°C.
The International Panama Jazz Festival is organized in Panama City this month.
January has abundant sunshine and minimal rains and the Pacific coast is warm and windy – ideal for kitesurfing. Excellent visibility makes snorkeling and diving the most sought-after activities.
The annual Feria de la Flores y del Café or the Flower and Coffee Festival takes place in mid-January in western Panama’s Boquete town. The festival features folk dances and delicious local food.
February is the driest month of Panama’s dry season. Daytime temperatures breach the 30°C mark and night temperatures range between 15°C and 21°C.
Carnaval celebrations take place in Panama City and Las Tablas in the Azuero Peninsula. The festival attracts tourists from across the world. Ensure that you are dressed appropriately because water-spraying vehicles called Mojaderos will be present everywhere.
This is the right time to hike the dormant Barú Volcano and see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea simultaneously.
It is also the best time to hike and canoe across the TransPanama Trail passing through jungles, volcanoes, the ancient paths of conquistadors, and indigenous settlements.
March is also the high tourist season with daytime temperatures above 30°C. Semana Santa may take place this month depending on Easter dates.
For some solitude and peace, head over to the Peninsula de Azuero. Santa Catalina – a small fishing village – is popular at this time of the year for surfing.
Santa Catalina also serves as the base for exploring the Coiba islands. To participate in the annual 10-day International Fair of David, head to Chiriqui where you can shop for local handmade goods and enjoy delicious food.
March is also a great time for hiking, canoeing, and other outdoor activities.
April is the hottest month, but by mid-April, the dry season transitions into the wet season. Daytime temperatures can reach up to 35°C.
If Easter falls in April, you can enjoy Semana Santa. To experience genuine regional customs, visit the countryside.
Feria de Orquideas or the Orchid Festival takes place in April in Boquete. Feria Internacional de Azuero or the Azuero International Fair is organized at the month’s end and it attracts international tourists.
May formally marks the beginning of the rainy season in Panama and tourist crowds start thinning. It is also the beginning of the shoulder season.
Heavy and short rain spells are common in the afternoon, but generally, the skies are clear and blue.
Panama’s villages and primitive towns are major attractions and so is white-water rafting because of swelled-up rivers. Chiriqui is the best rafting destination in the country.
May is also the nesting season for turtles and you can witness green sea turtles and loggerheads as they head for the shores. Isla Cañas, southeast of Panama City, and Bocas del Toro are the best destinations to see turtles.
Fewer tourists visit Panama in June because of increased thunderstorms and increased rain. This leads to a price drop, making it a perfect time for digital nomads and long-term travelers to enjoy budget travel.
Corpus Christi is the major religious festival this month when you will witness the blending of Catholic traditions with festivities and common customs.
The Corpus Christi carnival takes place in La Villa de Los Santos where you can see costumed dancers. Burlesque dances, concerts, and theaters are common during the carnival.
River rafting, zip lining, camping under the stars, and volcano hiking are popular outdoor activities.
July experiences slightly less rain than June with mostly afternoon showers. Because of fewer visitors, you can save money with cheap accommodation.
El Festival Patronales de La Virgen de Santa Librada is the main festival in Las Tablas. Festival de la Pollera marks the conclusion of the event.
The pollera is a handmade costume (one-piece skirt) used throughout Latin America and is the national costume of Panama for women.
July is when you can watch Humpback Whales as they start breaching the Panamanian Pacific coast.
Panama is right in the middle of the rainy season now. It is warm and humid and days are hotter. It is a great time to enjoy a performance at Teatro Nacional which is known for its ornate interiors.
It is also a great time for whale watching. You can even catch glimpses of dolphins.
Panamanians enjoy a day off on August 15 as they celebrate the Foundation of Old Panama City.
The four-day-long Manito Festival in Ocu in Herrera province is one of the major attractions.
September is still in the rainy season but it marks the end of the shoulder season. Though the rain picks up, it doesn’t rain all day. You can enjoy beach time and surf the high waves.
It is the perfect month for island hopping at San Blas Islands (an archipelago of 365 islands of which only 49 are inhabited by the indigenous Guna people).
On the Isla Canas coast, you can witness turtle hatchlings emerging. This is also the last month to see humpback whales because they will soon start migrating south.
The International Sea Fair of Bocas del Toro is a major attraction where you can witness culinary traditions and enjoy savory fish and shellfish dishes.
Image Credit: Bayano Caves
October is the wettest month and not many tourists visit Panama at this time of the year. The low season officially starts and prices hit rock bottom. The low season is the cheapest time to visit Panama.
Still, Panama offers rainy-day adventures along its coastlines. Despite frequent rain, you can enjoy beautiful weather. It is the best time to explore Bayano Lake and the Bayano Caves. The tour is organized by locals.
Portobelo’s Festival del Cristo Negro (or Black Christ Festival) is the major festival this month and pilgrims flock to Iglesia de San Felipe.
Some say November is the worst month to visit Panama. I disagree. Yes, November has many national holidays when local shops and businesses close. You just need to schedule your trip with the holidays in mind.
November has the least tourist activities, and hence, the cheapest prices! This is the perfect time to visit Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal.
You can visit the Parque Natural Metropolitano and watch wildlife without disturbances. Anteaters, monkeys, sloths – there’s an incredible fauna diversity to keep you entertained.
You can stroll through the historic Casco Viejo when the skies are clear and catch impressive views of the Bridge of the Americas and the city skyline from Paseo las Bóvedas.
Image Credit:Christmas Parade in Panama City
You will experience heavy rainfall in early December, but the wet season only lasts till mid-December and then the dry season begins.
This also marks the beginning of the peak tourist season. Transportation and lodging prices shoot up not just because of Christmas, but also because the weather is perfect for beach holidays.
The Sobresaltos dance festival in Casco Viejo, Panama City is a major attraction. In the village regions, you can enjoy bullfights and horse parades.
The best time to hike the Barú Volcano is between December and April, which is also the ideal time to hike and canoe across the TransPanama Trail. However, the TransPanama Trail remains accessible during the wetter months.
July to September is the perfect time for whale watching as they migrate for the breeding season.
Ideally digital nomads and long-term travelers who have a bit more flexibility, should avoid the peak season or the busy time (mid-December to March).
Panama is generally more expensive than most Central American countries and the peak season prices are sky-high!
The shoulder season (April to September) has relatively low rainfall and great weather, but the prices are low, making it a great time to explore Panama while enjoying outdoor activities like surfing.
If you’re on a shoestring budget, October & November (low season) are the best months. Prices hit rock bottom and you can still explore the country if you don’t mind soaking in rain.
The tropical climate of Panama makes it an ideal tourist destination all year round.
However, you can avoid high prices and heavy rainfall by scheduling your trip during the shoulder season (April to September), which I believe is the overall best time to visit Panama.
Tourist activity is low during these months and you can explore the cultural and natural gems of the country at your own pace. There will be fewer people to disturb the wildlife, giving you countless photo ops without the fear of someone photobombing those perfect shots.
If you don’t mind heavy rainfall, the low season (October, November, till mid-December) is the optimal time to schedule your trip to enjoy the lowest prices.
There is a craft market in Casco Viejo, Panama City. This is where you can find Chacara Bags woven by Ngobe-Buglé, Molas stitched by the Kuna women, and many other handmade goods.
Panama’s gastronomy is heavily influenced by many cultures including Afro-Antillean, Spanish, Amerindian, French, etc. You can see the influence in some of the most famous dishes such as tortilla, hojaldra, tasajo, ceviche, and carimañola.
The Caribbean side of Panama sees more rainfall than the Pacific side. However, the downpours are short-lived and the temperature usually remains between 25ºC and 32ºC all year round. So, you can visit the spectacular islands and beaches of the Caribbean coast anytime.
The perfect time to visit Panama depends on your personal preferences. High or peak season (mid-December to March) is great if you want plenty of sunlight and don’t mind the crowds. However, this is when everything is expensive and you must book everything several months in advance.
If you don’t mind occasional downpours, the shoulder season (April to September) is best for budget travel across the country. The weather is great and you can watch whales and turtles. To enjoy the cheapest prices and crowd-free travel, target the low season (October to mid-December).
No matter what’s on your mind, Panama is a beautiful country to visit. I hope this article on the best time to visit Panama has helped with your travel plans.