Most importantly what you need to know about Panama is that it only has two seasons instead of the traditional four seasons. The high season or dry season starts in December and ends around the middle of March. The low season or wet season is from March to December. It’s kind of implied, but the dry season is when there is limited rain and the weather is more like a “summer” The wet season is just what it implies, its more wet. Similar to the Hawaiian Islands the rain usually comes in the afternoon and might go for an hour or so and then stop. You will occasionally have a full rainy day during the wet season, but its mostly showers that move in and out with the clouds. The months of September to November can be the perfect combination of these two with limited rains which means cooler weather, but its not wet and dreary!
High season is also during the dry season and is the busiest season all year. In my opinion its a good time to avoid travel to Panama. Starting in the month of November all the way until April Panamanians celebrate many holidays including their Independence day, Christmas, New Years, Martyrs Day, Carnaval and then the biggest celebration of them all is Easter. All of these holidays fall during the same time as the main tourist season in Panama. This is not just because of the reduced rainfall, its mostly due to the cold weather in the United States, Canada and Europe. These tourists and visitors are often referred to as “snow birds” as they are looking to escape to a warm climate in the winter months.
I honestly think that the wet season or low season is a great time to come to Panama, maybe even the best time! Its still very much like summer here, it’s not a cold depressing rain its more refreshing and drops the temperature. Prices and availability are better, and the wet season is much greener! If you’re looking to enjoy the beauty of Panama you will want to avoid the dry season. Most hills are brown and dead, it looks more like a desert than a tropical locale. Panama sparkles and comes to life after a tropical rain. Moreover the rain doesn’t normally last more than an hour, and because it rains so much during that period of time evaporates so quickly you’ll forget it was there!
As with any country Panama has very different weather patterns in certain areas. If you’re looking to travel to the Caribbean side of Panama such as San Blas, Colon or Bocas Del Toro then the wet/dry season pattern doesn’t really apply. It pretty much rains throughout the year consistently in those locations. Highlands desitantions in the country like El Valle De Anton, Altos Del Maria, Boquete, David and Chiriqui do experience the same wet/dry seasons but they do still get some rain and they stay greener since they are cooler locations than areas such as Panama City or the beaches.
One of the best parts of Panama? You will never have to worry about hurricanes! Unlike the rest of Central America, Panama is located far enough south that hurricanes never make it to their shores!
National Holiday’s here in Panama are HUGE! I cannot stress that enough! When traveling to Panama check their holiday calendar ahead of time as they might celebrate more or different holiday’s than you are used to.
ALSO: very important is to understand that the holiday more than likely will be celebrated for more than that one day. Look to see what day of the week the holiday falls on and you can expect the weekend before or after it to be just as busy and celebrated.
Here is a great website that is up to date and includes all of the holidays: http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/panama/
Some activities you might consider and the best times to enjoy them:
White Water Rafting: the best time is between May and December when the rivers are at high levels from the rainfall.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: best from December-April when visibility isn’t interrupted by the rains.
Surfing: the Pacific side is best between April and November. The Caribbean side is best between December and March, but can get swells any time of the year except the time between September and November. We recommend you look at the swell history for individual surf spots on Magicseaweed.com for more specific information.
Sport Fishing: Ideal from December-April, but many places are great year round and some fish are seasonal. Consult a fishing lodge or tour operator for more specific recommendations.
Carnival and New Years: Carnival takes place in February, the exact date varies from year to year but reservations should be made many months in advance. The same goes if you are planning to spend New Years in Panama.
Birding: The best time for birding in Panama is during the dry season, as there is little rain and more migratory birds are in the area. But birding in the morning during the green season is also pretty good and it usually showers in the afternoon.